Hands on with NBA 2K20: Bouncing off the Walls

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Out of all my appointments at Gamescom, this was the one that I was dreading most. Anyone who knows me well (or probably just after reading one of my “long-winded” reviews) should have realised that I’m not exactly the type of person to gravitate towards games built around real sports. While the other boets in my res were more than happy to spend hours shouting at FIFA or to a lesser extent Madden, I was far more comfortable logging into Pillars of Eternity, Fallout or any other game I could dissect narratively, mechanically or philosophically because I’m a colossal wanker.

So sitting down to play NBA 2K20 I was… well, I think it would be fair to say I was thrown into the deep end, ankles tied together and told to compete against the LA Clippers. Thus, my trial of ball into net began, squeaking up and down the court, ball jostling between the Lakers (my team). It was neither efficient nor was I graceful and at the end of the day I’m not afraid to admit that I was trounced by the computer because I’ve never really played much of 2K’s NBA series.

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See, that’s how I approached NBA 2K20. It would have been impossible for me to critique it as a basketball game because if I’m entirely honest I have nothing to compare my time with 2K20 against, considering I’ve only played bite-sized chunks of the previous games. So I was forced to adopt a different angle, one where I had to look at what I was playing through the lens of a newcomer, perhaps someone who’s only now able to engage with modern sports games due to a variety of reasons.

So that’s what this article is more focused on: The impressions of a rookie. Which I think in a way is important in its own right; there are going to be dozens of sports-gamers who know the lingo, mechanics and usual trappings of the genre but I think very few of them will discuss their experiences in the most basic and accessible way possible.

So I’m doing the best I can here.

I did spend a large portion of my time with 2K20 giggling at myself because it was an admittedly funny sight. I always did my best to switch to the largest player on the team and move around the court in the most convoluted and unnecessary manner possible. Flailing limbs and pointless bunny hops were a serious issue amongst the Lakers and it only helped make the experience so much more entertaining.

Of course, that was when I could see my playable character do any of that stuff in the first place. My first big issue was how difficult it was to keep track of which player you are. The camera always seems to lock to the baller who is currently in possession of the orange sphere of destiny, which makes sense, and yet it never took into account where the player you were currently in control of actually was. There were numerous issues when I thought I was running up to tackle a player but my character was well off the screen being blocked by another player forcing me to manually switch out to another.

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Which is where I encountered my next problem with NBA 2K20. Basketball is an exceedingly fast sport, the back and forth between both sides occurs at an often ankle-breaking pace, so it would make sense that the ability to switch out between players should be near-instantaneous if not an automatic process handled by the game itself. Yet to switch out between players required a pressing of a bumper button followed by pushing the face button allocated to whatever player a wanted. It’s an exceedingly clunky system that I could see maybe working given enough time and effort, but it was especially confusing to start especially given how players are constantly moving, making it even harder to combine the visual and tactile inputs effectively.

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Not to mention that NBA 2K20 looks… unnatural. I find this often being the case with games that attempt to so precisely emulate photo-realistic faces and movements. I’m always somewhat confused by the quality of the visuals and the animation; the playable in-game sections often looked fantastic with animations that were both smooth and remarkable, deftly capturing a wide range of possible interactions and movements and yet the second the game wretched control away from me, the screen pivoting into a cameraman tracking the action close up, I was perplexed by how jagged and unnatural much of the movement was. Players lacked any kind of meaningful facial expressions and most of their animations outside of the player’s control seemed to almost play on a loop that was turning over slightly quickly. As impressively detailed as the individual droplets of sweat on a player’s neck are, it almost feels like the macros were sacrificed to make way for the micros.

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I went into my time with NBA 2K20 wanting to be converted, open to the idea that maybe there was something enjoyable in there for me. I was looking to be swayed over, to see why so many people flock to these sports simulators every year for their annual allotment of ball bouncing and dribbling. Yet, I didn’t see any of that. I left unsure of what people see in the NBA series and even more desperate to understand what it is that 2K20 was aiming to bring to the court for both old and new fans. It felt clunky, needlessly convoluted and nowhere near the experience I was hoping to be welcomed into. Guess I’ll stick to playing the nerd stuff. Back into my corner I go.

Last Updated: August 26, 2019

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