For years, NBA 2K has managed to dominate in the paint, starting its run on the Sega Dreamcast and, eventually, becoming a powerhouse sports franchise for 2K Sports. One would think that EA Sports would have the know-how to try and come up with a fierce competitor with its NBA Live brand – but, nope, NBA 2K16 makes NBA Live 16 look like a has-been.
What makes this year’s game such a champion? Well, it’s a combination of things, really. The great gameplay that we’ve come to expect from the series, from the smooth alley oop calls to the excellent handling on the defensive side, are still intact, and there are some interesting new features that make MyCareer worth checking out, even if its style isn’t precisely for everyone.
That’s because the story, Livin’ Da Dream, was put together by filmmaker Spike Lee – and it’s an acquired taste. Some of the events just don’t really feel like they mesh that well with the basketball style, and don’t dig into the fundamentals we come to expect from players. That said, there are plenty of things to do within it, like working on your behavior and working closely with your teammates, that give MyCareer just the right amount of weight. Next year, though, let’s iron things out and see how well these can take effect when it comes to gameplay.
Some new offensive and defensive tweaks have been made to make the play style work a little more smoothly this time around, and despite the lack of an explanation of just what those are, players will have no problem hitting the hard court and adapting anyway. The pure thrill of driving your team to a last-second victory – or holding its defensive own against those woe-some Lakers – remains intact, and whether you’re a casual player who customizes the tuners to their favor or a hardcore veteran that depends on LeBron a wee bit too often, there’s something here for you. And it remains quite spectacular.
AI balancing also plays a part, as you’ll actually see hustle from the defensive end, or players try to stop you during a driving attempt to the basket. This will help you adapt to situations, call upon your team for better tactics, and, of course, call for that sweet, sweet alley oop. It never gets old.
On top of Livin’ Da Dream (as it’s so aptly put), the MyTeam also delves deep into player management, where you’ll balance a schedule and try to create an ideal team experience through sponsors, trades and practice drills, amongst other activities. It can be a bit workmanship-like, especially as you continue through an entire season, but devotees will no doubt dive in with both feet and find the water to their liking. Collectible cards will keep them coming back as well, introducing new mini-games and other activities to allow momentum to stay intact.
There’s also a hearty online experience to be found in NBA 2K16 – provided you can find a session that’s devoid of bugs. Overall, the games I played in this mode ran smoothly enough, although there are times when frame rate and connection hiccups can get in the way. 2K has cleaned this up a bit since release, so it’s sustainable, but don’t be surprised if you still run into an error or two.
Finally, there’s the presentation – and it continues to be the best around. The visuals are dazzling, and the arena atmosphere during each contest is just about perfectly captured, right down to the cheering fans and flashing lights in the background. Likewise, the commentary continues to be amongst the best in the business, with Clark Kellogg, Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr finding a just-about-perfect groove with on-court action. There are repeated comments here and there, but not nearly as bad as other games. Throw in Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith providing pre and post-game reports (in pure Inside the NBA fashion) and a killer soundtrack (well, as far as basketball tunes go), and you have a set-up that will be right up your “baller” alley.
Even though the story isn’t always a hit at times, and there are some online issues that could use some looking into, NBA 2K16 remains a slam dunk when it comes to the world of virtual basketball. Those seeking depth will find it in spades, while others who just want the chance to play like a boss can hop in and get right to it. If 2K continues this stride, EA Sports may never catch up. Y’know, unless by some miracle it brings back NBA Street or something. Then it’s game on.