Review: NBA 2K16 (Xbox One)
I’ve been reviewing NBA 2K for a long time now and I’ve been playing it even longer (NBA 2K6 to be exact). That’s 10 years of a franchise that has far exceeded any expectations, almost forced the discontinuation of its ‘rival’ and has never, ever looked back. If Michael Jordan were a sport game, he’d be NBA 2K, the same goes for Michael Schumacher, Pele and any other greats. They are the people who can best explain NBA 2K. Legends.
NBA 2K15 was another success in the franchise’s great history, and with it reaching such heights you have to think that eventually the series is going to go on a lull. Every legend is allowed some bad form right? Wrong, NBA 2K16 just isn’t having it, it’s not resting on its laurels and it’s not slowing down. I usually end these paragraphs saying something like “does NBA 2K16 manage to improve on its predecessor” but that seems futile, it quite simply does.
I don’t know quite how else to describe the graphics, presentation and production value in NBA 2K16, but to use that famous word from NBA Jam, and emphasize it times a million. On the court it quite honestly, at times, looks like real life. I have had people walk in and ask me why I am watching Basketball, only to tell them it’s a game and have them stare at me in disbelief. Given a closer look you can obviously tell it is a game, but it’s the closest thing to real life I have seen.
Apart from the amazing animations and facial likenesses you have to hand it to 2K for the production value. The half time shows, the pre-game shows, the coach discussions, fans, crowd, commentary and the atmosphere created around the stadium is the best thing since deep fried ice cream. You just cannot believe your eyes when you see such incredible quality in all aspects. It’s mind-blowing. I could go on praising this aspect of the game for 10 pages, the words wouldn’t be enough, you need to see it for yourself.
Slam Dunk Story Mode
NBA 2K has never been shy to include as many modes and options as possible and nothing has changed this time around. Each year the game tries to include something new, something fresh and something out of the ordinary. One year it was legends, another year it was Lebron’s story, another focused on MJ himself. This time around, the game includes a full on, Spike Lee written, story mode.
The story mode is linked to your MyCareer where you create your own character and go through the ranks from high school to the NBA Hall of Fame (hopefully). Instead of just jumping in and signing for a team, this time there is a full feature film which runs concurrently.
It’s your typical Spike Lee type of film that has you, a kid in the projects of Harlem, trying your best to get out of the slums and into the limelight. It’s the dream of any disadvantaged kid in Harlem, or at least the story claims that. Without giving too much away, the film throws your character, nicknamed Freq, going through the trials and tribulations of the “real world”. The pressures of making it in the big time, picking the right agent and the right team, making sure all your family and friends are happy and of course playing Basketball.
The basketball bit is kind of secondary to the story in your rookie year. It’s a great way to ease you into the mode and it’s clear 2K wanted the focus to be more on the story. The voice acting and mo-cap acting are unbelievable as you enjoy all the story bits in what honestly feels like a real movie. There are engaging bits that will have you genuinely concerned and have you emotionally invested with the characters, something that can only be done with great scripting and great acting. NBA 2K16 story mode has it all.
There is a bit of a disconnect with the story though, in that the basketball doesn’t really matter. You play at key moments in matches and even if you don’t do very well the story makes out like you are a superstar, for its own purposes. There is also the fact that the story is very clearly aimed at an African American demographic. My rugged white guy out of the projects with an African American family and twin sister didn’t quite make sense. I didn’t mind this though, it did require a bit of loose imagination, but I understand what the core market will take from it, and it didn’t deflect from the brilliance at all.
Once you finish that rookie season it enters the normal MyCareer mode which has you sign for a new team to try and make it big. In between playing games you have to do a bunch of off-court activities to improve your standing and earnings. Endorsements and hanging with other NBA stars improves your status, something that will make it much easier for you to succeed.
There is so much to the MyCareer mode that it requires its own review. I can tell you that the mode is as in-depth as ever with so many features and little options to keep it going. It never tires and is quite easily one of the most addictive modes I have ever played in a sport game.
Swish on the other modes
There are a ton of other modes to play if you want, making NBA 2K16 a truly worthwhile package. Blacktop returns for some streetball with all the stars and a few less rules, it’s great for multiplayer too if you want a quick game with friends.
There is your normal NBA exhibition and NBA Today games which have you playing games that are happening in the real NBA. Nothing quite like taking your favourite team in a match to see what your outcome will be compared to the real thing.
GM mode lets you manage a franchise of your choice, much like a standard career mode only there are more options than ever when you get into it. Things like training, signing players, drafts and contracts all seem far more accessible than ever before.
MyTeam returns and if you thought it was in-depth before you have no idea how much value it offers now. This Ultimate Team-like mode has you collecting cards of players which you can take into a number of different modes and challenges, fulfil different objectives and win games to earn currency and improve your team. There are 5 different modes you can play within MyTeam, each offering a great experience.
That should be more than enough to keep NBA going for years, and I have barely mentioned all the little additions to each mode. Be assured though that each mode has its very own ‘flavour’ to it, and none of them are simply tacked on. It’s a very weighty experience.
Hell, I haven’t even mentioned all the online modes and options yet. There are a bunch of those too and the experience is seamless and thoroughly enjoyable. I still prefer a bit of couch multiplayer but the online options are amazing and add to the weighty package above, whether it’s just an exhibition match or one of the new modes such as a full online league or playoff. The options are almost endless.
Alley- oop on the Gameplay
It’s all good having so many different modes and options, but if the gameplay isn’t there what’s the point? I can tell you that the gameplay is probably the best it’s ever been, and if you read my previous reviews you will know that is saying something.
The controls have been tweaked once again, but only a little and it just seems so intuitive and natural that you barely have to worry about getting the hang of it. 2K seems intent on making NBA the best gaming experience for just about anyone, and they are succeeding. When you have so many smooth animations, such amazing match-ups and gameplay – how can it possibly go wrong? I have always said that there should be better training tutorials in NBA 2K, but with the controls being so good I think just playing and experimenting is more worthwhile.
At the Buzzer
There is so much detail going into every single segment of NBA 2K16 that it’s hard to point out any flaws. Even the menus have been tweaked to make it feel more user friendly and the awful loading times, which hurt NBA 2K15, are thankfully gone. It’s still a little slow, but not nearly as bad or as frequent, thankfully.
I have no idea how 2K manages to make a better game each year, but somehow they do and it’s truly to the benefit of us gamers. NBA 2K16 is a delightful addition into the series and with the new story mode has added something very different, while maintaining its brilliance. The on-court action is as fluid as it’s ever been and I just cannot stop thinking about how glorious it all looks when you put everything together.
I feel like I get a bit repetitive at this point, but I have to say it again, NBA 2K16 is the best sport game I have played this year, possibly ever. Considering how much I am obsessed with football/soccer that says more than you might think. I wish the soccer games could match this kind of production. Maybe one day.
For now, NBA 2K16 will hold the crown as the best, in just about every aspect. Well done 2K, well done. And for those in South Africa who still think it’s not worth a try, you are very wrong. Do yourself a favour, fan or not, pick this game up.