Sports have long been entwined with gaming consoles and many gamers strictly stick to this genre alone. They lead their favorite team to championships and create superstars out of their best players all while controlling them from the comfort of their most beloved piece of furniture. With the NBA season right around the corner, fans everywhere are gearing up for what looks to be an exciting year and gamers get to sample it first-hand before the action hits the hardwood. Year in and year out sports franchises strive to make the experience better than the last, driving consumers to purchase what many call an updated roster. The NBA 2k series has set the standard for basketball simulators and driven all competitors into submission, but is NBA 2k15 the real deal or should we call a time out until NBA LIVE hits the court in a couple weeks?
Visual Concepts puts on the full court pressure to ensure basketball fans everywhere stick to their brand and don’t jump ship. While the core gameplay has emulated what they brought with last year’s edition, they have tweaked just enough to make controlling the ball more instinctive and made playing off the ball a visceral experience. It all starts with the right analog stick that allows the player with the ball to flow along the court with just a flick here and there to set up the perfect play or breakdown your opponent when isolated. Playing defense on or off the ball is a raw experience that keeps you on your toes no matter what defensive scheme your set up in. It may not seem like much, but the gameplay feels so fluid when you create space between a defender to sink that jumper or role off a pick to steal the ball for a fast break. Of course none of this would be possible without the improved physics engine that makes collisions, momentum, and animations feel more realistic than ever before.
Another great feature is the shot meter that shows your players shooting proficiency beneath their feet in blue. Players must try and time releases as they coincide with the center of the meter to pull off a perfect shot. The larger area of blue in the semi-circle the better your chances of sinking that shot and it will change depending on whomever your using, where they are standing on the court (if it is a hot spot for them) or if they are being guarded closely or wide open. It is a challenge to learn each player on your team’s key shooting areas, how they release the ball, and post up moves, but nailing that 3 in someone’s face is so satisfying when you do.
Offensive play calling feels like you’re actually controlling the game instead of just setting up an easy shot. Players are forced into positioning themselves and key teammates where they should be in order to spread the defense and create shot opportunities. This adds to the difficulty of playing defense where one false move will allow your opponent to drive the lane or step back for an easy jump shot. Players must anticipate where the player with the ball intends to move as well as close passing lanes and box out those low post scorers. This can be extremely frustrating as you learn the do’s and don’ts of defense on a steep learning curve even college professors wouldn’t grade on. Add in the fact that once your shooting percentage rises above 60% on pro difficulty it seems the AI kicks it into overdrive. The AI goes aggressively on offense and defense by consistently going on 10-2 runs as your team struggles to shoot 30% from the field missing open shots and easy put backs, while they nail shots in the paint with 3 men on them. Even with these cheap moments the game still shines brightly and pulling out the Win feels more like a victory than just another step towards that championship.
NBA 2k15 boasts a ton of game modes that will keep players coming back for diverse experiences. One of my favorites by far is the MyCareer mode where players use one specific character that is trying to break into the ranks of the NBA and make a name for himself. Customization of your character is great and there is even a facial scan option to add a more personal touch, too bad my facial scan had me looking like I should be in the new Shadow of Mordor game instead of suiting up for a run in the NBA. You’ll start out with your agent getting you 10 day contracts until you find your niche with a team that fits your play style and character’s personality. There will be situations off the court that will have you choose how to react, and sometimes it is inevitable to be on the proverbial short end of the stick. Even with the entire dialog available during these wanna-be soap opera scenes your character comes across as an egotistical prick no matter what option you choose, although it could be the demeanor of the voice actor as well. And speaking of voice acting you’ll run across real players lending their voices to their virtual selves which may be the worst part of the game. Each time they say their lines I’m reminded of listening to my daughter’s trying to read me their 1st book as they struggled with words in that monotone voice void of all emotion. Harsh I know, but it is extremely harsh on my ears too. In between all the filler in My Career mode you’re faced with some great gameplay as you focus solely on your player’s position and are rewarded on intricate parts of the game like playing solid defense, ball movement, and shot selection. When first starting out, your guy is a scrub at best destined for the practice squad, but as you work your way to the top you unlock badges and attribute boosts that will make you into an eventual NBA hall of famer. In NBA 2k14 this mode felt like a grind unless you spent real money for virtual currency to upgrade your player, but this year the grind pays off as you unlock those special badges and boosts that you can only get by playing the game which makes it feel much more rewarding once you break into the starting line-up.
MyPark mode takes your player from MyCareer and plugs him into pickup games at 3 different venues to test out your street ball skills. Once you choose your location you’ll be placed into a pickup game to 15, but if there are any issues with the 2k servers you can forget about playing MyCareer, MyPark, or any other game mode that needs to be in constant contact with servers. MyTeam suffers the same fatal server issue, but once you’re able to get in you’ll find a fun collectible card game at the center of it. Players must build a team through opening packs of cards that consist of players, coaches, playbooks, badges, boosts and much more. To obtain packs you must play games (obviously) and complete challenges to gain in game currency or if you’re rich you can trade your real life currency for in game currency to buy more. Even opening the best packs you feel ripped off only getting a silver player instead of gold and then it is back to the grind to get more currency to get more packs. This vicious cycle is both fun and frustrating, but far more tedious than last year’s version.
MyGM and MyTeam modes are back and unchanged, but still a load of fun. MyGm gives you intricate access to any one of the NBA teams as General Manager allowing you to make trades, sign free agents, monitor salary cap and finances, and handle player morale. There is also a new conversation structure that gives you more responsibilities as you try to please the owner and build a championship team. Players are also given the option to play the actual scheduled games if they so choose, but there is more than enough to do in MyGm than get involved on the court. MyTeam is basically your simulation basketball season and even though that sounds like a ho-hum description it is the foundation of the entire game. It is a great feeling leading my Cavs to a championship and even sweeter now that LeBron is home so I don’t have to make a trade to get him back to where he should have always been. Still, there is so much to do in NBA 2k15 MyTeam will take a back burner until players have gotten their fill of the rest of the game.
Visuals haven’t improved from last year, but the player and coach character models wonderfully represent their real life version physically and emotionally. Arenas look magnificent, but the cheerleaders and crowd don’t have that polished feel to them where I’d rather watch than hit the skip button to get back into action. Gameplay runs smooth as players slash and cut across the court and there are very few visual hiccups during the course of a game. Voice acting leaves a lot to be desired in some of the game modes, but I love listening to Shaq and Ernie during the pre-game. Even with those two on board I still miss hearing the likes of Kenny Smith and Sir Charles Barkley. On the court sound effects immerse the player into an actual basketball simulation whether it is the squeak of shoes on the hard wood, the buzzer going off when the shot clock expires, or the sound of a thunderous dunk you’ll be experiencing exactly what happens at a real NBA game.
With so much to do in NBA 2k15 players won’t be looking elsewhere to get their basketball fix, unless the 2k servers continue to leave players with the option of only playing games that don’t require them to be connected to them at all times. After last year’s terrible server issues you’d think that 2k learned their lesson, but it seems that they did nothing to fix the issue. This is really a shame because it hurts some of the better game modes in NBA 2k15 that don’t need multiplayer to play, but if you are an online verses enthusiast you’re going to be even more pissed not being able to get in a match against a friend or being disconnected because of crappy servers in the middle of an intense match.
Overall NBA 2k15 sets the gold standard when it comes to gameplay and how a basketball simulator should engross a gamer into every aspect of the game. With the plethora of game modes that offer something unique and fresh to choose from, players can flip flop between them for a different take on the basketball experience Visual Concepts has given them. Improved gameplay and control make NBA 2k15 a challenge that will push you to the breaking point at times when the AI won’t cut you any slack, but hitting that clutch shot for the win or gaining momentum in the final minute leaves you feeling elated. If it weren’t for the appalling server issues NBA 2k15 would be the must have sports game of the year, but when you can’t play single player modes for hours on end because of server connection issues on 2k’s end it is inexcusable. Hopefully they will be able to iron out the issues before long if they want to continue to stay on top as the best basketball franchise available for gamers.
Score 8/10 – Review by Jake Lyons
Review code supplied by Team Xbox UK.