I need to start this review with some warnings.
1. I have never played any 2K NBA game and have not played any basketball game in the last 20 years so this is a newbies review with no comparisons to previous versions.
2. I have pretty basic knowledge of basketball. I know what travelling is but not the difference between a point guard, shooting guard or center.
3. I do not follow the NBA; My favourite player is still Larry Bird and so my favourite team is the Boston Celtics despite the fact I cant name any of their starting 5. Although I should give a nod to Steven Adams and was stoked to go up against him in the game.
My sport of choice is football and I only mention this because when I played Fifia14 for the first time it was cool, really cool. I got a kick out of taking on Barcelona, playing for Liverpool and being selected for the world cup. Knowing the sport made the game easier and more enjoyable because I like/dislike the teams and players and have a real life interest in them too (Stevie G YNWA!!). Not having this understanding of the NBA really put me on the back foot, particularly when playing full team matches and in some of the game modes. So in many respects this review is the lowest common denominator because if you are an NBA fan you’ll get a whole lot more pleasure out of this game than I did.
Having mentioned Fifa14 I’ll also add that I was extremely surprised to see that this game is not made by EA (yes, yes I see 2K in the title but I wasn’t really paying attention). The reason I was so surprised is that the game modes are exactly the same, FIFA and NBA2K are (to the best of my memory) identical! 2K has thrown every possibly way you can play basketball into NBA15 and frankly its to its detriment. The structure of the game modes is confusing with too many options. Shall I play myLeague or myGM or myTeam? Until I actually started each mode I didn’t really know what I was in for. This confusion is compounded with a pretty poor start to the game where you literally just end up on the main screen with some hot bird telling you about NBA TV? WTF? Is this a game or a sports channel? This integration is pretty cool and I get this is “The Future:” (particularly in countries with fibre and no data caps) but I would prefer they save the time and money spent on “TV shows” and put it into gaming fundamentals – start with the GUI, move to the scripting and finally cut scene graphics.
The in game graphics are freakishly good, fantastic player modelling and every star is immediately recognisable. They move naturally and the interaction between player models is genuinely excellent when blocking/stealing etc. I cant remember seeing any graphical glitches on court which is quite an achievement when you think about 10 figures moving in complicated ways in a small environment. Even the cheerleaders are pretty decent in a “computer hottie” kind of way. But for gods sake why let me look around the arena if the crowd looks like faces painted on balloons? Why are the cheerleaders all wearing the same outfit? Its like they just stopped trying as soon as the action leaves the court. Don’t get me wrong I want their energy spent on court but then don’t include these other features. Do great cheerleaders, put them in the outfits of the team and have them do a proper routine. Or take them out. Have the crowd be animated, vocal and emotional. Or don’t let me turn and look directly at them and for gods sake take out that appallingly rendered train in the introduction to myCareer. There was no need for it and all it did was raise awareness of how poor the graphics are….
Sadly this lack of thought carries through into the game modes itself. Playing myCarreer where you create a player, (most commonly one who looks like a zombie) and try to get an NBA contract.. This was the game mode I most enjoyed. It was easiest to get to grips with 1 player rather than a team and it has nice progression. Sadly they’ve included trite and poorly executed cut scenes and between games you just go and sit in the gym. From where you either hit “B” to drop into an old fashioned menu system or stand up and practice a few shots. It would have worked much better with a nice shot of a locker from which you can pick the options like boots for practice, phone for social media etc. Why create drop down menus then leave the guy sitting in an empty gym?! It makes no sense but it does make a good analogy for the entire game. It just could have been smarter, tighter, better looking and, not to mention, easier and more immersive. Why not have a start point that is myTeam or myPlayer and from there “NBA Career, Training, myPark” and all the other modes sure its an extra button click but it would give a much better structure to the game and bring forward some of the features that are so deeply buried (like practice scrimmage, myPark and 1-on-1).
So first impressions, confusing and poorly organised but lets hit the court!
Sadly first impression of that is also confusing and poorly executed. If you’ve played previous versions I’m sure you’ll jump in with no problem. (Apparently the shot meter is new but that is about it.). For newbies like me it was a nightmare. There is no tutorial or intro game; I was dropped into a game without even knowing what button is “shoot”. So either button mash until you work it out or leave the game for the help and controller settings (both in my case). Either way the experience is heading down the toilet fast. Again this game is feeling old skool and that I should have started by reading the manual… Manual? anyone remember those?
Once you get the basics the games are fun and engaging, occasionally frustrating but strangely addictive. I cant tell you if it accurately depicts basketball but it feels right. Usually you are insanely good (on Rookie anyway. I confess I downgraded the difficulty to get through the game a bit quicker) hitting 3s more often than not, jams and lay-ups are no problem but defence is tough and dribbling through traffic is nearly impossible unless you’re smart and wait for a gap. I usually found myself blocked when driving to the hoop and instead going for a sweet fade-away jumper instead… Larry Bird remember! After a week playing I can usually make man and ball do what I want but its passing I have most trouble with, I can see where I want the ball to go I just cant get it there, it always goes to the man immediately next to me… Oh and “ProStick”. Prostick lets you combine moves to really show off but I’m still struggling to get much benefit out of that as I’m too heavy handed. I’m trying to spin past a defender and instead I go up for a shot.
Still that’s me not the game and I genuinely had fun, albeit button mashing to skip through the cut scenes as quick as possible. So let me get philosophical (and maybe a touch racist) for a moment. This game feels American. Its loud (the sound track is off the hook, Pharrell FTW!!), flashy and in your face. It throws every play style imaginable at you and then kitchen sink. It has online, offline, social media, TV and a raft of super stars too but for all that it feels cheaply made and rough around the edges. It lacks the European sense of style, the Asian attention to detail or the Latin American flair. Its fun and quietly addictive and if you are an NBA fan you’ll love it but in worldwide market place fighting for everyman’s gaming dollar its just not quite good enough.
Reviewed on: XBox One
Rating: G Suitable for general audiences.
Reviewed by: Aaron