NBA 2K has long been a series with RPG qualities, and for a long time its systems of percentages and dice rolls of a sort were novel and cool. But as the last generation went on, those systems didn’t age well, and what had been novel started to feel janky. But NBA 2K15, far more than last year’s new-generation debut for the series, has reinvigorated the 2K RPGisms into a far smoother, not-at-all-janky experience. Though it’s still not without notable flaws.
When the ball is in your hands, NBA 2K15 feels great. You’re far less likely these days to dribble out of bounds on accident, certainly, and shooting is made easier with a new shot meter — previously, drastically different shot animations for different players made it a challenge to time shots well. And setting screens feels nice, even though it seems you’ll miss on them most of the time. But the main thing is that simply moving around the court feels significantly more pleasant now. Unless you’re on defense.
Oh Lord, playing defense. Because I always start out in NBA 2K by playing MyCareer with a created player, I assumed initially that the players I guarded were able to whoosh by me for dunks at wile because my guy was bad at defense according to the math of the game. But that’s not the whole story; playing defense is just clunky, the controls feeling unresponsive.
For every improvement there’s a corresponding hiccup. The screen mechanic is much more responsive, yes, but the refs call moving screen fouls all the time now. Ballhandling is more responsive and simpler, but those same refs rarely seem to call shooting fouls. We’ve been playing sports games for a lot of years, and so things like that honestly aren’t incredibly aggravating, but they do remind us that on a yearly cycle it’s an evolution — and significant changes to the core gameplay from one title to the next always bring with them some unintentional awkwardness as well. We’ve learned to live with that stuff, and so when the box score starts giving you +/- ratings in the hundreds I just have to laugh.
And it’s difficult to begrudge 2K some weak spots when they’re clearly putting plenty of effort into the experience. Case in point is the new MyCareer. Last year saw a revamp of this mode in the new-gen SKUs, with a more story-heavy approach to handling the career of a single player. This year they have the presentation to match their ambitions, with actual actors taking part. Of course we also have plenty of actual NBA personalities delivering lines like they’re just now learning to speak, but what can you do?
MyCareer also fields its fair share of the game’s hiccups, with cutscenes triggered by a teammate being traded featuring players who were already on your team as new teammates. I’ve lost count of how many times Paul Millsap has been traded to the Hawks. And for some reason when the playoffs roll around you can’t look at the full bracket, instead having to keep track of other teams through social media. That is a particularly weird rub.
Aside from MyCareer, MyGM mode returns and a more familiar fashion, but for good reason: it’s a very neat spin on the franchise mode that has been a staple of American sports games for a long time, with its Football Manager-type mechanics. It didn’t need a revamp, and it didn’t get one.
But there is a new mode, MyLeague, that fills in the gaps left by the more hardcore sim of MyGM and the RPG of MyCareer. This is a more straight-up franchise mode, without the fear of being fired. And it’s ridiculously customizable as well, even after you’ve started it up. Though some fundamentals like the salary cap can’t be turned off or on after you’ve begun your 80-year journey. That’s not to say you can’t play god, of course, because that is the point of this mode. It’s more or less a sandbox that provides a whole lot of freedom even while CPU teams offer you one totally unfair trade after another — but thankfully there’s actually a slider that will dictate how difficult it is to negotiate a decent trade. Because that’s the point: you can make this go how you want it to.
Between MyLeague, MyGM, MyCareer and multiplayer modes like MyPark and the more tradition types — all of which have functioned admirably online, I should note, though MyPark has been less busy than I would prefer, in my experience — NBA 2K15 is as fleshed out as a sports game gets these days. Sure, there’s still the microtransaction creep of Virtual Currency, and that’s still annoying. But for those who only pick up the new edition of a sports franchise every few years when there’s some notable and positive changes, I feel confident that 2K15 is one that fits that bill, hinkiness and all.
8.5 out of 10
NBA 2K15 was developed and published by 2K Games. It was released on October 7th, 2014, and is available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 for $59.99. A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.