Also On: PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Visual Concepts
NBA 2K16 is easily one of the best basketball games I’ve played in quite some time. It improves upon a solid foundation laid by the previous game, while really upping that sim experience that the series is known for. There are a few pratfalls in the release this year, but by and large if you’re looking for a challenging, fun NBA experience both offline and on, you’ll likely want to check out NBA 2K16.
It’s also packed with things to do. From the create-a-player MyCareer mode, to the new 2K Pro-Am, you won’t be running out of stuff to do any time soon. I’ve spent a large amount of my time with MyCareer and MyTeam specifically, but for those that enjoy the General Manager experience you’ve got MyGM, you have online options with MyPark, along with some standard Exhibition modes both online and off. So no matter how you like to play video game basketball, there’s a good chance that NBA 2K16 has you covered this year.
But again, not everything is perfect. MyCareer sports a story-driven overhaul this year directed by none other than Spike Lee (the game is even referred to as a “Spike Lee Joint”). Fans of Spike Lee will certainly realize the man is no stranger to basketball, so this would appear to be a pairing that actually makes some sense. That said, while I appreciate the effort, I think the story bits really interfere with the standard career mode in unfortunate ways.
The story itself isn’t particularly interesting, in fact, it feels surprisingly basic. After creating your player, you move up the ranks from High School, to College, and finally to your rookie year in the NBA. The story focuses on your support system primarily, including your immediate family, childhood friend, and girlfriend. It unfortunately delves into well-worn territory with any sports related tale, with concerns of people taking advantage of you, leeching off of your newfound fame and wealth. The voice acting is really solid here, but the general plot is not very intriguing, and some of the cutscenes can be pretty lengthy. There’s a story ending monologue that’s particularly overwrought and hamfisted, which leaves a poor lasting impression of the story at the end.
The story also kills your progress until it’s finished. Starting out, your begin with a player skill level of 55. This remains unchanged throughout the 3 High School games, 4 College Games, and 9 or so NBA games you have to play to finish the story. When you get drafted out of College, pretty much every other player picked has a stat rank of 75 or more, which really impacts your ability to perform in that rookie season. You don’t start earning the virtual currency required to upgrade your stats until your second year, so you can’t really improve your player for a number of hours. Granted, you can skip through the cutscenes, but it can still take a while before the training wheels come completely off.
Once they do, MyCareer opens up into a pretty competent career mode, complete with endorsements, side activities, and practices to engage in during off days. It still takes a while to earn the VC necessary to upgrade your character to a level that puts him on par with his teammates, but at least with the second season you start to feel like you’re making some progress. Still, I really feel like the story should have been separated from the MyCareer mode, and ideally if developer Visual Concepts toys around with a story like this next year, that’s something they would consider.
Outside of my issues with the story portion of MyCareer, I have very few complaints. Ball handling is incredibly deep and diverse this year, and while it can take a while to master, it feels pretty intuitive. Switching hands, spinning, and other dribbling techniques are tied into the right analog stick with movement patterns that mimic on-screen action. The defensive A.I. makes for a tough opponent on difficulties Pro and up, but in ways that make sense when shots are being disputed both inside and outside of the paint. Pick and roll options can feel a little overpowered at times, but that’s entirely dependent on the team you’re facing off against. Also, some of the new passing options like bounce and lob passes really open up your offensive options in exciting ways. Feeding alley oop’s to players has never been as satisfying as it is this year.
I will say that NBA 2K16 is in dire need of a good tutorial mode. There’s about 4 videos, one of which isn’t even focused on gameplay, and at best these videos just explain basic control functions. If you really want to learn techniques, you’ve got to look outside of the game for that, which is unfortunate for new players. It’s such an excellent game of basketball that you’ll want to bring friends into the fray, but if they have little experience with the series, they’ll likely struggle and get frustrated. I would highly suggest checking out the videos being posted on YouTube by Sam Pham, which I’ve personally found quite helpful.
Overall, I really think NBA 2K16 is worth picking up this year. There’s so much to do, and the gameplay is really top-notch. It’s not perfect necessarily, but it’s remarkably close. I’m looking forward to playing more and more of it in the coming months, and I’d like to really commend Visual Concepts and 2K Sports for putting together one of the best basketball games I’ve played in years.