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2K Sports
Visual Concepts
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Release Date:
September 25, 2015

When I first heard that Spike Lee had been tapped to deliver a story-driven experience for the new NBA 2K installment, I was excited. Admittedly, sports games don’t really need a compelling storyline with interesting characters; Blades of Steel and NBA Jam never needed a plot. Even so, if you’re given the opportunity to see beyond the playing surface and experience an interesting character-based narrative where you are the protagonist, the possibilities are limitless. Unfortunately and in retrospect, I think this plan was a mistake and it weighs heavily on the otherwise solid basketball simulator experience in NBA 2K16 .

I must say, I was a little disappointed with the visual presentation. When I first saw NBA 2K14 on PlayStation 4 (it was one of the launch titles), I was impressed with the clarity, detail and new level of authenticity and realism. But it doesn’t seem like developer Visual Concepts has done much with that graphical display. Sure, the animations – of which there are over 1,000 – are still smooth and slick and the players look great but once you start examining the nuts and bolts, the visuals begin to show their age. Plus, they haven’t seen fit to eliminate last-gen issues like blatant clipping and I was surprised to see some low-res assets that really shouldn’t have made it this far. It doesn’t help that Lee’s “Livin ‘Da Dream” is hardly a graphical powerhouse, with unimpressive character models and drab environments.

The sound is a lot better thanks to competent and engaging announcers, excellent on-court effects, and a decent soundtrack. However, in relation to the latter, you will find a more diverse score in this year’s EA Sports productions. The audio excels when you’re in a tight battle on the court, as the combination of sneaker squeaks, bodies smacking bodies, and the crowd roaring in response to a breakaway dunk, really enhances the atmospheric appeal. The arenas can really get rockin’ in NBA 2K16 and that’s when the game is at its best, delivering a great presentation that is colorful, loud, and impossible to ignore. The balancing is another plus and playing with a good pair of headphones brings you deeper into a rich, rewarding mélange of sound. The voice performances leave something to be desired, though.

In a moment, I’ll get to the much-ballyhooed MyCareer mode, in which director Spike Lee has his way. For now, let’s start with the gameplay mechanics, which are always critical in any sports simulator. As you might expect, the control is excellent; it’s both deep and accessible and offers the player a wide variety of skill options. Not only have the developers fine-tuned and tweaked some of these controls, but they’ve also implemented some much-appreciated additions. For instance, now we have dedicated buttons for bounce pass and lob (with the added intricacy of double-tapping either for a flashy pass or alley-oop) and a grand total of 32 post moves that, if mastered, will let you dominate. The general physics feel just about right and despite a steeper learning curve than some would desire, the gameplay is designed to be quite fulfilling.

The simulated elements definitely shine, even if there are a few lingering snafus. The latter are minor enough that they won’t infringe on your enjoyment and excitement, and practicing allows you to peel back the control layers like an onion. At first, you might be content with the basics; simple passes, set shots, driving with only one or two juke moves, vaguely attempting to rebound and steal the ball, etc. But as time goes on, you’ll start discovering the true depth of this mechanic, which will ultimately let you gain full control over any player you choose. Sure, those 32 post moves might seem a little overwhelming at first, as might the dedicated pass and lob buttons, but it doesn’t take long to feel right at home on offense and defense.

These are all good things. At its core, I want to make it plain that NBA 2K16 plays very well and, while the additions and improvements aren’t enough to make me jump for joy, the foundation remains rock-solid. But as you probably know by now, 2K Sports tells us the biggest attraction is the game’s signature mode, the aforementioned MyCareer. This year, we get to see what it’s like to play out a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA…the only caveat is that we have to do it by Spike Lee’s terms. I’m usually supportive of linear storytelling but in a mode that ideally has freedom of choice at its core, the idea seems fundamentally flawed. On top of which, MyCareer is supposed to be about you and in a game that lends the player so much creativity of customization, it’s odd to be forced into the same pair of shoes over and over.