NBA 2K15 Review (PS4)
How exactly does someone review a game like NBA 2K15?
I spent almost a week wrestling with this question. I’m still not sure I know the answer, but I’m going to do my best to find it along the way.
NBA 2K15 plays the best basketball on the court of any video game I ever played. This fact stands in a stark contrast to the experience of actually trying to play a game in many of the modes. That part ranges from unplayable to, well, playable, but with a decent chance the game will freeze, drop or won’t count altogether, forcing you to relive the last 48 minutes (or so) all over again.
NBA 2K15 plays a sublime game of basketball. It delivers on the promise of last year’s entrance to this new console generation with a wonderful brand of basketball on the hardwood. The new shot meter makes a much bigger difference than I expected. Rather than turning jump shots into a game of pure timing skill, it places a premium on shot selection and balanced footwork. Even good timing won’t save you if you have a penchant for jacking up contested fadeaway jumpers. The variety in form and release between different players’ shots means it will take you practice and experience to reach something resembling mastery. You will probably want to stick with a couple of teams at first and learn their players’ shots.
The game offers more reasons to want to stick with a one or two teams when you start playing. Simply put, NBA 2K got a lot smarter. You can see Da_Czar’s fingerprints on it. The introduction of freelance offenses and improved AI make playing with and against each team a more unique experience. I found myself unable to easily jump between using different teams because of the differences in schemes and personnel.
As I discussed in my initial NBA 2K15 impressions, AI opponents play more like their real-life selves than ever. The Rockets highlight Dwight Howard and James Harden in their offense with an array of Howard post-ups and Harden isolations and pick-and-rolls. Teams with good outside shooting look to use it to their advantage, while spacing-challenged teams focus more on other means of scoring.
I still haven’t gotten used to selecting plays from the D-pad. It feels awkward to use both hands in this way, and now that plays are grouped by play type, it takes extra time sometimes to navigate to the one I want. Similarly, it’s hard to walk the ball up the court with your point guard thanks to a weird bit of control responsiveness, though Gameplay Director Mike Wang promised to try to get a fix into the first patch.
Passing, defense, and rebounding feel more refined, though the latter may be a little too heavily weighted toward offensive rebounding out of the box. The controls feel responsive to me, especially passing. In years past, I commonly committed turnovers by accidentally passing to the wrong player, which almost never happens to me in NBA 2K15, an improvement I haven’t seen discussed often enough. This improvement, coupled with the revised pick-and-roll controls, make the pick-and-roll a deadly part of your offensive arsenal, as it should be. Playing defense has become more fun than ever due to improved responsiveness with the controls and animations.
I wish I had more space in this review to discuss all the aspects of the gameplay I enjoy, but I don’t want to make my editor too sad, and I do have the next 12 months to write to my heart's content.
Fellow OS writer Ben Vollmer wrote recently about how he thinks NBA 2K15’s presentation is still the best. I respectfully disagree, though I appreciate 2K’s effort. Let me explain.
NBA 2K15 adds TNT favorites Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal to host a new pre-game show. They set the stage capably, as Shaq often tells a story about one of the upcoming game’s star players to create a narrative for what is to come. I wonder how well this pre-game show will age, as we play this game for the better part of the next year. I fear it will quickly become repetitive — but it’s a good start and it works well.
Player introductions return to the series for the first time in roughly a decade. Despite occasional pixelation involving spotlights, the lineup introductions build on the anticipation created by the pre-game show. The pre-game presentation passes the baton to the in-game broadcast team, but they stumble. The game jumps abruptly from player introductions to tip-off, without the commentators doing much to introduce the occasion. It's a design decision which hurts the game’s flow and immersion.
I hesitate to lay the blame on the development team. NBA 2K15 announcer Steve Kerr took the Warriors’ coaching job in late-May — likely too late for the 2K team to make any major changes to the broadcast cast. It feels like the 2K team tuned down Kerr’s commentary contributions as a compromise. Plus, former halftime presenter Damon Bruce, possibly due to circumstances having nothing to do with 2K, did not reprise his role in this year’s game.Kerr’s apparently reduced commentating and Bruce’s absence lead to noticeable silence throughout significant portions of the game, particularly during a now-quiet halftime show that shows stats but no highlights. And frankly, it does feel weird having Kerr on the commentary team while coaching the Warriors.
Furthermore, in-game statistical overlays — such as standings, league leaders, etc. — don’t seem to display regularly. At times during stoppages, the broadcasters reference information as if it is displayed on the screen, but no such overlay appears. Similar issues exist with the post-game Player of the Game, at least on PS4. Maybe it’s a bug that will be patched?
Player models and crowds took a meaningful step forward in this year’s game, which is to say the visuals are even more stunningly beautiful. The crowd reacts more appropriately than ever to big moments, and people file out early when the game’s outcome becomes inevitable.
Overall, the pre-game additions and the excellent basketball visuals help create a reasonably immersive experience, though presentation shortcomings in-game pull you out of that experience to a disappointing degree.
The 2K servers are at it again, or it might be Sony and its PlayStation 4. When I’m not consistently connected to a very high-speed Internet (which has been my life the last few days), I can’t play much of anything in 2K. I can’t access MyCAREER or My GM because the 2K servers time out. That leaves you with nothing but Quick Game against the CPU, which has also been reported to not work well offline.
One feature that I was never able to access was The Park. The Park allows you to take your My Player to a giant playground with up to another 99 My Players. Here, you get to have pick-up games by choosing “who’s got next?” I’m not sure how much time I will spend here, because I’m curious to see if there is going to be any lasting appeal. It’s in wait-and-see mode."
Do those words sound vaguely familiar? They should. Dustin Toms wrote them last year in reviewing NBA 2K14. I lack the patience or words to describe exactly which modes work regularly and which don’t — and by the time you read this review, what works and what doesn’t will probably have changed anyway.
As Dustin noted in last year’s review, The Park has the most server problems of any mode, often making it completely unplayable. I suggest browsing our NBA 2K forums for the latest information on which modes work and which don’t as it tends to change rapidly and from day to day.
The Park includes three different affiliations that vary based on style of play, as well as a new Rep system and the Jordan Rec Center for playing more sim-style basketball. However, server problems prevented me from spending any meaningful time enjoying these features as they’re intended to work.
MyTEAM offers a new mode called Challenges, which presents interesting scenarios that push you to try new lineup combinations with your MyTEAM. Domination mode still appeals to me the most, though I find it frustrating that the MyTEAM Points system unfairly penalizes me for favoring a patient offensive style. It commonly leads me to repeat games because though I won convincingly, I didn’t accumulate enough counting stats due to playing a below-average number of possessions.
Online leagues return in NBA 2K15, though the server problems and missing features hurt its usability, as our forums detail.
Before I get into the specific career modes, I want to joyously point out the role of Virtual Currency in NBA 2K15 is greatly diminished compared to last year’s frustrating NBA 2K14 VC experience. Hallelujah!
Now, on to the modes.
Jayson Young took a good look at MyCAREER mode, which features a rewritten story, putting you as an undrafted rookie trying to claw your way into the NBA. I enjoy NBA 2K15’s fresh take on this story and I expect to continue playing this mode throughout the next year — when the servers permit, of course. I particularly like how improving your player’s attributes now comes down to investing in different “buckets” of skills, such as playmaking, inside scoring, and defending. It feels more intuitive than being bombarded with dozens of different ratings that need improving.
MyCAREER mode now includes veteran teammates — complete with voice acting from the players — to guide you on your NBA journey. But those interactions revolve around storylines that feel contrived and dialogue more closely resembling cliche-laden press conferences than intimate conversations among teammates.
I also find it puzzling that 2K went the extra mile by adding face scanning and an additional voice option, but neglected to give you enough freedom for your MyPLAYER to even vaguely reflect your personality and manner of speaking. The character is often disrespectful, arrogant, and flat out unlikable. Why would I want to put my face on this person? While I like the mode as a whole, this incongruence is a sore spot.
On the flip side, MyGM mode’s improved conversation engine gives you more freedom in your responses. This variety lends you more control over the relationships you have with your owner, staff, players, and more. And as I mentioned, you don’t need VC to do things like set lineups. In another bit of VC good news, you now earn VC while simming in MyGM. If you liked MyGM last year aside from the VC issues, you should feel quite pleased with the mode in NBA 2K15.
The trade logic still feels off to me in MyGM and the new MyLEAGUE mode. While not necessarily imbalanced, it feels like an obvious departure from reality because it doesn’t really take context into account as well as it could. A rebuilding team probably wouldn’t trade a promising young prospect for an above-average 32-year-old veteran on an expiring contract with no Bird Rights, even if those players have similar ratings. I’d like to see the trade logic consider an organization’s short-term and long-term plans in future editions without a doubt.
The overhauled prospect scouting stands out the most in MyGM and MyLEAGUE. From organic stats, social media, big boards, and mock drafts, you have more information than ever, and that data comes in throughout the season as it does in real life. It’s wonderfully envisioned and implemented. The 2K team should feel proud of their work with it.
When I was in college, I had a friend with whom I had a lot of fun, memorable times. But he had a terrible flaw — he did a notoriously awful job answering and returning text messages and phone calls. When we hung out, it was great. But I often felt a lot of disappointment and frustration when we were apart because he made it so hard to get together. In the end, I could either just enjoy it when we did hang out, or drop the friendship. Maybe you know someone similar.
NBA 2K15 is like that person.
When you’re together on the court, the visuals, gameplay, and career modes ensure you have a great experience you enjoy and will remember. But in between those good times lie a barren wasteland of server problems in which you can not play large portions of the game.
If you can prepare yourself to endure frustration and disappointment — and find enjoyment in the finest basketball gaming to date when you do have the opportunity to — you need to pick up NBA 2K15 immediately. On the other hand, if those problems serve as a deal breaker for you, then you’ll want to skip this one until 2K Sports resolves the server problems.
Visuals: The NBA 2K series remains among the finest looking games on this new console generation.
Customization: A problem in last year’s debut on the new consoles, it took a big step forward this year, particularly with MyLEAGUE.
2KTV: At this stage, NBA2K TV looks like a positive introduction with interesting content, including player interviews and gameplay tips.
Responsiveness: Though some people on the forums have complained about input lag with the controls, I haven’t experienced any problems with control responsiveness. They seem about right to me.
Animations: Contact in the paint took a big step forward in NBA 2K15, making it easier to contest shots around the rim — and it looks gorgeous.
Defense: I touched on it briefly earlier. I want to say again I love playing defense — on-ball and off-ball — in NBA 2K15. The addition of new defensive settings goes a long way too.
Score: 7 (Good)
Scoring Note: A 7 (or Good) at Operation Sports signifies a game that is pretty good because it plays well, but that has notable flaws that keep it from being great. In NBA 2K15’s case, the server problems keep it from being more. As long as they continue, they will understandably ruin the game for some people, while frustrating a lot of others. Somewhere in here is a great game.