NBA 2K16 [Tip-Off Review]: How the West Was Won.
There have always been several ways to play NBA 2K–but nothing comes close to the extent of features and options players will have in NBA 2K16. In fact, any one of these modes could be a respected, fully-fledged game in itself. With that said, we needed 2 hardwood holy men to review a game so massive.
Welcome to another installment of Geek vs. Nerd: Tip-Off Edition!
GEEK – While my fellow “Splash Brother” Myke spews all the goods (and bads) on the Spike Lee directed MyCareer mode just down below, I’d be steering you wrong if I didn’t admit that “Livin’ Da Dream” wasn’t the most riveting new feature in 2K this year. First off, MyFacescan didnt work. Again. But I can overlook that nuisance since the game carried over MyPlayer from last year. Nice touch. I gave MyMoody a little more facial hair and a new haircut–but he still has an unforgiving goatjaw full of marbles that present some pretty horrendous, weed-induced facial expressions throughout Spike’s story (not to mention that only ONE voice actor was used for MyPlayer, so if you’re heavily foreign or “suburban”, have fun with the accent you’re stuck with).
Another issue with MyCareer is the commentary that flows throughout the games before Year 2 of the story (to which the lingering personal commentary from the broadcast following the first 5-6 hours is highly appreciated). Mentions of a “long and bumpy” road for your guy come before there are any signs of outside distractions. Strange. I’m also a bit sad I can’t play with the Michigan Wolverines in other modes, but it was awesome to see my guy accept a scholarship to MyFavorite college team (of course, NCAA restrictions don’t allow real college player names). I can see this leading to a full College Hoops mode in NBA 2K17 next year. Right?
Before moving onto the brunt of this review, I have a public service announcement to make: NBA 2K16‘s online servers work! Yay! OK.. ok.. ok–at least so far. Maybe I shouldn’t overreact because the game only officially released today, but I can’t imagine many diehard NBA 2Kers having waited over the weekend to pick it up. There were plenty of folks ballin’ online in every mode I tested, so we’ll see how it all plays out as the week progresses. The fact I faced zero lag and only witnessed one or two minor hiccups in several hours of play is a got-damn miracle.
Let’s hope this remains the case, because there are enough modes to keep you busy throughout the next year. Play Now Online, which is more fruitful than it sounds: win 4-5 online games with regular NBA teams and you’re onto the next level of difficulty (from Freshman to Hall of Fame). And you’ll move up even faster if you, say, upset the top tier Cavs/Warriors with the bottom ringing T-Wolves or Sixers. You can count on some nerds ragequitting (despite 2K’s much improved matchmaking) or dropping out of games to “smoke a blunt real quick”, so the rewards are worth the risk of using a shittier squad.
In addition to Blacktop, which gives you the chance to relive or play a modern day version of Nintendo Gameboy’s NBA All-Star Challenge with any dream match-up of your choice, the heavily addicting and annoying MyPark also returns. It’s addicting, because what else is cooler than swagging up you MyPlayer with some dope apparel from Nike, Jordan and the NBA Store for some 3-on-3 streetball? Annoying, because much like any multiplayer video game, there are several cliques/squads and online goons who only play this mode. Since you level up your ranking the more you play, there’s a fat chance you’ll ever rise on the concrete unless you stay dedicated.
Arguably the best of all the online modes, however, is MyTeam, which serves as this year’s 2K version of fantasy-inspired “Ultimate Team” (as witnessed in NHL, Madden, and FIFA). You pick a starter card pack of your favorite team, which consists of playbooks, jerseys, and…journeymen. Worse over, the biggest ish with any of these modes is microtransactions (as you’ll be facing peeps who purchase plenty of decks) and the fact you only have the option of playing with bums initially unless you have enough VC (virtual currency) or real loot to buy more packs–which can take a minute. Patience is a virtue with MyTeam.
That said, the inclusion of MyTeam‘s 3v3 rooftop Gauntlet saves this feature from a near-fail, with its tantalizing idea of constant progression, unlocking rewards from the board even if you lose. Even when my Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, and pair of provided-for-me D-Leaguers (sometimes your “trial” players are superstars, but it’s rare) went against all odds against squads that holstered classic MJ & Durant or Lebron & Lawson, games still went down to the wire. Maybe when more people jump online, there won’t be so many uneven match-ups…or too much of an emphasis on shooting, as most bigs are sadly — and utterly — useless here. There are other modes in MyTeam, such as Domination (33 game challenge against historic teams) and Road to the Playoffs (but wait till your team is “souped up” first); better, the same AMAZING Team Creator found in MyLeague can also be used here, too.
Although I’m making a far more conscientious effort to play all the many modes this year, I would be amiss not to mention the new changes/improvements to MyLeague (and MyGM, if you want to take ownership strategy even further). The amount of customization players have in The Mode Formerly Known As The Association/Season is Off the John Wall, as now you can rebrand, relocate and realign your favorite team — or teams, since MyLeague allows Users to control all 30 — to your liking. The Team Builder allows custom logos (uploaded to the servers), highly detailed custom uni’s, custom arenas complete with 6 custom sponsor logos and your choice of stadium effects for every critical in-game moment, and custom…everything. If you want to have a Fantasy Draft and trade override to have Olajuwon, Kobe and King James all on one team that now plays in Vegas or Canada, g’head. The options are endless.
Look, man. While I know MyCareer‘s story is too linear and far from perfect, Visual Concepts deserves props for having the Spaulding leather to throw a mini-movie into the game in the first place (hey, who knows, maybe next year Martin Scorcese will direct). The amount of detail put together in one sports video game also cannot be matched by this edition: Coaches call plays and players make in-game adjustments on the fly (like solving that damn CP3 pick-and-roll), ref’s talk during flagrant fouls and free-throws, stadiums have security and signature organ tunes, players tie their shoes and chew on mouthguards, and sweat drips down the heavy (and finally true-to-size) shoulders of Shaq/Zach like the Nile.
In 2K16, you can feel the adrenaline steaming off their face. You can feel the adrenaline pumping through MyReview. And– NBA 2K16 is easily the best sports video game of the year. Swish.
NERD – All the skill ratings and player enhancements aside, the biggest point of pride of any NBA 2K player is how long that moment is going to last when any non-player walks by and thinks you’re watching a real game. Over the years that has gotten longer and longer, and with 2K16 almost every shot (save for any of the closeups) looks like a full on TNT NBA broadcast. Coupled with the new pre and post-game coverage by Ernie Johnson, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and Shaq and the almost completely non-repetitive in-game, play-by-play calling, the only difference between 2K/Visual Concepts’ presentation of the game and the one we’ll be seeing when the actual NBA regular season starts in the fall is that we get to control what happens in 2K16…
Greg Anthony does a great job taking over game-calling duties from Steve Kerr, reflecting what’s happening in the league now with Kerr on coaching duties for the World Champion Golden State Warriors. Anthony is a great fit with returning announcers Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg and their commentary is seamless, informative, and relevant — even in in the MyCareer mode. Sure there are bound to be stories that repeat every now and then, but I had to play at least 10-hours into the game to hear anything that took me out of the experience– even if it was just for a little bit.
The video presentation is an almost pitch perfect mock-up of all the national NBA broadcasts. Between quarters they’ll cut to a “pre-taped” interview about players talking about a variety of subjects from practice to getting back into the season after winning the championships. Players will even photobomb their teammates on court post-game chats and the camera will move just like it does on ESPN or TNT.
This painstakingly faithful representation of a live NBA broadcast makes your character’s journey through Spike Lee’s brand new “Livin’ Da Dream” story mode all the more engrossing. “Livin’” is basically He Got Game 2, complete with the return of the relentless sports agent Dom Pagnotti from that film. You’ll go from high school superstar to NBA draft pick, witnessing the story of Frequency Vibrations — your character’s nickname regardless of whatever name you choose. The narrative arch is the most prevalent in some well-acted cut scenes directed by Lee, a few of which really pack some dramatic punches as well as some hilarious moments between Dom and your twin sister/manager CeCe.
However, some of the scenes drag on for too long after they’ve hit their plot points, reveling in the acting but taking you away from playing the actual game. It doesn’t help that as you progress, the actual story of “Livin’” will start to become more obviously linear, with very few choices available to help mold your own personal narrative. In fact, the only one choice that really stands out in the game is the ability to pick which college you attend and since the college section of your career doesn’t really mirror what’s going on in college ball now, it definitely seems like a superfluous choice. It’s strange seeing the NBA Draft happen in the story as it reflects the actual picks of 2015 and yet you saw none of those players playing for their respective colleges when you faced off against them.
That detached feeling continues on in your rookie season of being a pro ball player. Spike’s narrative builds your character up to be a superstar rookie, getting shoe deals and endorsements left and right, but since minutes in the game are scarce no matter what your skill level is, it doesn’t seem like your 8 point, 2 rebound stat line matches the praise Freq is apparently getting from everyone. Even if you play well, your stock stays the same. Luckily your rookie year is short and is highlighted by some semi-interestingly themed games: your first face-off against your hero, an all-star in your position and finally you’ll come home and play in Brooklyn for the first time since lacing up in the NBA. It actually feels more realistic after the main story arch is over, which coincides with the end of your rookie year.
After that point, Johnson will periodically mention the dramatic events of “Livin’” in the pre-game coverage of the game, and Anthony and the play-by-play team will discuss your story at slower parts of the game. Your character will also still be featured in some of the pre-taped, in-studio interviews between quarters where you’ll still get a glimpse into how your character is developing as a player and a person. In fact, your second season in MyCareer is where the mode really begins to shine.
When the credits roll on “Livin’ Da Dream”, MyCareer becomes somewhat of an RPG. You’ll be able to level up your character with VC, or through choosing to practice and do drills on your days off. There’s also opportunities to get endorsements for more coin, which you have to appropriately schedule throughout the season since a lot of promotional appearances have time limits on them. There are plenty of other factors that influence your play on the court as well, like expanding a fanbase that will let you build a rep with other NBA players or hang out with teammates in order to strengthen your on court chemistry.
We’re only a few steps away from having a full fledged BioWare-esque sports game that substitutes spaceships and dragons for starting lineups and max contract deals. But what NBA 2K has that a lot of those fantasy RPG’s don’t is the ability to bring your hard earned MyCareer character online to test yourself against other players.
Like our Monsignor said above, the MyPark mode where you can bring your character online is going to be a big love/hate relationship for even the biggest fans. There’s a sense of cohesion with the ability to show off all your new gear, and your new moves, but how is a physical representation a good substitution for a simple CoD-like matchmaking lobby? Finding an open game is tough, and waiting for people can get boring. But, if you’re finishing off that burrito in between games, MyPark is the perfect background noise when you’re in the zone.
2K’s tradition of hiring really good music supervisors continues on into 2K16, so you can listen to fresh tracks from Calvin Harris and Zed, or by DJs Mustard, Khaled, Snake, and Premier while watching any of the online games going on in real time at the park. I only had the chance to play 21, which surprisingly translates well into 1’s and 0’s and really gives you a chance to highlight your skills on the sticks. This all means that newcomers 2K should definitely WAIT ON THIS MODE.
The learning curve for the controls is going to be pretty rough for people who haven’t played a 2K game in awhile. Ball handling, passing, and shooting have never looked so fluid in video games before. Basically whatever you’ve seen players do on the court in real life, you can control in this game. The post game is way more immersive this year, too, as playing with a “big” is actually fun for a change. Guards are going to have a blast as well now that there are more “Signature Style” dribbles that can be achieved by flicking right or left on the thumbsticks. They’ve even done more mo-cap work making sure to get everyone’s different animations down to a tee…
For noobz though, all this translates to having to learn the equivalent of Street Fighter level move-sets in order to not look like you’re some actor playing in the All-Star Celebrity game, and since the in-game presentation has some many cutaways (the Halftime show, in-studio interviews, timeouts, etc), learning could feel like a slow process. I highly encourage anyone trying to learn the ropes to jump into a 3-on-3 Blacktop game to get some quality, uninterrupted play time.
Whether you’re new to the series, or have been playing every year, NBA 2K16 is a must buy for basketball fans. I mean, the game’s only fouls are in its biggest innovations and none of them are flagrant. Welcome to the 21st century version of playing street ball with your friends and yelling out “Kobe” on the fadeaway. The only way this series can get more immersive is if it came with the basketball from Space Jam that the Monstars used to play like pros, and gave you those powers in real life.