NBA 2K16 Review (PS4)
Since NBA 2K began its long journey on the Sega Dreamcast, the basketball gaming franchise has been building towards greatness by setting the bar for themselves year after year. But developer Visual Concepts was never able to achieve GOAT status with whispers of NBA 2K11 haunting them every October when the new iteration of the basketball simulation was released.
That’s all about to change.
With a multitude of gameplay improvements -- specifically on the defensive side -- NBA 2K16 is the Michael Jordan of the virtual hardwood once more.
The NBA 2K franchise has also become more visually stunning, another factor that comes into play as the game continuously raises that proverbial bar. Player models look better than ever with players having not just their face, but their entire body scanned into the game. It’s unreal how much the new player models add to the game. Additional signature moves, improved lighting and better crowd reactions have boosted the presentation of the series as well.
Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Greg Anthony are the two newcomers to 2K’s broadcast team. Smith joins Shaq and Ernie Johnson for the game’s pre- and post-game show, while Anthony replaces Steve Kerr as the gameplay’s new color commentator. Adding in the new personalities forced 2K’s hand at implementing a new script, which gives a much-needed fresh feel while playing. Doris Burke returns -- and looks more like Doris Burke -- for sideline interviews. In addition, in-studio player interviews are a welcome addition that look and sound fantastic. (If only they could get Popovich.)
It’s Time to Adapt, Coach
Defense has drastically improved in NBA 2K16 thanks to the new Adaptive Coaching Engine. The engine does just what it’s called, adapts to you and your team’s offense. If a play works to perfection for you once, it likely won’t a second time. If you manage to pull it off two or even three times, the CPU will learn how to shut down the correct passing lanes and force you to go a new direction. You must change your strategy and find a new way to beat your opponent on the fly. In turn, this opens up the other half of the game with your offense. Learning how to correctly run plays with the right screens and passes is going to take some extra time on the sticks for those used to "that cheese," but the feeling of successfully adapting to those who adapt to you is a great one.
Passing is now a primary focus on the offensive side of the ball. Buttons X, O and Triangle all pass the rock, but the type of pass will change dependent on pressing, tapping or double tapping each button. It’s another area of the game that proves you must stay focused or else the turnovers will begin to rack up.
The post game has returned to its 2K12 form with the L2 trigger placing your back to the basket. I personally feel this is a good change as it just makes doing post moves a bit more logical in my mind, which is a necessity with the defensive improvements.
Overall, the new controls take time to get used to, but it’s a near-perfect scheme that was more needed than anyone realized.
That being said, blocks are coming in at an alarmingly high rate, especially online. You can adapt to take smarter shots, sure, but in no world should there be 19 blocks between two teams on a regular basis. Rubber-banding has showed its ugly face a few times as well, but never in a game-changing scenario.
My Career…Or Is It?
It’s been the same tagline over and over: #BeTheStory.
Spike Lee has brought his narrative and basketball genius to NBA 2K16 with “Livin Da’ Dream,” the much-promoted story mode. As Frequency Vibrations (yes, that’s your unchangeable nickname) you embark on a journey from blue-chip prospect to NBA All-Star.
The high school games are strictly for show, with no commentary, zero challenge and awesomely cheesy student chants. During the quick three-game process, nine licensed colleges will recruit you before you make a decision. I found myself reminiscing about College Hoops 2K8 while listening to Clark Kellogg commentate my college career.
The remaining storyline will keep you intrigued as you find yourself quickly playing through the next game so you can see the ensuing cutscene. But despite being involved in many heated altercations with friends, family and owners, that build up to a big decision never led to you actually making the decision. Unfortunately, your college choice is the final decision you get to make.
In the end, the story, though a well-written movie script, misses the mark as a video game storyline.
Once the story is over and your sophomore season begins in the NBA, MyCAREER shows that its better off without Spike Lee. Improved gameplay coupled with the brand new Off-Day Simulator brings the life of an NBA star to your fingertips like never before. Off days are more prominent in the mode, as you have choices to hang out with other NBA personalities, take part in Live Practice or get some more endorsement requirements completed. Connections will grant you rewards such as a new animation, Live Practice will boost your attributes and endorsements will make you some more of that VC scrilla. You can use that cash to deck out your new MyCOURT, the central hub of your career. On the court you can shoot around, invite friends over to play a pick-up game and of course customize the court to your liking.
A Much-Needed Makeover
MyGM makes a triumphant return with many improvements and additions. Three-team trades have returned with realistic logic (just make sure you turn off CPU-CPU trades or else). The offseason has received a face-lift with new Lottery and Draft presentations, and staff hiring is as important as ever. Summer League games are fun as you can choose former lottery outcasts to run with your rookies, and the 2K Hoops Summit gives a first-look at the following season’s draft class.
But the true champion of MyGM is Team Relocation. This new “side feature” has already started a cult following with its extensive customization options. Everything from moving, rebranding and arena design is included, and to top it off it’s very well done. 2K has given you the ability to upload images that help you create the reality you want to see.
What’s even better about these customization options is that it translates seamlessly into MyTEAM, the collectable card game in NBA 2K16. Being able to create an identity for your fantasy NBA squad was something the mode sorely lacked, and has added a new dimension that will surely bring new players on board.
Wait A Second…I’m Connected
For the first time in almost forever, NBA 2K ALMOST has stable online servers. Almost.
Let's be very clear, 2K Pro-Am feels very broken. Some people can't connect to others on the other side of the country, and many more simply can't play the mode at all. Others can get a game in here or there, and then some that do get their games in don't even get their VC at the end. This is not good. And it's somewhat easy to overlook because in the past we start from such a low point with 2K where if the servers work at all, that's a miracle. So, yes, there's no game-breaking online issue at this point that makes the game useless like in the past, but the newest online mode still does not work -- and obviously that is not good.
That being said, Play Now Online will bring out the competitors in all of us. Rising the ladder from Freshman to Greatest of All Time can be a goal for you as NBA 2K16 hopefully begins its slow and steady climb to the eSports phenomenon that's sweeping the country. (I'll mostly ignore the fact that there's a "buy wins" button in the game, but there's a "buy wins" button in the game now for Play Now Online!) There are minor input lag and latency issues that must be chiseled out before the franchise can get to that level, but for now it takes nothing more than a game or two to get used to the timing. The same rules apply for MyPark. Oddly enough, my experiences with All-Star Team Up (a mode that allows you to play with nine other gamers) has had zero input lag; it plays just as well as a human vs. CPU battle.
With an array of gameplay options, and a multitude of modes and customization options, Visual Concepts has set the bar by firing on all cylinders to cement themselves as a true dynasty in the sports gaming genre. I mean, seriously, this game is packed with stuff to do. NBA 2K16 could have rested on the laurels of its past, but instead the developers just released one of the best sports games of all-time.
Score: 9.0 (All-Time Classic)