“This is not NBA Jam… This is not NBA Jam…” That’s the mantra I had to keep forefront in my mind while reviewing Visual Concepts’ latest masterpiece, NBA 2K15. Obviously the game doesn’t LOOK much like NBA Jam – no big heads here, nobody is on fire, and the athletes don’t move like they’ve recently chugged 15 Red Bull energy drinks. Still, throughout the first few hands-on hours with the premiere (only?) NBA game on the market, a part of me kept resorting to that old fashioned “Quick shot! 3 Point! Pass really fast!” playing style ingrained in me over 10 years of childhood memories.
But maybe that’s unfair to Visual Concepts, 2K games, and the talented team involved with this long-running sports franchise. This game is good, no doubt. The question is whether or not it’s THAT good of a game – good enough to make me put down NCAA 2014/Madden 15 and revisit a basketball video game for the first time in five years. Good enough to make me appreciate a league I don’t frequent (sorry, y’all, I live on Tobacco road – it’s college basketball or nothing)… good enough to pull me away from Super Smash Bros 3DS for the first time in weeks… good enough to ignore fall premieres stashed away on my DVR and turn off the WWE Network long enough to enjoy something non-wrestling related.
NBA 2K15 might just be that game.
Here’s the long and short of it all: NBA 2K15 is the most authentic virtual sports experience I’ve ever seen. As soon as you boot up the game, Kevin Durant graces your screen and reminds you that, yes, guys who play professional basketball move pretty fast. The red-and-white NBA silhouette pops up beside NBA 2K’s logo and everything just feels right.
Pharrell Williams created a unique soundtrack for 2K15 that blares over every menu, practice session, and loading screen you’ll encounter. It’s fun if not entirely necessary. But hip hop and b-ball go hand-in-hand, so 2K was smart to at least nab a top-tier musician. Other musical talents not normally associated with basketball (think Lorde and No Doubt) contribute a few jams to the game, but Visual Concepts uses them in such a way that it feels like those songs were tailor-made for NBA highlight videos.
The deeper you get into the game, the more impressive everything looks. Before every game there’s a “2K Pre-Game Show” featuring Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neil. The setup is awesome – an authentic sports broadcast featuring stats, booth recorded audio, and flashy transition graphics. However, the first chink in 2K15’s armor comes from Shaq’s lifeless observations. Yes, the polygon people behind the booth look like Ernie and Shaq. Unfortunately, it sounds like somebody fed Shaq a pound of macaroni and cheese, spiked his drink with a few sedatives, and asked him to use his best Vin Diesel impersonation during the line reading.
But that’s only a small cut; once the game gets going everything looks just about perfect. The coliseums are accurately recreated with every diverse court texture looking downright touchable. The gameplay audio is spot-on, the audience and background noises accurately reflect an NBA atmosphere, and lots of attention was paid to bringing out those small details only die hard NBA fans might notice. For example, did you know that the “cha-ching” Mario coin sound is played for some franchises when they hit a free throw?
The pre-game introductions look spectacular, as do the cheerleader routines and bench-player reactions. There are times you’ll swear you’re watching an NBA game. And the little flourishes – a camera that zooms out and pans across the fan reactions, for instance – are signature NBA presentation styles that only true fans will get goosebumps over.
And I haven’t even told you how spectacular the player models look. Yes, every game outlet from here to the moon will be discussing graphics when it comes to NBA 2K15, as they should. This thing looks freakishly awesome. Player sweat, natural movement, and even facial hair are displayed with a reverence I’ve not seen in a sporting game before. These guys look more than lifelike. In fact, 2K even managed to nail the player eyes (which is what always triggers “FAKE” in my brain). There are a few caveats – for example Doris Burke looks like she’s being controlled by abstract puppeteers – which only stand out more because everything else looks so fantastic.
What else? Everything else. Announcements of upcoming games in MyCareer and MyGM mode… accurate sponsorships. Basically, if the NBA has it, you’ll find it here.
One of the much hyped additions to this year’s game is the facial mapping, where NBA 2K15 can actually scan what you look like and put it in the game. Some of the results have been hideous – but, seeing as I don’t have a Kinect attached to my Xbox One, I can’t comment on it first hand. I will say this: it’d be downright creepy to see my face on an NBA player’s body. I much prefer my caveman jawed, spikey-haired Dino Justice. 2K obviously thinks this is a big deal. I’m not sure if I agree.
Do you like sports games? Well… this is the kitchen sink of sports games. And that’s a good thing. The basics are all here – quick matches, season modes, and online play. But Visual Concepts knocks it out of the park (swishes it through the net?) with additional online modes and single-player gameplay options.
Being a strategy game aficionado, I immediately jumped head first into the MyGM mode. One of the major added features this year was the new conversation mode. Basically, if you’ve played any of Telltale’s games (think Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us), or a Bioware RPG, you know what to expect – somebody says something, and you pick from a list of responses. It works, more or less, and I found myself imaging what I would actually say in those situations. Still, the responses are obviously either GOOD or BAD (or NICE or JERKISH), so there’s not much depth.
I did appreciate the added SimCast mode, which let me sim games point-by-point and jump in if my team started sinking (they did). I also gained XP points as a GM and had endless options when it came to drafting, free agency, and trades. It was overwhelming in the best of ways.
A lot has been said about the MyTEAM mode. These kinds of “games within games” just don’t sit well with me, but a lot of other people seem to enjoy it, so maybe that’s your cup of tea.
One thing I did enjoy, however, was the MyLEAGUE mode. It’s the basic franchise/season mode you’ll find in any sporting game, but with added control over roster, season length, injuries, etc. It reminded me of NCAA 2014 where you could restructure entire Division 1 conferences on a whim. 2K and Visual Concepts obviously understand that customisability sells in sporting games, and MyLEAGUE gives you absolute control.
And, of course, the famous MyCAREER mode is back. If you’ve never played it, think of it like a story-driven saga with RPG elements like player-building and upgrades. Everything about this mode screams moneymaker – you’re put in the shoes of an NBA rookie who is trying to make it in the big league. The story elements manage to come across as engaging rather than hokey (a tough line to draw between in sports games), and players get to work with a variety of talent as they try to keep their spot and earn a championship system. If you like building a superstar, this mode is awesome. If you just like playing basketball, there’s likely too much “drama” to keep you around. Still, if this is any indication of 2K’s upcoming WWE game and the newly introduced MyCAREER mode there featuring Bill Demott, I’m beyond stoked.
2K is advertising “6,000 new animations and a brand new movement system” alongside defensive movement upgrades, new shooting mechanics, a new play system, and control * balance enhancements. Honestly, having not played last year’s well-received edition, I’m not sure what all was added to 2K15. I do, however, think the gameplay is both a blessing and a curse.
The idea behind all of the added gameplay features seem to be focusing on more true-to-life NBA dynamics. Shots are tricky, but the added shot meter below players gives you a little insight as to whether or not a ball will go through. I still felt betrayed whenever I’d make the perfect stop in the purple zone and my ball would bounce away… only to see a yellow shot (too early or too late) swish through just moments later.
The new play system threw me for a loop as well. 2K says the AI should “recognize scoring opportunities much better, adapt to different defensive schemes, and relieve pressure situations in intelligent ways when the defense attempts to stifle the play being run in.” Sure, that works in concept. I quickly learned that if played hands-off a little more while on defense, things worked swimmingly. However, when I tried to get too involved (as I always do in these situations), athletes just piled in the lane. On offense, when I’d try to set a pick-and-roll, my center would sometimes get right in the way, thus causing me to pass the ball away and shoot wildly.
Now, I’ll chalk some of this up to basketball ignorance. I understand the basic fundamentals of basketball and have a general idea of basic plays. I know player positions, shooting drills, things like that. However, when I played defense in 2K15, it oftentimes felt like luck. I’d guard a guy for 20 seconds only to see him easily brush by me in the lane and hit a layup. Or, I’d leave a guy WIDE OPEN, and he’d still pass it away. I might pick up the strategy better as time goes along, but the minor inconsistency here had me questioning how to play.
I also had some question about how to effectively block on defense, or juke-and-drive while holding the ball. There might be a “how to” option stuck deep within a menu somewhere, but I kind of wish 2K would give me some pointers up front. Other sporting games excel at bringing newbies up to speed while giving veterans the chance to brush up on what’s new. 2K definitely needs to implement a better training program.
Still, despite those minor qualms, I found my enjoyment rate increasing at a directly proportional rate to my hours put into the game. The more I figured out, the more I wanted to jump back in and give it another shot. Will I ever be an online pro? Doubtful. But, just finding those small victories (a shooting percentage over 50? alright!) kept me wanting more.
I don’t think basketball is a sport that’s inherently as accessible in virtual form as other video games (say, Football and Professional Wrestling), but Visual Concepts does an admirable job of making it work well.
Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10
This game is a definite must-buy. While a few hitches keep this thing from being perfect (namely a confusing defensive scheme and a few presentation barriers), the total package that 2K has put out with NBA 2K15 is an incredibly impressive feat. In fact, I doubt there’s a more complete video game you’ll see all year.
If this is a sample of what 2K Games and Visual Concepts has in store for WWE 2K15, fans have every reason to be stoked
Welcome to a new era for Between the Ropes! A review of NBA 2k15 seemed to mesh perfectly with our new culture and entertainment outlook, so we jumped at the chance to bring it to you. Our review copy was played on an Xbox One. Tell us what you think!