Jayson Young: I can't recall the last time an annual sports title made this many significant gameplay improvements in one development cycle. Core mechanics like passing, footplanting and blocking shots have all been redone, and they feel much more realistic than ever before. I love how defenders will intelligently attack the ball whenever you press the block button now instead of blindly leaping around like they used to.
On offense, the overall number and overwhelming variety of freelance sets included in NBA 2K16 is insanely impressive. I shed a few nostalgic tears after seeing an accurate version of the flex offense (my old high school system) being successfully run by my AI teammates. Basic pick and rolls were many people's money play last year, but the CPU defense in NBA 2K16 is much better at anticipating where you want to dribble when you're coming off a screen, and they'll often beat you to that spot. Post-up fadeaways aren't free buckets anymore in NBA 2K16 either, whereas last season it seemed like those shots were unstoppable if the offense was using a player who had a quick enough release. I'm just amazed by how many different ways a possession can play out against the AI in NBA 2K16, which should help alleviate the repetitive nature of playing an 82-game regular season.
I also have to give a huge shout-out to all the people who were responsible for NBA 2K16's incredible relocation and rebranding feature. Now I can finally give Nashville an NBA franchise, and it only took me a few minutes to upload and rescale the custom logos that were saved on my computer, which is a huge improvement over MLB: The Show's labor-intensive logo creator.
I've yet to try MyPark or Pro-Am (the latter seems to be broken right now), and I have not started the MyCareer story, because even with a "great" quality face scan (around 10,000 reference points), I still couldn't prevent my avatar from looking like a deformed alien creature that's trying to disguise itself as a human.
Even with those technical issues in mind, early returns make it feel like NBA 2K16 is simultaneously the most improved and best overall sports game of 2015. Its strategic depth, wealth of different modes to play, and top-tier presentation simply cannot be matched by any other sports simulation on the market.
Brandon Kosal: I wish I had something more to offer than what's already out in the court of public opinion, but NBA 2K16 feels like one of the best, most complete sports games in a long time. It's true that day-one opinions often change as you get more time with a game, but I feel that the 2K team has built up enough credibility with this franchise that I'm confident this opinion will hold.
I have not had time to go in-depth with modes like MyGM and MyCareer, but I do have a few games under my belt, and I feel confident saying that the gameplay is leaps and bounds over last year's iteration. And that is saying something, given that 2K15 was already quite polished. But 2K16 takes it to a whole new level. The first thing that jumped out at me was how tight the controls feel. You feel like you have more control over your players as they don't get lost in animations nearly as often. 2K15 caused a lot of controller slams in my house from players dribbling out of bounds or getting a backcourt violation because of the dribbling animations they were stuck in at times. I've yet to see that with 2K16.
The mid-range game is also a lot more fun this year. With greater control over dribbling also comes greater control over shooting. It's now much easier to get off a set shot, whereas last year you sometimes felt like the animation forced you into an off-balance J.
And as many others have said before me, you immediately notice an improvement on the defensive end. The most obvious adjustment is that it's not as easy to dribble past a defender and get to the hoop. With 2K15, the defense was fine, but it did feel at times like it was too easy to get to the paint for an easy bucket or to draw a foul. This year, the defense feels much more fluid and realistic, so you have to be more precise and carefully pick your spots.
The level of realism the 2K team has managed to achieve with this franchise is remarkable. This will definitely get burn all the way until the release of 2K17.
Chase Becotte: At a high level (and as someone who has been playing 2K16 since Thursday), I think this year's game sort of a reaffirmation of both the positives and negatives of this franchise. Pro-Am is a hit or miss wreck in terms of getting into games so far (mostly a miss), MyPark still doesn't feel as streamlined as it could be, the UI is still sort of weird and confusing at points overall, and playing this game against friends in a "simulation" environment is still one of the most enjoyable moments of my sports gaming life.
In short, the servers and UI are still dicey so far, and the gameplay and polish of everything surrounding that core experience is as sound as ever. I always say a good barometer for how much a game has changed is seeing how people fare in an online environment when the game is released. What I'm seeing is a whole mess of turnovers and guys dribbling in place as they bounce off a defender over and over (which is good!). People are trying to do the same things that worked in the past, and for the most part they are not working. Instead, actually running an offense, having a plan and showing a modicum of patience has been a better way to succeed than just plowing straight ahead.
If I'm nitpicking, there's far too many long outlet passes, and secondary breaks and fast breaks off made buckets and missed free throws are a little out of control -- it seems to be more the AI defenders either don't run back or pick up a man even if you set the strategy to avoid offensive rebounding. On top of that, I still would like to see more players get their hands on wayward passes thrown in the half court, especially into the paint where defending bigs still give up prime positioning a little too easily. But again, these are issues I have the luxury to talk about as being "major" gameplay flaws because the core components here are so strong.
Lastly, I would say it's been fun so far playing the AI. I have in the past steered clear because it just feels like guards dominate play and teams still were not varying their attacks enough game to game. But so far, I've felt different strategies shine through and different players at different positions step up, and the different positions aspect is definitely the one that's most encouraging based on what I've seen in the game in the past.