It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Charles Dickens’ infamous opening line to A Tale of Two Cities is not the sort of thing that’s usually applied to videogames – sports ones in particular – but it’s the perfect descriptor for 2K Sports’ NBA1k15.
NBA2K has always stood at the upper echelons of sports gaming, and this year’s is no different. It’s got great controls, a wealth of features and modes and some of the most jarringly realistic visuals you’ll see in a sports game. In a brief, sidewards glance, it’s easy to believe you’re watching the real deal on a TV screen – thanks to its in-your-face, TV broadcast aesthetic – instead of playing some sort of digital sports entertainment. That’s until you spot the odd – though admittedly infrequent – animation aberrations that straddle the uncanny valley. First though, some background. I’m new to the NBA2K franchise – though not new to basketball. Way before Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin become internationally known NBA superstars, Basketball has been a part of Chinese culture, and I spent quite a bit of my time as a young Chinese boy trying very hard (and mostly failing) to be any good at the sport.
I wish I was a little bit taller.
In my youth. I cut my teeth playing its video game version with Konami’s Double Dribble, and progressed on to 16 and 32 bit basketballs games. I’ve always enjoyed the sport, though I’ve had little to no interest in the NBA or any of the modern games that have attempted to digitally replicate it. I may not know NBA 2K, but I do know basketball – so I felt confident enough to tackle its legendary MyCareer mode without really knowing how the game worked. I’d surely be able to just pick it up, learn how to play and take my created baller all the way to the championships, right? Nope.
NBA 2K is a rather technical game, with a hard-to-master control scheme that, while allowing you to execute all sorts of really cool moves, isn’t exactly the sort of thing you’d call a “pick up and play” game. Using the twin sticks, and just about every other button on the controller, you’re able to pull off all manner of flashy dribbles, lay ups and passes – with a fantastic pick-and-roll system in play for offensive tactics. A little meter at your player’s feet shows the required timing for jump shots, making scoring hoops a game of precision timing. Defense is just as intricate, NBA 2K15 allows you to move your defender in a variety of ways to help impede, slow, or impact the progress of an offensive player. Each basket plays out like a seconds-long choreographed dance. It’s all rather technical stuff, and takes quite a while to get used to.
None of that elegance really helped Speedy G, my created character. (As an aside, The game allows you to scan in your own face for use in the game. Try as I might, I just could not get the feature to work – it would just stop scanning, so I don’t even have a monster face to show off. ) He started his career as an undrafted player – and I really wish I could tell you of a great zero-to-hero story about how he rose in the ranks, getting signed on to better teams and eventually becoming the most famous player in the world…but I’d be lying. Speedy G failed his first try-out, with not a single team wanting to sign him. When he was eventually signed to a team for a 10 day contract, his manager was overjoyed – but that celebration was short lived.
Just ten days and five games later, Speedy G was told he wasn’t right for the team – and ended up moving from bad team, to worse team. As my real world skills picked up though, so did Speedy G’s- eventually getting him signed on for a more long-term post. The whole thing plays out like a sports RPG (it even has a conversation wheel), with a compelling storyline and skill levelling. The game’s in-game grading system is excellent, rewarding your position as much as your scoring – so it determines how well you’re playing with the whole team, to decide whether you’re ready to be moved up or not. There’s even an in-game, Twitter-like social media service that has digital fans interactive with you, congratulating you for being awesome, or lambasting you for missing your free throws. It’s really fun stuff, and about as good as I can imagine a career mode in any sports game to be.
I wish I was a baller
Unfortunately, MyCareer – and many of the game’s other modes – are all stuffed away behind an online wall. You need to be online to get the most out of it, even though you’re playing a single player game, all by yourself. It’s made all the more egregious due to the fact that the servers are routinely down, or exceptionally slow. Much of that, I surmise, has to do with the game’s upgrade system. Earning the necessary tokens to upgrade your player organically is a bit of a grind – one that’s made all the easier thanks to a system where you can just pay real money in exchange for the currency necessary to elevate your baller from Kevin Smith, to Kevin Durant.
Its not the only issue either; load times are frankly obscene. As cool as the whole RPG dynamic to the career mode is, watching a loading screen for two minutes, interacting with your coach for 15 seconds and then watching it load for another two minutes makes the whole thing more of a chore than it ought to be. For those new to the series, the lack of a proper tutorial certainly stings. There are a few videos hidden in 2KU that show how the game’s systems work, but no real tutorial on putting them together – which makes it so newcomers to the game will take forever to really get a handle on ball control.
MyPark, the PVP mode that lets you customise a character and take it to the streets, is still fundamentally broken nearly a month after release, and too laggy to have any fun with.
I’m always last to be picked
In spite of these frustrating issues, at its core NBA2K15 is excellent stuff. The actual play mechanics are top-drawer stuff, and there are modes aplenty to keep players entertained: including a full GM mode that lets you manage an entire team, and MyTeam, a collectible trading card game and a new in-game, live-action show called NBA 2KTV which has new content regularly. If its servers worked properly, or the game’s main modes weren’t forced online, it would easily be the most impressive and most rounded sports game of the year.
Last Updated: November 3, 2014