Sports games have always been very interesting to review given that most see only small upgrades from year to year, and most come from a company with a two letter name. With the NBA 2K series, it’s been a bit more interesting to watch the evolution over the last few years as they continue to add and tweak things other sports games don’t have, like a full career mode with actual cutscenes and off the court (or field) decisions and tasks. My disclaimer here is that I am mainly a passive NBA fan, and typically only tune in during holidays and the playoffs to watch my LA Lakers (who have been terrible the last few years), so keep that in mind when reading my review. I have played my fair share of basketball games over the years, however. From NBA Jam to NBA Street, I’ve at least seen the genre evolve from the early days up until now, and that makes what NBA 2k (and especially 2K15) is doing special and awesome.
When you’re comparing sports games you really only have two ways to do it, compare it to the lone competitor’s game (EA’s NBA Live, in this case) and compare it to previous versions of itself (NBA 2K14). I will do both. Comparing NBA 2K15 to NBA Live is almost like comparing LeBron James to that scrawny kid on your 7th grade basketball team, it’s just not really fair. Back in the day the NBA Live series was much more of a powerhouse, but after a few cancelled versions and a very sub-par reintroduction last year EA’s game is just not something you want to play yet. NBA 2K15 demolishes Live in everything from overall presentation, to gameplay, and even visuals and customization. As compared to the previous iteration, NBA 2K14, 2K15 is only a slight improvement. 2K has re-done the story mode, but it still only lets you select from two voices that don’t really sound right for most people and the cutscenes themselves are still cheesy and poorly lip-synched. Aside from those issues I do like that they did attempt a story, because it makes the whole career mode much more interesting when the game lets you choose a team to try out for and work your way up to a starter (as opposed to giving yourself all 100’s for stats in Madden and forcing your favorite team to draft you).
The career mode (called MyCareer I believe) let’s you create a character or even scan your face this time. You may have already seen some stories around the web showcasing what happens when this face scanning goes wrong, it’s pretty hilarious. I found that the system was a bit tricky to work with and the PS4 camera kept losing my head and restarting the whole scanning process (which can last up to a minute). Once I actually got it to complete the result was better than I was expecting, and it actually did a pretty good job of recreating me, though I hadn’t shave that day so the bottom half of my face looked like I was wearing paint or something. This tech is cool to have in sports games, I just hope they can fine tune it and get it working better for next year. Once created you jump into the career mode (with the story being you are an undrafted rookie trying to make it into the league) and you eventually pick teams to try out for and based on level of interest you have to do more or less to impress them overall. This is basically the story, with some more cutscenes and random events and choices added in later on. It’s a fun mode overall, even with the issues it has.
So how’s the gameplay? Well, from the standpoint of a person that is not super hardcore into basketball games it’s very solid. There are still times when the animation transitions look weird and cause random movements on the floor, but overall the game plays and looks like an active NBA game. I find the playcalling has been improved this year, but I am still disappointed that most playcalling involves trying to cramp your hand up to hit some Konami code-style button combo. They have introduced a suggested play that you can call by merely holding down one of the shoulder buttons, and that makes life much easier, but it’d be nice if they could figure out how to at least give you 3-4 play options in an easily accessible location on the controller. I still enjoy the overall feel of the game, and little has changed in that department from last year’s game. I did notice that the AI seems a bit better overall though, as I had teammates that did a bit less standing around and a bit more rebounding and boxing out than I remember seeing last year.
Speaking graphically, the 2K series has never looked better. Now, there are still issues where everything outside of the players and court look just okay to bad at times (a lot of stuff in the career cutscenes look poor, buildings, etc.) but where it counts, on the floor, the game shines and is easily the best looking sports game out there (if you aren’t counting racing games). Madden from EA has always disappointed me in the graphics department so seeing a sports game actually look good on the new systems was a great surprise, though there has not been a lot of updates in visuals from 2K14 overall. If you’re a sports enthusiast who would like a game that actually tries to push their graphical technology a bit then check out 2K15, you’ll be impressed with everything on the court at the very least.
Overall NBA 2K15 blows away any competition, but it is an incremental upgrade over last year’s game. Better UI and navigation, a slightly better (and better laid out) career mode, and online play that actually works this time round make the game a solid buy for those in the market of upgrading their sports game every year, or those looking to get a sports game that shows the way sports games should be made, but if you have 2K14 and like that game there really isn’t a ton of incentive to upgrade. Just go into 14 and move LeBron to Cleveland and you’re set! NBA2K15 is one of the best sports games out on any platform, and will show you what a team can do when they actually try to make their sports game look nice, but if you have the previous entry it may be best to hold off for a sale on this title. By all means though, if you’re new to the franchise go out and grab the game, you won’t be disappointed (by much).