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BY MIKE MITCHELLDefense wins championships, and the improvements to AI defenses in NBA 2K16 bring this year’s iteration of the long-running basketball sim another title. Due to some big AI upgrades, the offensive tactics that I had been accustomed to using simply no longer work, so I was forced to think like a coach and constantly adapt. Running pick and rolls and calling plays finally felt like it was necessary, as opposed to a tougher option I had to enforce on myself. NBA 2K16 is a great representation of the sport of basketball, and it plays like a dream – both online and off.
Player models are upgraded with new, more detailed body scans, and that has a profound effect on the overall experience.
Not that it was suffering visually before, but NBA 2K16 looks better than ever. The player models are upgraded with new, more detailed body scans, and that has a profound effect on the overall experience. Faces, hair styles, body types, and even wingspans are true to life, but the wide variety of new signature animations bring it all together. In fact, the presentation in general has received a lot of love this year, and brand new game-opening sequences, from team introductions to the national anthem, did a good job of distracting me from the lengthy load times.
In the studio, Kenny Smith joins Ernie Johnson and Shaq in entertaining, chemistry-led, semi-contextual pregame, halftime, and postgame shows, and Greg Anthony replaces Steve Kerr as the color commentator. The interactions between the commentators is fun, and there are far fewer misplaced reactions than in previous years – although it does still happen from time to time. Player interviews have returned as well, but disappointingly some have been reused from previous years. The addition of stunning new in-studio interviews more than makes up for it, in the grand scheme of things.
Upping Its Game
The big reason to show up this year, though, is that NBA 2K’s gameplay has been completely upgraded in nearly every way, resulting in a more true-to-life simulation experience. In previous years, I always found it easy to score by cheezing my way past AI defenders, running in circles and forcing them to make unrealistic mistakes. All of that is gone this year. Zig-zagging will result in steals and frustration, and attempts to drive the baseline will end up in terrible or blocked shots. The only reliable way to score is to use real basketball concepts, so if you’re a student of the sport you'll find yourself being rewarded for your knowledge.
You have to improvise, because opposing AI coaches will start to learn your tendencies and try new ways to stop you. For example, defenders had been going underneath screens, allowing me to step back and take open jumpers; after a few successful attempts they started going around screens, forcing me to drive the lane instead. This constant game of cat and mouse kept me on my toes, searching for new ways to make plays.
Additionally, the controls have been adjusted and streamlined, adding dedicated buttons for lobs and bounce passes. The most meaningful change, however, is to the post game, which is now initiated with L2 (or LT). Backing a defender down feels much more responsive, since you no longer have to wait for animations to settle before making your next move. But I learned quickly that even perfectly timed shots won’t always go in, which is much more realistic than before.
Whose Career Is It, Anyway?
You can relocate and completely rebrand your team with a mind-boggling amount of options.
There are a staggering amount of ways you can play NBA 2K16. All the game modes I expect of the series make their triumphant return, some with interesting new wrinkles. The new Play Now Online mode makes head-to-head matches matter a bit more, since it features a promotion and relegation system. MyGM and MyLeague modes are now both fully featured management sims, allowing you to go so far as to relocate and completely rebrand your team with a mind-boggling amount of options. That same team editor can also be used in MyTeam, the card-collecting game, which has new challenges and ways to earn virtual currency.
But the most notable and popular game mode is MyCareer, which has been taken in a completely different and unfortunately static direction. Spike Lee wrote and directed this mode as a documentary-style movie entitled Livin’ Da Dream. Once you create your character (whose unchangeable nickname is Frequency Vibrations, by the way) you’re dropped into the life of a high school phenom from Harlem with dreams of the NBA. Those early high school games are a bit dull, without commentary or any real challenge, since my player was a 6’7” point guard and the tallest guy on the court. But being recruited by officially licensed colleges and universities is extremely well done.
Even if a heated conversation was all about a choice I needed to make, I was never allowed to make it myself.
The story itself is mediocre and the dialogue is a little corny, despite being well acted. Some interesting moments were emotionally charged and kept my attention, but its movie-style plot made it a poor fit for a game that’s supposed to be about our players. The catch phrase for the mode is “Be the Story,” but even if a heated conversation was all about a choice I needed to make, I was never allowed to make it myself. The most jarring example happened when my friends and family were all giving me advice about whether I should stay in college: Each character ultimately told me that “only you can make the choice.” But then a second later, the NBA draft started. Apparently my mind was made up for me.
Even looking past the lack of choices, the story became disjointed during my rookie season. The cutscenes led me to believe that I was a special player, but my overall rating was 55, since I was unable to earn any virtual currency up until that point. The AI improvements carry over to MyCareer, which made it extremely difficult to make any positive plays with a weak player. As a result, on the court I felt like I kept letting my team down... but off the court, I was signing shoe deals. Another flaw that can’t be overlooked is that your family, including your twin sister, is black, even if your created character is not.
Racking Up Ws
Livin’ Da Dream reaches its conclusion after your rookie season, which only has eight playable games. After that, it opens up and plays more like the mode I was expecting, with 82-game seasons and new and exciting ways to improve your player on off days. That’s why I can enthusiastically recommend NBA 2K16 even with MyCareer’s failure to properly contextualize my player’s rise to stardom: at the end of the day, it’s all window dressing for the gameplay underneath – and in this case, that gameplay is spectacular.
For the first time in several years, I’ve only experienced a few online hiccups.
It’s important to note that NBA 2K16 continues to heavily rely on its online servers, since microtransactions are present in most of the game modes. But for the first time in several years, I’ve only experienced a few hiccups since they’ve been turned on. The 2K Sports Store, where you spend VC on vanity items, has been hit or miss, and the ProAm mode, a 5v5 MyPark with NBA rules, has been completely inaccessible. But the online experience is generally pretty consistent in every other connected mode, with no significant interruptions to my online play. What a relief.
NBA 2K16 is one of the most complete packages I’ve ever seen. Developer Visual Concepts continues to raise the sports simulation bar by completely retooling its silky-smooth gameplay, adding brand-new physics systems, and refining its traditional game modes. Not all of the changes work as well as others, most notably the Spike Lee-themed MyCareer mode, but it doesn’t take away from the impressive overall package.
NBA 2K16 Review: MyCareer mode as absurd as it is addicting
By Zach Harper
The release of the NBA 2K franchise's latest installment is always highly anticipated. It's been the best selling basketball video game for years and it's a huge part of the NBA culture. Players in real life are dedicated to using their down time to try the digital world of the NBA. With 2K Sports' ever-expanding MyCareer mode, anybody has had a chance to scan their likeness into the game and try to build up their MyPlayer to becoming an NBA legend.
In NBA 2K16, things were taken a step further with the introduction of "Livin' Da Dream," a storyline attached to MyCareer mode courtesy of Spike Lee. If you're familiar with Spike's many films during his incredible directing career, then you may be able to anticipate a lot of the stories and plot points thrown your way. If you haven't familiarized yourself with what Spike does with his stories, the early parts of MyCareer may blow your mind.
In last year's version of this mode, your digital self went undrafted and had to impress in a workout to earn a 10-day deal. Then you'd try to keep impressing NBA teams before carving out your spot in the NBA. The newest edition is quite different. You're introduced as a high school prospect and your family is as much a part of the story as the basketball early on.
It's possible you'll end up feeling like Steve Martin in "The Jerk," but you're a Harlem-native with a twin sister named Cece. Your nickname is Freq (pronounced freak) and it's short for Frequency. You earned that nickname in your mother's womb because of the way you kicked and moved around, which is apparently something you can differentiate between kids when you're having twins.
You even have an Antoine Walker-esque shimmy and shake celebration that's called the "Freq and vibe."
You're also introduced to the character of Vic (short for Victor), who is your longest non-related friend. And that's where the story really gets complicated. (WARNING: There are spoilers from here on out, which sounds like an insane thing to warn about a basketball video game.)
Early in this mode, you're navigating the stardom of high school. You get to play three games of your career (one in your home gym, one in an opposing gym, and the state championship in a bigger arena) after choosing between three different high schools.
I was a Parkside Dragon and quickly after my first game (they only give you two-minute quarters so it doesn't take much time), I'm approached by three different real colleges. It's similar to the recruiting monologues in "He Got Game" when coaches are speaking into a camera to tell Jesus Shuttlesworth about their college. Georgetown tells me about their NBA tradition, Villanova tells me about how their style of play is similar to the toughness of streetball, and Louisville is promising me the possible titles and awards available.
Arizona hits the NBA alumni angle hard as well after my second game, and Kansas throws around flashy names like Wilt Chamberlain, Kirk Hinrich (seriously, he's the second guy they name), Andrew Wiggins and Paul Pierce as the reasons to be a Jayhawk. Connecticut lets me know this isn't their "first rodeo" with recruiting stars and the fit should work because "navy blue runs deep."
Michigan offers up the tradition of the Fab Five and breaking Glen Rice's records, but eventually UCLA woos me with the promise of sun and their "banner of excellence" -- whatever that means. With Vic recording on a camcorder that they imply he stole, I deliver my decision to the world that I'm tired of New York snow and want the warm beaches while I study.
U-C-L-A! Fight! Fight! Fight!
In college, you're given four games to play with each game consisting of two five-minute halves. While your play on the court matters (you'll get to face off against Kelly Oubre when you face Kansas or Frank Kaminsky when you face Wisconsin), the real story comes from the announcers telling your background during the game and the headlines on the loading pages letting you know that your draft stock is falling.
They call you a Top 5 pick prospect before your first game. No matter how you play (because I dominated the first game), your stock takes a dip. At a certain point, they wonder if you'll stay in the Top 10 or even the first-round altogether. However, in the fourth and final game, I beat Wisconsin in the National Championship game, which presumably saves much of my future selection placement.
Before the draft, you're introduced to agent Dom Pagnotti, who is trying to convince you to jump ship (you don't actually get to decide; you're out of college after your freshman year). You may remember the name Dom Pagnotti -- he's the agent from He Got Game. In fact, they brought back that particular actor to do the voice for his character. Your parents are on speakerphone while you and your sister talk to Dom.
Dom starts doing the Freq'ing and Vibin' celebration. He's preaching how much money you can get and the concerns about getting injured in college. Your dad is preaching education while your mom lets you know to stay true to your decision. But you don't get a decision because staying another year would be boring. You're headed to the NBA, but not before your new agent informs you that your best friend Vic is bad company to keep and you should cut ties with him. That's where we really start going.
My NBA career
The insanity of your rookie season is the real story you're unraveling with this mode. While you may wonder how you build up your character on the court (that comes later), you're learning about the debacle that is his life off the court. Everybody around you is trying to tell you how to be a professional.
I get drafted 13th by the Phoenix Suns (who still ended up with Devin Booker too and I'm not sure if they got to pick two guys at 13). In your rookie season, you get to play eight games and they pick the games for you (you finally get to choose how long they are). You'll face various tests from your conference, a homecoming they mention when you go to Brooklyn for a road game, and a match-up against LeBron James at some point.
If you had dreams of turning your rookie self into the Rookie of the Year, you're not in control of that. You get just the eight games.
Here are the storylines that you experience with a new cut scene after each of your eight allotted games, and I'm not making this up:
• Your girlfriend, Yvette, is feuding with your twin sister Cece, who is also feuding with your agent over control of your image. • Everybody wants you to cut ties with Vic. • After your first game, the team owner bans Vic from traveling with the team and going to games because he's such a bad influence. The owner mocks the way you talk, and after he unearths a TMZ-like video of Vic drunkenly talking about an alleged incident in front of a cop car, we find out that the owner once had a card-counting gambling friend who died, and you are urged once again to part ways with Vic. •One game into your career, your agent wants to put you in movies and turn you into a marketing darling. Remember the "platinum and diamonds" speech from Dom in He Got Game? It's in here.
•Vic wants to remind you you're from the streets and should act accordingly. • Vic is secretly a rapper named Boss-Key-Yacht and wants you to fund his album. • Oh by the way, when you were in high school, you killed a guy while fighting him in a stairwell and Vic covered it up. He reminds you of this so he can force you to let him use your car. • The team owner threatens to release you because your refusal to part ways with Vic has made you a liability. How airtight are those rookie contracts?
Once your rookie season is over, you're a free agent (I guess not that airtight). You get to pick three teams to negotiate with and every team has a different level of interest in your services. After negotiating how much virtual currency (a.k.a. VC) you get per game (that's how you buy attribute upgrades) and how long your contract is, you celebrate with your family.
This is when you find out Vic died in a car accident and wrote you a letter before he died. Seriously, this happens.
After all of this madness, you're finally given the normal MyPlayer experience. Your second season is similar to previous installments. You play games, earn more VC through good, smart play, and buy clothes, personal gym upgrades, and better attributes with your money. The big difference in this year's version is you have to manage your off-days to how you want your career to go.
You have three basic choices to make on these days:
1. Go to practice and do drills to earn more VC.
2. Hang out with one of your 10 connections.
3. Fulfill endorsement requirements set up by your agent.
You get to pick your 10 "connections" and choosing to hang out with them gives you different rewards for various modes. As you become more popular, you'll get to connect with more important people around that world. Your endorsement appearances can lead to even more endorsements and fulfilling those requirements will earn you extra VC.
The way they tie the story of the first season into the rest of your career is by talking about it during pre-game shows and with in-game commentary. Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith will discuss how hard it must be after your tumultuous rookie season. You may be coming out of a timeout and Kevin Harlan will talk to Clark Kellogg about you overcoming the death of your good friend Vic. The main story steps aside and you get to just build the career of your player, but it's always a lingering side story.
From there, you're just trying to manage your time and build your player. Maybe you want to focus on building his brand and letting the on-court attributes build gradually. Maybe you want to skip the endorsements and risk your marketing growth to concentrate on practice or league relationships with other players. However you want to build your player is up to you.
The franchise mode of NBA 2K16 is as robust as it has ever been, and the theme appears to be connectivity. 2K Sports has been building its MyGM mode for years and adding little touches here and there. Whether you're checking the wear-and-tear on your players, handling conversations with guys wanting to guarantee they won't be traded or want more playing time, or making sure to build trust with your coaches and staff, 2K is always trying to find ways to build relationships within this mode.
This year, you're diving more into player motivation and evaluating potential assistant coaches by finding out what their goals are (does the assistant coach you're interviewing really want to be head coach?), what they think of your roster, and how they view the state of the team. You can hire staff members away from other franchises if they don't block the hire (the Golden State Warriors never let me hire Ron Adams). You have to meet demands of the important staff members and pray a better team doesn't wrestle them away.
The same logic is applied to free agency, where your status as a franchise matters. Established players are unlikely to sign with a team that is rebuilding. Teams that are "buyers" and "contenders" will likely catch their eye instead. And aside from some wonky restricted free agency (I signed Harrison Barnes to a cheap one-year deal in RFA and the Warriors didn't match) time to time, your franchise isn't getting top players if they're not a desirable location.
Market can also play a factor into this. Where your team is located may not be favorable to someone you're pursuing as a staff member or free agent. So if you want to relocate your franchise, you can do that. You need to design a stadium, design uniforms, pop in a logo, and have a good enough plan in place (downtown or suburbs, what kind of amenities, etc.) for the Board of Governors to approve it.
After two years of trying to build up the Brooklyn Nets, I decided to move them away from New York and into Seattle. I wanted to recreate the SuperSonics, and it was pretty easy. Going into the BOG vote, it let me know the New York Knicks were voting in favor of the relocation, the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers were against it, and the other 26 teams were undecided. It passed with a vote of 28-2 and the only remnants of my Brooklyn roots came during those in-game interviews with players still wearing Brooklyn Nets T-shirts.
The modes are great, but what about the game on the court? For the most part, you're going to get a suped-up version of the 2K experience you're used to. Passing is smoother, more intuitive, and you have better options. When you run a pick-and-roll, you can not only choose whether the screener rolls or pops, but you can also decide which side of the defender gets screened. Post play is now activated by holding down the back left trigger (L2 on PS4) and it's easier to put together moves out of it.
Once you get a hang for the changes in PnR, post play, and passing controls, everything else falls into place. You'll get a couple of rough patches here and there. Whether it's a good challenge or not, a rim protector being in the vicinity of the rim is likely to result in a miss. Getting around screens is both given more freedom and feels a little stickier because of it. It's hard to move sloppily past players in general if they're trying to prevent you from moving.
Everything else provides a very good representation of video game basketball. Role players matter in executing play, and stars can take over (Anthony Davis is a God). No doubt you'll kill hours playing this game and discovering new little touches all the time.
For all of the hype surrounding NBA 2K16‘s revamped MyCareer mode, it seems downright shocking that Visual Concepts would forget the most exciting part of its signature mode. Sure, the latest iteration of the number one basketball simulation in the world is still mechanically sound, loaded with features that will keep NBA fans busy for months and fun to play, but letting Spike Lee have such a large role may have been a mistake. While there is a level of intrigue that comes with playing a Spike Lee Joint as opposed to watching one, the best part of MyCareer came from the childlike wonder players experience when they live out their personal NBA dream. Instead of having a sense of agency over the proceedings, players will find that MyCareer feels a bit more like Spike’s Career. NBA 2K16still feels like the best basketball game in the world, though this year’s version feels like this series’ first hiccup in quite some time.
Visual Concepts clearly took a risk letting Spike Lee, a man known for his movies, direct an “in-game feature film” about your player’s journey from high school through his rookie season in the NBA. As time has gone on, this particular mode has been looking towards giving players a real sense of participation in an actual NBA story. However, earlier iterations, most notably last year’s NBA 2K15, never swayed away from the idea that this is your journey, and you’re allowed to handle it in whichever way you please. From the moment you begin “Livin ‘Da Dream,” the section of MyCareer that is written and directed by Spike Lee, it’s clear that you are merely a participant in someone else’s narrative. No matter how perfect your face scan is, you’ll always grow up in Harlem’s projects, always have the same twin sister, the same parents, the same agent, the same team owner and the same friend in Vic Van Lier that is always up to no good.
This does create an awkward situation if you’re any race other than African American and use the face-scanning technology to create your own player, as the idea of having a biological cross-racial family with no hint of genetic relation whatsoever makes for some awkward moments whenever your birth comes up in conversation. There’s something to be said about the ludonarrative dissonance that comes from being forced into a storyline that doesn’t give the option for any semblance of real racial diversity. This was likely an oversight resulting from Spike Lee’s relative inexperience with the video game medium, but it’s a clear example of how NBA 2K16 removes a lot of MyCareer’s customization features in favor of Livin ‘Da Dream. Outside of picking which college you go to from a limited pool of schools and which NBA team you’ll sign with after your first year, there are quite literally zero choices to be made, which gives MyCareer the impression that you’re simply along for the ride rather than being the one driving the car itself. Oh, and as an Ohio State alumnus, it’s painful to see the ability to attend The School Up North with no option to be a Buckeye.
It’s as clear as the day is long what Visual Concepts, 2K and even Spike Lee himself were going for here. This was meant to be a mode in which you feel immersed in an NBA story loaded with hardship, difficult choices (that again, you don’t actually get to make) and genuine drama. Sadly, thanks to an engine that, while initially breathtaking at the beginning of the generation, is starting to feel its age, Livin ‘Da Dream feels little more than corny and tiresome by the end of its six hour run. Because you aren’t getting to make the choices that you’re accustomed to making in an NBA 2K MyCareer mode, there’s no sense that this is anyone’s story other than Spike Lee’s. While there’s little doubt that Mr. Lee could take the material in this in-game film and turn it into something entertaining on the big screen, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t make for a very good video game story at all. This isn’t necessarily Spike Lee’s fault, after all, he isn’t a video game developer, but inserting long diatribes about death and relationships into a story riddled with characters that the main player doesn’t have any desire to care about makes for a slog of a narrative experience. There’s simply far too much ludonarrative dissonance floating around here to consider Visual Concepts’ gamble on Spike Lee to be a success.
Even though MyCareer, which is blatantly being billed as the reason to by this year’s version of NBA 2K, starts off on the wrong foot, there is still a great deal of agency over your MyPlayer after the conclusion of Spike Lee’s self-indulgent in-game film. While you still have to listen to, and answer questions about the highly scripted events of your rookie year, you’ll have the option to decide exactly what you’re going to be doing with your free time during your career. Whether you want to work on establishing sponsorship deals, make friends with some of the best players around the NBA or simply attending a Live Practice to hone your craft(which, despite what Allen Iverson might suggest, is actually pretty fun inNBA 2K16), you’ll have the option to do so once MyCareer turns into the mode that it was supposed to be all along. While this late increase in RPG mechanics don’t entirely make up for the oddity that is Livin ‘Da Dream, it’s nice to know that the best aspects of this franchise haven’t fallen by the wayside in favor of Spike Lee. The only real issue with off-court time management is that if you’re the type of player looking to become a gym rat and not worry about anything going on outside of basketball, you’re going to be missing out on a great deal of currency that can be earned (which is used for, you guessed it, to upgrade your stats). Whether intentionally or unintentionally, these new mechanics drive players towards a more all-around celebrity status, which removes a bit of agency from a mode dependent on it.
Though MyCareer certainly stumbles this year, the fact of the matter is that NBA 2K16 continues the mechanical excellence that this franchise is known for. With the addition of dedicated bounce pass and lob buttons, which each have double tap functions that allow you to throw flashy passes or alley oops, respectively, players feel more in control of their players than ever before. Though EA has been striving to convince the public that there is a real rivalry between NBA Live and NBA 2K, these new mechanics, as well as the addition of over 1000 new animations (including 32 post moves that make this technical gameplay style even more fun to master) will likely end that discussion even more. If you’re looking for a basketball video game that feels awesome to play, NBA 2K16 is certainly the game for you. The idea that NBA 2K16 improves upon an already solid gameplay foundation makes it all the more awkward when the features that it’s being advertised for fall short.
Though a great deal of players will sink ungodly hours into MyCareer mode, there are a great deal of other methods to get your basketball fix. If you’re a member of the contingent that Spike Lee’s foray into AAA sports game narrative scripting is frankly sub par (and not in the good way that Need for Speed‘s full-motion video cutscenes have the potential to be), you’ll probably find yourself pouring time into MyTeam. NBA 2K‘s version of the popular “It’s a Card Game and a Sports Game” mode that pretty much every other sports franchise has, MyTeam allows you to earn NBA 2K16‘S second currency through every move you make across a number of frankly intriguing game modes. From Challenge mode, which places restrictions on your team in exchange for the chance at extra currency to The Gauntlet, a new mode in which players have to win consecutive 3-on-3 matches against other online users to survive, the loop of earning currency to buy better cards and constantly upgrade your roster is absolutely addictive. Combine MyTeam with the always popular custom MyLeague and MyGM modes, which are always exciting for those who are looking to fantasy draft over and over, and it’s pretty impossible to say that NBA 2K16 is short on content.
The one major blemish of the NBA 2K series has been its inability to host stable online play. From dropped matches to long connection times to constant framerate drops, playing online in the NBA 2Kfranchise is basically borderline functional. As every year passes, this becomes more and more disappointing, and the fact that the biggest change to the series fell short this year only serves to highlight NBA 2K16‘s online difficulties. While the new system for matching players of similar experience in Play Now Online is a fantastic change, the fact that latency and framerate drops seem to occur far too frequently outweighs any matchmaking improvements. The idea of a tension-filled climb up a ladder of online players in The Gauntlet is outstanding, but if the gameplay suffers from online deficiencies, this new addition is little more than window dressing. We may be arriving at the point where NBA 2K might have to start focusing on stability a bit more than glitz and glam.
It’s weird to think that visuals can go from looking awesome to slightly underwhelming in a matter of two years, but that does seem to be the case with NBA 2K16. When NBA 2K14 came out on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launch dates, it was arguably the best looking current generation launch game outside of Killzone: Shadow Fall and Ryse: Son of Rome, but these visuals haven’t really changed much in the two years that followed. On-court play is still impressive as a whole, as flowing jerseys, animated crowds, dynamic sweat and an awesome lighting system that makes every inch of the court pop, but once you dive into the details, these visuals start to show their age. There are a number of re-used lower resolution assets present, most notably the locker rooms that teams enter at halftime, and the visual dichotomy that this presents makes for an occasionally awkward visual experience. Clipping has grown to be a major problem in the NBA 2K16, with the most awkward moments appearing during timeouts and menus that feature more than one character model. Livin ‘Da Dream is probably the worst offender in the lackluster graphics department, as awkward character models and low-detail environments make for cutscenes that seriously give off some Tony Hawk’s Underground visual vibes.
Evaluating NBA 2K16 as a whole is actually an interesting challenge. On one hand, this is arguably the most mechanically sound sports game on the market and the gameplay improvements that Visual Conecpts made are downright superb. The issue here lies with the decision to make Livin ‘Da Dream the focus and backbone of MyCareer falling flat. There are some moments throughout Spike Lee’s in-game film that might bring a smile to your face, but this story doesn’t lend itself to this franchise’s gameplay or the video game medium itself. Yes, basketball fans will likely have a great time playing NBA 2K16 for hours on end, but there are too many small steps back here that can’t be ignored. The good news for fans of sports games is that the first misstep in this great franchise is still a very good game, which speaks to how truly fun its gameplay is.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
'NBA 2K16' review: As real as it gets on the virtual hardwood
From Chris Bosh video-bombing postgame interviews to Steph Curry fiddling with his mouthpiece before free throws, "NBA 2K16" nails not only the subtle nuances of the on-court action but also the distinctive personalities of the game's brightest stars. Signature celebrations likeJames Harden's "stirring the pot" or LeBron James' "silencer" are just as present as Harden's patent Euro-step or LeBron's fadeaway, adding a level of authenticity that few sports titles can match.
But probably the most attention has been paid to My Player mode, which has you play from the perspective of one player and watch him grow from a limited rookie to eventual star. This year, 2K hired writer/director Spike Lee to oversee the story, and the result is a mixed bag.
Your created player stars as Frequency Vibrations (Freak for short) in the heavily scripted story, which breaks the immersion from the start if your created character is not African-American since that's the race of your family. It's an odd oversight for a game that nails so many little things on the court to miss something in a mode that's been marketed with the hashtag #BeTheStory. Despite that, the story is something unlike anything in sports games and provides enough of a carrot to see how it unfolds.
The mode starts your career from high school for the first time in the series. As you complete three high school games -- in smaller gymnasiums that replicate the prep atmosphere -- college recruiters come calling. 2K secured the license of 10 college basketball powers -- UCLA, Kansas, Georgetown, Louisville, Arizona, Connecticut, Texas, Villanova, Wisconsin and Michigan -- but it's admittedly odd to hear recruiters call you Freak in their pitches.
Your performance in six collegiate games will dictate your draft position. From there your NBA journey begins, providing you a path to improve your player's attributes by awarding virtual currency, used throughout all the modes to purchase upgrades, depending on your in-game performance. As your player's skills improve, endorsement opportunities become available and your visibility and celebrity grow from there.
You can also take your My Player online to play against other My Players in two modes -- 2K Pro Am and My Park. 2K Pro Am is more of a traditional 5-on-5 mode but it is highly customizable. Everything from your team's logo, court and jerseys can be tweaked to your liking, even giving you the ability to upload your own custom logos.
In My Park, you are asked to pledge your allegiance to one of three clubs -- Old Town Flyers, Rivet City Roughriders or Sunset Beach Ballers -- each of which provide specific attribute boosts. This mode is more of a pick-up game setting -- outdoor courts with fewer fouls and the winner is determined by reaching 21 points before the opposition.
You can play with friends in either of these modes against other players, and your performance can grant you in-game rewards (accessories like headbands, arm sleeves, etc.) and My Park rep, which is doled out depending on your team's success and your individual play.
The off-court presentation has also received an impressive level of detail with TNT-style pregame, halftime and postgame shows, starring Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith. The trio's banter feels just as organic as their critically acclaimed "Inside the NBA" show, as Shaq and Kenny weave humor and insight while Johnson delivers the highlights. The on-court action is called by Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Greg Anthony with Doris Burke doing sideline interviews at halftime and after the game. And these interviews feature real sound bites from some of the game's biggest stars, adding to the immersion of the broadcast.
Control has always seemed to be somewhat elusive in the 2K series. Pulling off a combination of dribbling moves sometimes felt more like a roll of the dice than an absolute certainty in previous iterations. But "2K16" has all but eliminated any perceived input lag that has dogged the series. Crossovers, between-the-legs and behind-the back dribbling moves feel more responsive. Post-up moves like jump hooks, turnaround fadeaways and shoulder fakes are much easier to pull off because the controls are tighter.
Couple the tight controls with the series' reputation for being a stickler for details, and the virtual hardwood has never felt more alive. There's a more tangible difference playing with superstars like LeBron, Kevin Durant andChris Paul because size, speed and strength matter more in "2K16" than in any previous iteration in the series.
But it's not just individual players that feel unique. "2K16" has done a masterful job recreating how teams run their individual offenses. The New York Knicks run the triangle offense, the world champion San Antonio Spursoperate their 4-out-1-in offense and the Heat will try to pick you apart with their pace-and-space set. This level of detail makes each matchup feel fresh and engaging, and at higher difficulty levels forces you to exhaust a number of defensive strategies at your disposal.
Once you pick the team you want to guide, you can choose between My League and My GM modes, which are more of the traditional yearly formats. My League is highly customizable, allowing you to decide factors such as season length, trade logic and even using customized rosters. This mode gives you more control over every team in the league, allowing you to manipulate opposing rosters to, say, match what's occurring in the upcoming season. My GM is solely focused on controlling one team and trying to build a winner both on and off the court. After each game played you earn virtual currency, which can be used to improve nearly every aspect of a franchise, like the effectiveness of your medical staff to adding a parking facility that will increase attendance.
If moving a team back to Seattle or a host of other locations is appealing, that option is available in My GM. Jerseys, courts and logos can be customized, giving you the ability to bring back the SuperSonics or move a current team to a new location.
But all these features and modes would be nothing without compelling gameplay, and "NBA 2K16" has nailed that aspect. Whether you're going to take the more traditional route of guiding an established NBA team in the hopes of becoming world champs or putting yourself in the game, the fluidity and authenticity of the gameplay and the faithful recreation of some of the game's biggest stars is unmatched. 2K Sports has raised the bar once again on the virtual hardwood. "NBA 2K16" is available Sept. 29 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
NBA 2K16: Review, Gameplay Videos, Features and Impressions
Year after year, the NBA 2K series sets the bar as high for its game as any franchise—no matter the genre. The game was stacked with so many features last year, it felt like seven games in one. With NBA Live offering some semblance of competition, 2K Sports and developers Visual Concepts have added even more to this year's title.
Does it all work like a well-oiled machine? In a word: yes.
Oh My God, That Looks Real
image provided by 2K Sports
Visually, NBA 2K has progressed to a level most games only hope to reach. Screenshots like the one that is featured at the top of this article and below don't require any filters or touch-ups. Simply pause the game at just about any point and you can catch a glimpse of photo-realistic player renders and lifelike environments.
Over the last two years, the series has nailed most of the players with a few guys routinely missed. Most—if not all—of those guys have been accurately captured in NBA 2K16.
Check out the Dallas Mavericks' Deron Williams and the Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford. Both have received clear upgrades.
image provided by 2K Sports
image provided by 2K Sports
It's not just faces, it's body types as well. In the past, NBA 2K has been raked over the coals for having players too muscular or too skinny. InNBA 2K16, heavier guys are represented well and there's an overall distinction between the different body frames in the league.
Look at the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph compared to the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry.
image provided by 2K Sports
image provided by 2K Sports
We've talked about how the game looks standing still, but how about the way it looks in motion? It's almost just as solid in the animation department. While there are a few weird sequences around the backboard, most of what you see is a myriad of realistic physical interactions that push this year's game blissfully close to virtual reality.
One of the issues with NBA 2K15—and there weren't a ton—was the unrealistic amount of made jump shots we saw in the game. Essentially, if you had an above-average shooter and you released the shot at the right time, you'd never miss an open look from three-point range.
That just wasn't realistic, and it made head-to-head games more like three-point contests with some dunking mixed in.
Forget everything you did in NBA 2K15 because NBA 2K16's made-to-miss shot determination is entirely different. To put it plainly: You will play simulation-style basketball, or you will lose...a lot.
It's just that simple. Bad shots rarely go in, and great shots don't always fall. That's the way basketball is in real life, and you really get an appreciation for that concept when you play head-to-head with another person.
Watch as you or your opponent are penalized for bad shots and poor passing. I played online against a guy who had the Cavs. Missed shots quickly turned into transition opportunities. If LeBron James had the ball in the open floor, he was almost unstoppable, and that's the way it should be.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the improved offensive and defensive logic. In this year's game, the teams automatically run sets that mirror the real-life coach's philosophy. Translation: you don't have to call plays every trip to get your team to play to its strength or to put the right players in position to score. Nino "Da Czar" Samuels deserves a ton of credit for this, as he was instrumental in the development of the game's freelance offense.
The defense doesn't get left out. Now your players will react more intelligently when defending pick-and-roll, impeding the path of cutters and keying on a hot player.
I went on a little run with Pau Gasol, and before the quarter was done, he was being doubled on the low post. Much like Da Czar did with the offensive side of the ball, Scott O'Gallagher's influence and knowledge about defense has augmented gameplay in this aspect.
Overall, the gameplay team, led by Mike "Beluba" Wang and also featuring Zach Timmerman and a host of other talented individuals, has produced the best gameplay the sport of basketball has seen on a video game.
If you haven't played it, you have to get your hands on the sticks to understand how good this game plays.
Presentation has always been a big deal for the NBA 2K series, and this year's game doesn't let up. Greg Anthony replaced Steve Kerr as the third man on the announce team. To be honest, I was worried that this aspect of the game would be thrown together and that the commentary would lose its conversational value.
Well, that's not the case. Anthony's dialog is just as organic as Kerr's was; in fact, it's more emotionally balanced as there aren't as many misplaced reactions.
The pregame, halftime and postgame shows are all done nicely, though I wish the highlights were a little more guided, and that the commentary was more specific. Then again, who am I kidding? How many sports video games even have a pre, post and halftime show?
The halftime and postgame player interviews are still in, but some of the content has been used for the last three years—which is slightly disappointing. However, there's a new piece that shows cutaway interviews with players at dead balls in the first half. That's a nice touch.
Overall, the visual and audio authenticity in this game are amazing.
Options? Yes, A Lot of Them
It's difficult to know where to begin when discussing the various ways to play NBA 2K16. There's Play Now, which is traditional exhibition games with all 30 NBA teams, both All-Star squads and/or any of the 47 classic teams and 25 Euroleague clubs. That's 104 teams in all.
There's the new Play Now Online mode, which lets you play a soccer-style promotion and relegation system with head-to-head matches. And yes, that's just as awesome as it sounds.
Blacktop returns with no real additions, as does the Play With Friends team-up option. The popular MyPARKstreetball mode is also back. Aside from Play Now Online, those are just the modes that are relatively unchanged.
There are also four returning features that have undergone massive improvements and a brand new mode that could be the biggest of all the options. I told you there were a lot.
MyGM and MyLEAGUE now allow you to relocate teams throughout North America with the option to re-brand the entire franchise. When I say re-brand, I'm not talking about some cookie-cutter team editor. The tool in NBA 2K16 is the best team editor since NCAA Football's Team Builder application.
Like in Team Builder, you're able to upload any image as a logo (stay classy, 2K community) and completely redesign uniforms, arenas and courts. Take a look at the trailer:
What's even better is that the same editor is now also available inMyTEAM. The mode that blends card collecting with fantasy sports concepts and gaming is now allowing you to truly make your squad your own.
The new additions to MyTEAM don't stop there. There are also several new challenges and modes to keep you entertained and earning virtual currency that can be used in several areas of the game.
One of those modes is the ever-popular MyCAREER mode.
Every year, there's a new storyline that helps to immerse gamers in their own world of single-player, campaign-style hoops. This year's story was written, directed and created by Academy Award-nominated director Spike Lee.
I don't have many issues with NBA 2K16, but the biggest one I have is with the MyCAREER mode. Lee's influence and character direction feels forced and doesn't mesh well with the core principles of the mode.MyCAREER is supposed to be about writing your own story, but instead it feels as though you're too chained to Lee's script.
It begins with the face-scanning process, which has seen little to no improvements. Last year, it was very difficult to get through the scan process as the system was ultra-sensitive. Even when you did, many people were horrified by monster-like images based on the system's malfunction. Some people—like myself—had decent renders, but there wasn't enough consistency.
This year, the scans are easier to perform, but the renders are far from accurate. Mine was so inaccurate, I just decided to create a fictional guy as opposed to trying to squint and pretend that the render looked like me.
Once the MyCAREER portion of the game begins, the voice acting is pretty awesome for all of the characters—except your guy. There's some issue with the translation of the scanned render and it makes your character look aloof throughout many of the cinematic scenes.
Your character begins his journey in high school—which is great—but the high school games are bland as they don't feature an announcer. It takes about a quarter or so before the novelty wears off, and I was left wanting more from this aspect of the story mode.
Don't get me wrong, there are some really cool elements to MyCAREERthis year—especially once you get past Lee's heavy-handed influence on the mode. But it's not one of the better examples of integrating cinema screens and storyline in a sports game.
Last but not least, the new 2K Pro-Am mode could be headed for huge things. You're able to take your MyPlayersonline to compete in competitions with full stat tracking. Best of all, that same amazing creation tool allows you to completely customize your Pro-Am team.
If the face-scanning portion of this puzzle is straightened out, 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K could become the first sports video game to make a huge impact in the booming ESports industry. In addition to all of these goodies, 2K also boasts a solid player and roster creation tool again this year.
I create a legends roster every year, and there were a few cosmetic requests the creation community had for developers. We wanted to be able to make guys taller than 7'2" and add a headband, more hairstyles, tattoos and goggles.
I guess two out of five isn't bad. You can now add headbands and a huge number of hairstyles, but the other three options might have to wait another year.
We couldn't let you go without talking about server stability, right? I mean, this is an NBA 2K game.
Consider this an incomplete assessment, but through about nine hours and a few online related concepts, I've had absolutely no problems. I really can't believe I said that in my out-loud voice, but it's true.
The online competitions I've played have felt like offline games. If this persists, it's hard to imagine anyone having a major bone to pick with this game.
The Bottom Line
The few missteps/omissions in NBA 2K16—even the MyCAREER issues—are the equivalent of a minor scratch on the hood of a Rolls-Royce. It does very little to diminish the value of a classic.
I don't believe there's such a thing as a perfect game, but NBA 2K16comes about as close as any game I've ever played.
NBA 2K16 is a tale of substance and style, loaded with a degree of personality not found elsewhere in the series. It proudly displays its Spike Lee-directed “Livin’ Da Dream” narrative, which adds more story, drama, and reasons to come back to MyCareer mode. But that character stretches far beyond the melodramatic cutscenes. Personal interviews, pre- and post-game shows, unique player mannerisms, and even teammate video-bombings give each matchup that big, true-to-life NBA feel. On the court, however, it can be a struggle to find your rhythm.
The controls have been expanded to allow you to direct and feed a ball to the post, pitch a pass behind you, and manage the position and timing of screens. These inclusions find mixed success. NBA 2K16’s layered gameplay systems demand smart and thorough explanation, but there's a lack of training that makes it difficult for newcomers (and even returning players) to grasp everything new that’s happening on the hardwood.
It’s a shame, too, since once you begin to time screens correctly and master the jukes and fakes tied to the Pro Stick, NBA 2K16 plays like a dream. The movement feels natural and encourages creative play, since the sharper AI makes it difficult to repeatedly exploit the talents of your best player. The dedicated bounce-pass and lob buttons give you even greater control of the floor, allowing you to fake toward the basket more smoothly and slip a slick pass to a shooter in the corner.
You can win one-on-one matchups by pumping, spinning, and falling away with your shot, and it’s fun to size up the defense to discover what style of play produces an uncontested shot. I became a better player and floor general by rethinking my strategy on both sides of the ball, and it’s rewarding to test out new techniques and score big. It’s just frustrating that you’re given so little help along the way.
Director Spike Lee’s “Livin’ Da Dream” story acts as the first portion of your journey through MyCareer, which is NBA 2K16’s most prominent addition. You still customize your own player, all the way from his weight and height to the crook of his nose. But any prospect you craft steps into the shoes of NBA hopeful and Harlem native “Freq,” short for “Frequency Vibrations.” Yes, that’s his real name.
From high school to college and eventually to the big leagues, you follow Freq and his circle of family and friends as they deal with all the difficult questions that often come with the life of a professional athlete. What college offers you the richest opportunities? Should you get a degree, or enter the draft early when your stock might be at its peak? Can childhood friends be detrimental once you’re forced into the media’s watchful eye?
The story opens strongly by giving you the freedom to choose your high school and college, but that agency is quickly snatched away once your career begins to take off. There are multiple sequences, such as declaring for the draft, where your friends, family, and potential agent are weighing your options in what seems to be a buildup toward a life-altering decision. But this player freedom is a facade; the story plays out in a linear fashion where the only things you can really control are what team you sign with and how you allocate your stats.
The story opens strongly by giving you the freedom to choose your high school and college, but that agency is quickly snatched away once your career begins to take off.
During your journey, you struggle with a recidivist best friend, and butt heads with your twin sister—who also acts as your manager. The dialogue can get corny—especially when your angry team owner awkwardly throws out street lingo—but the writing and delivery is leaps and bounds ahead of what’s been used in the past. This is the best MyCareer has ever been, and the transition from high school hoops to the professional league is well-paced and much more personal.
“Livin’ Da Dream” itself isn’t all that MyCareer has to offer, though. The main narrative wraps up in about five hours, or after you complete your first year in the NBA. That’s when the training wheels come off. Instead of playing a few key games in a single season while dealing with personal drama, the second act of MyCareer asks you to manage a full year’s schedule. Regular games are supplemented with off-days, when you’re free to speak with interested sponsors, practice drills with your team, or spend time with other NBA stars to improve your image. It’s a nice change of pace from the normal grind of playing 82 regular-season games, and while your remaining years in the league lack the pomp and circumstance of the intro, MyCareer is an alluring journey.
What could have improved MyCareer is a tutorial—even a basic one. It’s a trial by fire for anyone unfamiliar with the standard flow of the game, and even veteran players will find that mastering the tweaked control scheme demands plenty of practice. I dug through each and every menu option looking for a solution, only to find a handful of short, basic videos presented by the cover athletes that don’t even scratch the surface of what you can do in a single position. You can look up all the controls and practice on your own, but it’s just not enough.
As always, there’s so much more to do beyond MyCareer mode. The rewarding MyTeam mode pushes you to invest time and resources into your slapdash team to earn new booster packs and cards to bolster your roster. The temptation to drop real-life cash on better packs and players can be strong, but this collectible card carnival adds enough new challenges—including an online three-on-three Gauntlet mode that pairs you with other players—to remain satisfying without pressuring you to pay a premium.
What could have improved MyCareer is a tutorial—even a basic one. It’s a trial by fire for anyone unfamiliar with the standard flow of the game.
The franchise-focused MyLeague and MyGM modes also make a strong return, giving you the freedom to relocate your team, reconfigure their look, and even test out your rookie prospects in the summer league. If you want to sit in the hot seat of an NBA general manager and balance the morale of the entire organization as you run day-to-day activities, that option is there. If you’d prefer to create an NBA sandbox where you control a franchise for a full 80 seasons and can even invite up to 29 other real people to join your personal NBA fantasy, MyLeague and its new online component is your destination. There are myriad ways to play here. And when you add the online MyPark mode and Play Now options that pit you against either real teams or a group of created characters, it’s easy to see how you could lose yourself in NBA 2K16’s content buffet.
But working against the game’s successes is a steady current of connectivity issues. The nagging frame rate, stability, and connection lapses still persist even after years of online woes. They’re not quite as damning—I found plenty of online matches that hitched and sputtered far less than what’s been seen in the past—but connectivity issues reset my created character’s appearance on multiple occasions and even kicked me out of games. It’s hard to put too much weight on your online record when the timing of your shot can be altered by network errors as you’re fighting down the stretch of the fourth quarter. Instead of allowing you to test skills online and invest time into improving pole position, NBA 2K16 too often pits you against its own technical limitations.
NBA 2K16 draws you in with its welcoming personality and expanded game modes. But it still manages to push you away with unexplained intricacies. A deep tutorial would have gone a long way toward making the new passing and screening maneuvers easier to incorporate into your game, and at this point, it’s inexcusable that this game still struggles online. Still, the fact that NBA 2K16 is a great basketball experience can’t be ignored. Few sports games come close to providing a more authentic and fun virtual representation of the real thing, and even if this is the least user-friendly entry in years, I can’t stop playing it.