Over the past five years or so, there’s been no doubt in my mind: The NBA 2K series is the best in all of sports video games.
It’s hard to innovate sports games from year to year. Sports games don’t have new stories to tell necessarily, and they don’t have the luxury of three or four year waiting periods between sequels. Every year a new iteration must come out and you have to do what it takes to not disappoint fans. How much could they add beyond an updated player roster?
I come into every new sports game expecting it to be a letdown for exactly that reason. So when I got my copy of “NBA 2K16” for Xbox One, I sat down to play it with that traditional scepticism.
But, like every year, somehow the folks at 2K sports have it all figured out. Once again, they have made a game that’s equal parts fun, dynamic, and realistic; A feat that, in my opinion, is only accomplished by this series. And I would argue they have done just enough to make it worthwhile to make the game worth buying even if you have last year’s version.
Of course, this doesn’t come without its caveats. 2K famously reinvents seemingly everything outside of the actual game play every year (see: menus, team management, etc.). Even if it doesn’t do anything different, they make it feel different every year. That’s mostly a good thing, but does occasionally cause some complications, and this year there’s one or two that are particularly tough to swallow.
Looks and feels new
As previously mentioned, 2K reinvents the menus and look of the non-game ecosystem every year and this edition is no different.
Menus have abandoned last year’s horizontal look for a vertical sidebar theme this year. This is true for every menu in the game across the board. Is it better? No. It’s just different, and that’s fine. I generally don’t have a problem with 2K needlessly changing the basics from year to year. It makes it feel like I’ve bought something fresh. Even though it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, if they didn’t switch up the look every year I would probably feel cheated ever so slightly.
Again, there’s not much actually new here. 2K’s just sort of shaken things up without overhauling anything.
When it comes to how a game looks everyone wants to know about graphics. “NBA 2K16’s” graphics are awesome, right there with the best among its sports game peers. But they really aren’t much different than last year’s game. There’s the teeniest of upgrades, but not much else. But still, there’s not much to be disappointed with.
The game still looks amazing, and the physics continue to be the best in all of sports video games.
The biggest change
Now here is some real evidence of overhaul. It’s clear that when it comes to innovation, the MyCareer mode is where 2K put their energies this year.
Every sports game these days has a version of this. Basically, you make your own athlete, start small, and rise through the ranks. 2K has had this mode for years now, but in “NBA 2K16,” it finally hits it stride thanks to Spike Lee.
What 2K has intelligently realised is that there is now one big thing that can change in their games from year to year even when the actual gameplay is similar. And that’s this new story mode built around MyCareer.
In the past, you built a character and then immediately went to this pre-season training camp or summer league where you tried to get good scores so scouts will be interested in you for the NBA Draft. Then you get drafted, and you start playing NBA games. Don’t get me wrong, this was super fun (though I never really had the stamina to play through any long careers with one guy).
This year, 2K brought in Spike Lee to change the game and insert a fully fleshed out story to this mode. Last year you had periodic chats with your agent and coach but it never felt very organic to your progress on the court.
This year Spike Lee has busted out a legit family drama. He’s the writer and director behind a story starring a guy named “Frequency Vibrations” (a nickname that is addressed relatively early on). Whatever player you create turns into this guy, nicknamed “Freq” (sounds like “freak”). He has a loving dad and mum, as well as a twin sister. They’re all helping him make the journey from high school phenom to NBA talent.
This is no joke. We’re talking five-plus minute long scenes with Freq debating his mother and father on the merits of leaving college early to enter the draft, press conferences, and dramatic scenes with his twin sister. This is clearly the new focus of the game and it’s pretty innovative and fun.
One of the things I like most about it is that you actually start as a high school player. You play three high school games before getting recruited by colleges (they even pitch you), then you play a few college games including big matches in the NCAA Tournament.
All this leads finally to the redesigned (visually) NBA Draft mode where you get your team and you start your career. That’s about how far I’ve made it so far myself so I’m not sure what other juicy bits there are but I hear there is a lot more to it throughout your career, and Spike Lee’s story continues.
If you’re an “NBA 2K” fan you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth just getting this new mode.
Inside the game
“NBA 2K16’s” gameplay is just as good as it’s always been, and that’s just perfect. There is no better sports game on the planet.
What I’ve always loved about these games is how they mix realism with a dynamic, fun experience. Usually in sports games it’s a give and take. Developers will make less realistic products that are more fun to play than they are to look at, or vice versa.
Somehow the folks at 2K always manage to deliver the whole package, Players move fluidly and realistically. But they still have the energy and power for rim-rocking dunks, off-balance turn around jumpers, and authoritative blocks. I can’t think of a single sports game that does this as well as “NBA 2K” every year.
You won’t find anything really different in the gameplay here. And the changes that were made are not made for any real reason, from my perspective.
For example, you don’t post up by tapping “Y” anymore, you have to hold down “LT.” It makes almost no difference in the actual gameplay but it’s a change that’s annoying at first until you get used to it. And again, it was fine before.
My biggest gripe is the new in-game substitution system. During the game, 2K has always given you the ability to make changes on the fly (rather than pressing pause) to take effect after the next whistle. Those of us who play the game a lot swear by it. For some unknown reason this year, 2K decided to change the buttons and system for using this function.
Without going into too much detail: it’s now confusing, slower, and much harder to use. I haven’t played the game a ton yet, but I’m already not sure how I’m going to deal with it. It’s one of the most important management aspects of the game and it’s almost unusable now. Changes like this, we could do without.
The announcers are a little different now. Steve Kerr decided to become an NBA coach and win an NBA Championship. So as he left the real broadcast booth he had to leave the 2K booth as well. In his place is Greg Anthony who I actually like a lot. His commentary is useful and fun. He makes a great addition to the broadcast team which is also the best in all of sports games. Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg are back again this year and as excellent as always (2K goes the extra mile in this aspect, always making sure the guys have tons of fun stories and commentary without excessive repetition).
Kenny Smith joins the pregame team (which is now also doing halftime and post-game shows) with Shaq and Ernie Johnson. The dynamic here is much improved over last year. And it’s nice to get a halftime show back and a post game highlight and analysis segment. it’s a fun feature to have.
All the rest
The game, of course, has plenty more features and game modes. Some of which are a lot of fun. I love “My Park,” for example where you take your player to a giant outdoor basketball park and play pickup games with people online. This is the same as last year, but it’s still so much fun.
You can also create five-on-five games with people all over and create teams. This is a new mode called “2K Pro-Am.” I haven’t tried this feature yet, but it sounds like it has a lot of potential given my love of the “My Park” mode.
And of course there’s the long-loved NBA Blacktop mode where you play with NBA players in pickup game scenarios in all sorts of different combinations.
Still the best
In the end, “NBA 2K16” is still the best sports game on earth. It’s fun, it’s realistic, and it’s exciting. If you like basketball you won’t have more fun playing any game out there, I guarantee you.
You really have to hand it to 2K. Every year they somehow find a way to innovate their games in one major way to really kick the tires on sales and make fans not feel cheated. This year, that big change is the new career mode and Spike Lee’s story.
I’d highly recommend picking it up: you won’t regret it and you’ll have a ton of fun.
NOW WATCH: How LeBron James spends his money
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.