Review: NBA 2K16 (PS4)

nba-2k16-review-banner

Title: NBA 2K16
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download ()
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 (Michael Jordan Special Edition)
ESRB Rating: E
NBA 2K16 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

It’s difficult to write a review of NBA 2K16 without exhausting a list of superlatives. This latest effort from Visual Concepts is the gaming equivalent of a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win a championship.

Despite this shot coming against mediocre opposition – the current basketball gaming matchup isn’t exactly ’90s Bulls vs ’60s Celtics – 2K16 has raised the bar again. Last year, I felt the lack of competition in the sub-genre was beginning to hurt the NBA 2K series, with a case of complacency being inevitable. I’ve been proven completely wrong this time, as the overall package is outstanding.

Gameplay:
At it’s core, the gameplay has undergone evolution rather than revolution. Generally, it feels tighter and more polished than 2K15. I can’t recall any moments of frustration on the court as the gameplay (on both sides of possession) is so responsive.

The already nuanced control scheme has been tweaked, which takes some re-learning, but it’s well worth the effort. It does predictably take the form of a double-edged sword, as whilst the alterations create an even deeper simulation of the sport, it may alienate some beginners. Indeed, NBA 2K lacks any sort of tutorial system and is crying is out for an equivalent to FIFA’s Skill Games.

NBA 2K16_20151009135653

Why is that particular factor important? Quite simply, the AI is the best I’ve experienced in a sports game. In approaching matches and individual offensive situations, last year’s tactics won’t work.

2K16 is ridiculously adaptable, to the point where it’ll learn and counter the moves you pull off in each match. For instance, if one passing lane is proving particularly profitable, the AI will close it off through defensive positioning. It means you become a better player and must learn many facets of the game to succeed.

The game forces players to be adaptable because of this. One of my tendencies – driving towards the basket – was soon picked up on by the AI, which forced me to take more mid-range shots and give a gameplan further thought. Moving the ball smartly is also key.

…the AI forces players to be adaptable …
The overall difficulty has also gone up a notch – you can’t just pass the rock to your star player and spend the game sinking threes from downtown, nor can you breeze through hours of MyGM on autopilot. Plus, as already alluded to, Visual Concepts provides no hand holding – players learn ‘on the job’.

In summary, the AI improvements only increase the realism of the NBA 2K series. One must learn to judge situations in an unreal recreation of real life sport, making it necessary to execute moves at a high tempo – not only with your hands but with your mind.

NBA 2K16_20151009143805

It also shouldn’t be understated how well 2K16 flows and that it has an ‘unscripted’ feel to it, with the action completely dependent on the realistic physics. However, the technical proficiency does not eliminate the fun factor. The action on-court is a beautiful experience and it’s complemented by an entertaining set of game modes.

‘Livin Da Dream’ – the story mode penned by Director Spike Lee – is the latest iteration of MyPlayer. A lot has been made of Lee’s mark on the game (his name is on the front cover, similarly to when Jay-Z composed the soundtrack of 2K13), and the lack of necessity.

Is it a great, Academy Award-worthy narrative that will change the face of gaming? No. Beyond a few initial choices whilst in high school, the mode is not a sprawling story but actually very linear; this is by no means an RPG rival.

But, it is another worthwhile version of the genre-defining career sim. MyPlayer is still well above any other sports game in how it places players in the shoes of a pro baller. There are year-on-year improvements to the depth and quality of the mode, which is all we can ask for.

NBA 2K16_20151012170423

Basketball is the sport which fits the rags-to-riches narrative best, and the one that is best associated with the inner city and with eventually signing lucrative endorsement deals. MyPlayer is an extremely polished package which continues to fit in the majority of a player’s professional life.

On the court, I still find MyPlayer to be an excellent initial proving ground in NBA 2K. As well as providing an addictive mode, it means you can concentrate on improving your skills, before extrapolating that out to controlling a whole team.

… 2K16’s depth is unrivalled …
This is where MyGM comes in. It’s the closest to a traditional manager mode in a sports sim, and like MyPlayer, dwarfs all competitors. It gives a great deal of choice in how to play, which I love. If you want, you can cruise through by just playing matches; there is no onus to tackle the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

However, there is a ton to micro-manage (notably in the off-season), if you so choose. The depth is unrivalled, providing a brilliant variety of tasks from complex trades to altering training to even relocating a franchise.

NBA 2K16_20151009135845

Visuals:
More so than any other PS4 game, NBA 2K16 comes tantalisingly close to reaching that ‘uncanny valley’; being almost indistinguishable from real life.

My prevailing thought behind 2K16’s visual brilliance is that we should not take it for granted. The aesthetic benchmark has been so high for three years now, so gamers are beginning to dismiss it as the norm. Make no mistake though, it is genuinely incredible.

This remarkable achievement is primarily through Visual Concepts’ stunning TV-style presentation. It continues to replicate real life through the mingling of player interviews, broadcast camera angles, replay packages, pre-game shows and halftime shows.

… almost indistinguishable from real life …
Kenny Smith has been added to the punditry panel this year, to give his views alongside Shaquille O’Neal. The latter has a slightly vacant and bored look at most times (very authentic) whilst Smith is slightly more lively. Both are continually moving their hands and shuffling around to avoid it being a static clip. The realistic effect is wonderful.

On the court, the action looks sublime. The graphical fidelity is, as always, ridiculous. The fluidity of the play is a standout feature though. 10,000 new animations have been included in 2K16 – both through body and face scans – and it clearly shows. Player and team tendencies are accurately captured, which not only enhances the visual prowess of the game, but also makes each team unique to play with.

NBA 2K16_20151010105532

Audio:
NBA 2K’s contextual commentary is still the best-in-class. Greg Anthony replaces Steve Kerr on the announcer’s table, which at least has forced a slew of new lines to be recorded, helping to make game feel fresh. The atmosphere within the arena is something else Visual Concepts have nailed, and this continues to impress both visually and audibly.

Online/Multiplayer:
The connected component to NBA 2K has been the series’ only big downfall in recent years, thanks to the persistent connection required by the Virtual Currency system (in a similar fashion to needing EA’s servers to be online to play Ultimate Team).

In 2K16, the online portion can be described as a mixed bag. The good: online play is better and server issues are less common. The bad: one of the new modes doesn’t even work (for some people, at least).

… unparalleled, approaching perfection …
My one-on-one online experience has been very good with 2K16. The games seem to flow without any lag. This is imperative with a control scheme as nuanced as 2K16’s, as the slightest hiccups can easily affect baskets. The vehicle to play standard matches is also improved, with Visual Concepts adopting an EA-esque divisions approach, with points determining promotion and relegation.

MyTeam (Visual Concepts’ Ultimate Team rival) has also been tweaked, and is slightly more polished than last year. MyPark allows players to play pickup games in a virtual playground with tens of other ballers, though the experience has been far poorer than last year due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, the new mode, 2K Pro-Am is completely unplayable for me (and many others, judging by social media and forum threads), with the screen shown below preventing me from giving any opinion on the mode.

NBA 2K16_20151012221750

Conclusion:
NBA 2K16 has a genuine claim at being the best sporting simulation ever. The visuals are frighteningly good, the attention to detail is unparalleled, the AI is smart and the fluid gameplay is approaching perfection.

There are a few niggles that remain, but Visual Concepts has proven they will take feedback on board to, eventually, correct the flaws in their phenomenal basketball recreation. This incredibly satisfying game is – unlike other, colder sims – full of character too.

2K16’s depth both on and off the court is mesmerising, making it a true must-buy.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg
Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook
  • Lifendz

    You guys always do really good reviews. Just wondering how pervasive is the VC currency stuff? The last 2k game I owned required VC for basic stuff like setting a lineup and I don’t want to find myself purchasing VC just to enjoy basic functions in the game. Thanks in advance.

    • Sorry for the late reply – and thank you for the nice feedback 🙂

      Tbh, I have never purchased any VC (or indeed in-game currency on any game). On 2K16, I never found lack of VC prohibitive. I made enough VC just playing matches to buy a few things needed (e.g. players on the MyTeam auction house).

      I think the need for VC has been dialled down a little – I can’t think of any outrageous instances where it made me pay VC to do something small like editing a line-up.

  • Pingback: PS4 Holiday 2015 Guide | PlayStation Nation()

  • Pingback: PlayStation Plus June 2016 Update | PlayStation Nation()