NBA 2K19 [Review]: The King & I.
I’m usually pretty quick when it comes to the NBA 2K review handles, but not this year–you can blame a certain webcrawler for that. You can also blame just how extensive 2K and Visual Concepts went in on the modes this year, giving loyalists plenty of reason to pour countless hours into NBA 2K19; MyCareer, MyGM, and MyTeam are all pretty thorough. It’s hard to argue with 2K’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when the actual passing, shooting and defending the rock has been so outstanding for so long, too…
Then, there’s that loud minority calling for the company’s head when it comes to the grind. Ranking up your MyPlayer without paying extra for it (or having the 20th Anniversary Edition) isn’t easy; from the get, my guy has been a 76 much in thanks to the extra 100K in Virtual Currency via the Deluxe Edition. I believe my character had that rating (or lower) last year after having played almost a full season. Now, imagine how wannabe ballers feel when they, either A.) Purchase the Standard “I’m broke or hate LeBron” version, or B.) Have the extra 100K in VC to rank up and still see players in the online Neighborhood hub 10-15 ratings higher before the official release of the damn game. Yes, it’s a cause for concern; but if people are willing to pay to play, why would 2K ever change it? If that type of stuff doesn’t bother you or you don’t mind grinding to the top (it’s a faster route this year, I promise), NBA 2K19 is the complete hoops package with several reasons to hop onto every mode available.
NBA 2K19‘s MyCareer story mode makes an admirable return. Despite not having the luxury of teaming up with and eventually rivaling against a pro played by Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther‘s Killmonger) from NBA 2K17, this year offers a wider ensemble, a lot more variety and a few surprises along the way. It’s an easily better story than the lackluster “DJ” streetball narrative from last year’s 2K18, too. Rather than play through the usual high school/college route from previous years, your player opens up with a shot overseas — a hooper’s life in China before ever deciding to pursue the NBA.
There are a few stinks in this transition from “The Prelude” (which anybody can download and try for free) to eventual arrival into The Association. The most glaring are circumstances, to which there are none. No matter how #Stephortless or “Lorenzo Brown” your player will play, you’ll wind up lauded anyway. I tore up China, even having a solid game against a Super USA team, then had a slew of piss-poor nights for an NBA G-League coach played astutely by Michael Rapaport. Why would a longtime 2K vet such as me play so poorly for the effing Fort Wayne Mad Ants? MyCareer mode post-China is apparently stuck on Hall of Fame difficulty. Don’t ask why; no matter where I searched, there was no way to alter the difficulty during G-League play, despite having the regular game mode initially set to Pro.
When the initial story was complete, I wound up on the Lakers alongside LeBron, getting major minutes off the bench and — now that I’m able to change any and all settings as I please — have had mostly great games (defense and 3-point shooting can be a bitch in MyCareer, though overall it hasn’t been too frustating). While going from G-League disaster to an instant 18/per off the pine is unrealistic, it’s easier to forgive The Way Back story for giving us a chance to play where we want. Teams offer you deals based on minutes available and VC rewards, so the option of being “the man” or cheering on a contender from the bench is entirely up to you.
Once acquainted in YourLoft and Neighborhood you won’t need to spend as much time as NBA 2K18 required with Team Practice. Drills for skills appear faster, more focused, and even more fun. Unless coach is running a scrimmage on the day, I’m usually in and out of practice in 5-minutes. Oh– so maybe that’s why they call us “A.I.”.. I haven’t played enough games in MyCareer to know how the main story develops, or how fast it will take me to get to that next level with VC, gear and game minutes. But no doubt I’m ready and excited to see where the future takes MyMoody (and, yeah, if you find the story’s nickname disrespectful to Allen I, you can eventually change your in-game name so Kevin Harlan will refer you to something else like “T”, at least…).
While it will initially take longer to see any gameplay improvements, annual 2K vets should take notice of the game’s additional polish from the jump. Defense is tighter, much tighter on drives and pick ‘n rolls, and blow-by drives through the lane are fewer and far between — making it all the more spectacular when a highlight play actually goes down. The mid-range game is the best it’s ever been, as rolling off screens and stopping for a pop at the high post is ultra satisfying. You shouldn’t feel discouraged from taking shots in someone’s mug either; even at a fairly respectable 76 rating, I’m whacking down shots with the defender all up on me, and sometimes I’m wide open and rim one out. Shooting seems fair.
My new favorite option isn’t actually a new one at all: the ability to use the right stick solely for dribble moves (pretty wild that I either forgot or had no idea this existed). Finally, my Kyrie won’t be stuck chucking an errant 3 as I attempt to cross up J.R. Smith. The only problem with assigning the RS to dribbles-only is in the post. I loved using the stick when my big guy was on the box and now I have to figure out a combination of pump fakes and using up-and-unders from the left stick; at least big man strength is finally a thing, and wide bodies can dominate down on the low block anytime there’s a mismatch. Rebounding is also the best its ever been. 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 breaks won’t always wind up the way you want, though, with defenders always so quick to close-in at the right time, preventing the fancy pass or alley, or — worse — your A.I. teammates not cutting to the basket at the correct angle; frustrating, but not game-breaking.
There’s a new heat meter named after NXT PPV events. I kid, but the new Takeover meter is pretty dope. Play strong enough and your character will be feeling the heat like NBA Jam. Shotblockers can “flame on!” after consecutive swats, too, as there are several ability types that can result in a Takeover. Momentum is a huge part of the NBA, so having this new feature without any of the unrealistic cheese is a good look. Although I haven’t had a hard time producing big digits with Harden or Curry, playing hero ball isn’t gonna work in your favor either unless you use your teammates; screens, give ‘n go’s, backdoor looks and set plays are a must.
While most of NBA 2K players’ attention goes to MyCareer and MyLeague (and the online options, like Play Now), Visual Concepts has added more depth to MyGM, as veterans can opt to continue from last year or destroy a poor new franchise instead. The biggest addition to MyGM is their bigger focus on story, which has a slew of new, ultimately bizarre supporting acts. There’s your cash-hungry hillbilly owner named Tex (imagine Ted Turner buying his wardrobe at Bass Pro Shops), who your ex-NBA product turned GM will actually challenge to a streetball game of 5. The only thing missing were some Rick Barry underhand shots. Other delights include a stat-analytic bro-dude, a snarky ass head coach who’s only there for vanity, and a hokey graphic designer’s secretary/people greeter (?) who riddles you at every introduction. I’m not making this shit up. It all sounds turrible, especially the super long-winded text-based dialogue — we are talking paragraphs and paragraphs of bullshit — that plagued 2K’s GM Mode last year and WWE 2K‘s promo features every year. If you need to take a nap with the TV on, give it a whirl.
Eventually the MyGM plot makes sense, and it’s cool that you can pick which NBA team jumps ship to the new Seattle Sonics — a franchise you’ll only be competing against once you pick an expansion team of your own (Viva Las Vegas Elite! The.. The Elite!). This newfound rivalry between two expansion teams delivers a neat dynamic, one that includes possible division realignment. The ability to play as 4 pre-draft studs in the 2K Hoops Summit is a fresh new surprise, too; I was able to control Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Mohamed Bamba and Mo Wagner each for a quarter, while I scouted their talent and took my own to a Jordan Brand summer league game with other NBA vets for some fancy PR.
INSIDE THE NBA
NBA 2K19 continues the series’ great presentation, introducing former ESPN Grantland columnist and revered podcaster Bill Simmons (The Ringer) to the already superb mix of color commentators and sideline reporters. As a fellow “Boston Sports Guy”, I’m disappointed to not have been blessed by Bill’s presence in the booth yet, but I’m sure I’ll hear plenty of him during MyLeague mode. Maybe they’re just saving his wit for the big games.
If you grew up collecting basketball cards like me, then MyTeam is a fun improvement over last year’s mode. Of course, this fantasy collecting thang can bring a sense of frustration when it comes to copping and opening packs of (mostly and utterly) disappointing cards. You’ll be more pleased with the mode if you purchased the Deluxe deal, as my Long Beach Bullet Club has a killer start with King James, a pre-order prize in Giannis, and a KD card since everyone will receive one of the two or three best player cards from the team of their choosing. With Triple Threat, attempts to clear out every division team’s 3 best ballers (current and all-time teams) in a full court game of 21 is a blast, even in a weird-looking casino, and MyTeam’s infinite options — including an Unlimited cap mode — can become an addiction so long as you have a few stars to keep you interested.
NBA 2K‘s soundtrack is usually hype, and this year Travis Scott‘s curation is a tight blend of addictive trap feels and old school vibes. There’s a surprising number of classic hip-hop to bang out to, and some alternative rock even thrown in for good measure. If you’ve played the series before, you know the drill: not only is there no better basketball game on the market, NBA 2K is the best sporting game franchise there is, period. NBA Live? Bwahaha. We got the best visuals, the best gameplay, Dodgeball, Slam Ball (trampoline basketball; yup, it’s ridic), and enough enticing modes to keep our significant other screaming. 2K Season = ill hibernation.
That said, NBA 2K19‘s improvements are enough for hardcore hoopheads to keep the Spaulding spinning, yet perhaps too slight for someone looking for a stronger reason to jump ball. Microtrans-shit aside, there are setbacks in MyCareer that may irk you more than some (game efforts that have zero effect on the story), MyGM (the visual novel approach needs to be replaced), and MyLeague (still no league-wide halftime highlights or any new ruffles to help differentiate this year from last); I didn’t even get to try the online server stability yet, which doesn’t take a Houston Rocket to guess how great that’s going. Still, with the positive steps Visual Concepts has made in perfecting MyCareer, while still offering the tightest season mode in all of sports game with MyLeague, you can bet I’ll be just as invested in 2K19 as any other previous year. Mo Bamba! 4.25/5 Bibles.
P.S. I didn’t pay for MyHaircut.