You win some, you lose some. Not just an adage about taking the good with the bad, it seems to be the only way to describe the ups and downs of NBA 2K16.
Much like last year’s installment in the sports series, there are some excellent moments, but it’s just not a clean sweep to the top of the review score championships.
Before we look at anything else, it has to be said that NBA 2K16 is the most aesthetically stunning and accurate sports game I’ve ever seen. The visuals are so realistic that it can actually be quite jarring as the camera modes and broadcasting look and sound like the real TV experience.
Obviously this too-real aesthetic is shattered from time to time with odd animations or stutters that remind the player that this is actually a video game, but for the casual passerby it would be easy to be convinced that this was an actual NBA broadcast rather than a digital sporting simulation.
Okay, so it looks great, but there’s a whole lot more to NBA 2K16 than that.
White men can’t jump
In a much expanded career mode, NBA 2K16 starts you out as the star player on your high school basketball team, getting wooed by college coaches. From there, you get to play a year in college before entering the NBA draft.
However, the story isn’t as straight-forward as all that – this is a full Spike Lee motion picture experience built into the early part of the career mode, adding story and narrative to the progression experience.
Unfortunately, the story mode also means that players have little to no agency during the early parts of career mode. You can’t choose how your character will respond to what’s going on in his life, nor does anything you do on the court seem to change the actual story, which made me feel like more of a passive viewer than I was hoping for.
It would have been nice to at least have had some dialogue options along the way to make players feel more invested in the experience.
I also felt out of place in my own “family” in the story mode. When you create your “My Player”, you have some head, face and hair customization options available.
Most of these options are built around making your own highly-customised black man with various forms of appropriate hair in afro or dreadlocked designs. However, even though I was playing as a man, I tried to make him sort of represent how I think I would look as a gender-bender (sorry, I couldn’t use the face scan to make myself some sort of face scanned monster).
However, my pale-skinned, mohawked baller looked like a strange adopted son, especially when compared to his twin in the story.
While I appreciate the effort put into the Spike Lee production, I really didn’t enjoy that aspect of career mode. It felt so tired and cliched, and took away from any sense of player agency at the start of the game.
Once the Spike Lee section was over, the career mode is actually a whole lot of fun, letting players figure out how to spend their off-days; a day spent training with your team might improve your balling skills for the next game, but you miss out on an opportunity to get more fans by going to events, or earning more upgrade currency by making your sponsors happy.
It’s the management aspect of the game that adds some cool strategy to the sports experience.
Here’s the scoop they shoot hoop for loot
Don’t expect to just be able to pick up and play NBA 2K16. The controls, while excellent, are never really properly taught, even in career mode. There is no tutorial mode or really even a reliable way to learn what you’re doing right or wrong besides getting into the NBA and seeing your grades go up or down as you call for the ball too often, fail to spread out, suck at defense or just generally fail at making any basket.
Of course, like any challenging game, when you do figure it out, it’s that much more satisfying to sink that tricky 3-pointer or steal from the all-star hoping to score over your head.
Beyond the career mode, there is actually a lot to experience in NBA 2K16. You can earn street cred by playing against others in the My Park, take on the role of a general manager as you create a team and lead them to glory, or even take part in the weird trading card game that still utterly baffles me.
Unfortunately, I’m baffled by it mostly because I had very limited opportunities to play it thanks to the 2K sports servers.
Yes, that’s right, yet again 2K has locked most of the game modes behind the online gateway. You need to be logged into the 2K servers to access most of the game, and those servers were not functional for most of the time I had with the game.
Beyond that, despite absurdly long loading and saving times (online and offline), the server never seemed to remember who I was, forcing me to remake my MyPlayer each and every time.
Luckily my career mode saves were still okay, but it was rather frustrating to continually be prompted to confirm my email address, date of birth and redesign my player’s head every time, as the servers had decided that I had never done that before. Here’s hoping that gets fixed in an upcoming patch.
The game does come with a day one patch, as we’ve come to expect from games in general. However, while you can still play the career mode while offline and wait for the patch, it might not be the wisest idea – your offline career mode can’t be taken online.
This meant that I had to redo the entire career mode just to see what extra elements were added to the experience, while connected to the server.
Do the right thing
Worst of all,the difference between offline and online play is that online play included more instructions and tutorial elements. No, not on gameplay, but at least to explain the various areas and what you could get up to in career mode, etc.
Why was that left out when you played the game offline? Of course playing online also allows you to buy and spend real money on all sorts of boosts and upgrades to make your player less of a flailing idiot at the start of the season.
You don’t have to spend any money, although the RPG aspects of NBA 2K16 do make a big difference and I probably would have progressed to a better team if I could actually sink those baskets and defend against better opponents.
I’m curious if those paid for upgrades also apply to online matches – talk about pay to win, in that case. I’m unsure of how well balanced or laggy our online experience is; when the servers were functional, there was no one online to play against, so I just can’t tell you for sure one way or the other.
There’s been much consternation regarding the review and the game’s servers. While most of our play time was sans servers, they are now online, and 2K has told us that the servers will be live and fully functional once the game is in stores. We will continue to play the game over the course of the next few days, and report on how the servers fare.
Last Updated: September 25, 2015