With their third attempt on new-gen consoles, Visual Concepts and their NBA 2K16 entry are back to business as usual. While the first offering for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One saw significant upgrades in the graphics department, the game lacked all of the modes that this long-running series was known for. Last year’s game suffered from online issues, and while the feature set grew, it still wasn’t all there. In 2K16 Visual Concepts proves once again that they’ve still got their fans in mind, adding new features and modes, re-introducing old favorites, and sharpening both the visuals, presentation, and gameplay to near perfection. NBA 2K16 is about as good as it gets, and very well may be the best game in the series if the many modes that are tied to online connectivity hold up in the months ahead.
While the game made great strides a couple of entries ago, I can’t think of a time where this series has looked better. Year after year more animations come into play, the ways that players interact look more natural, and ultimately, deliver a presentation that is almost true to life. NBA 2K16 is one of, if not the, very best looking sports game(s) on the market today. Visual Concepts has been ahead of the curve on this for quite some time though. Those who buy the game every year know that already. It’s not a shocker, the NBA 2K series has looked great for years, and this year is no different. And while plenty of criticism was levied at the presentation for NBA 2K16 and the ever-popular track list that accompanies the game, this year’s eclectic mix of tunes is also a return to form for the series.
2K16 isn’t a revolutionary year for gameplay either, more a refining moment for the series which has been building out an incredible move-set for players. Again, this is as real as it gets for NBA fans. Just about anything you’ve seen an NBA player do in real life can be accomplished on the court in NBA 2K16… and then some. The game has both a simple and complex way to play it. You can use one button to shoot and one button to pass and have a lot of fun with it. However, you can also dig deeper into the move-set that requires learning more complex button inputs matched only by fighting games to pull off amazing moves with players whom are capable. Runners, Step-Throughs, Euro Steps, Amazing Dunks, Fall Away Jumpers, and many more moves can be pulled off at will with enough practice. However, these moves, again, aren’t something entirely new to the series, but there have been quite a few new animations added to the game. Also, movements and interactions between players make for the most realistic looking and feeling game to date. Players struggle to shed defenders to get open. Collisions and the resulting reactions of them look realistic. Things like height, weight and player wingspan seem to matter a little more than they have in the past.
2K Sports has been teaming up with big names to add creative talents to their games for a few years now, but this year they’ve tried something completely different with their My Player and My Career Modes. NBA 2K16 players can once again create a character, but this year they’ll take an entirely different route on their road to NBA stardom. My Career has a new story dubbed ‘Living ‘Da Dream,’ and it’s directed by Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, Malcom X, Jungle Fever). You take your character from High School to College, and then to the NBA. It’s a story mode that tries to tackle a few different elements that we haven’t seen before in games of this type. It deals with relationships between your family and friends, and your character, a young kid from the projects of Harlem, New York. It’s actually a nice step forward from other My Career modes in terms of story, but it’s also not a complete game-changer and kind of short.
There are other ways to play NBA 2K16 by yourself aside from My Career. There’s a single player ‘Play Now’ mode that allows you to play exhibition matches with any of the teams, including an expanded list of some of the greatest NBA teams of all time, the current NBA teams, as well as international teams. There’s a robust offline franchise mode, as well as ‘My GM’ which tasks you with managing every aspect of a team, from the team finances to personnel. With the gameplay rock-solid this year, any of these modes are a ton of fun to play.
NBA 2K16 does feel like a game built-around online connected modes though, and this year there’s something for everyone. A lot of the fan-favorites return, but there are a couple of notable additions. Play Now Online adds a league and ladder structure to the mix, seemingly revamping the game’s matchmaking system to match players of similar skill levels and allow them to compete to progress in higher leagues by simply playing/winning games. It tracks player tendencies, and keeps you grinding towards becoming one of the upper echelon NBA 2K16 players. Even the fans of online leagues with trades and drafts get their favorite game mode back — My Leagues offers players the ability to form leagues with their friends, draft players, make trades, and manage your team across a full NBA Season. Both online and off, there’s no shortage of modes in NBA 2K16 and there’s no glaring omission in this year’s entry. Just about anything that you’ve become accustomed to in the 2K series at one time or another is here.
Which is also true for some of the common complaints of the series. Facial scanning is still hit and miss. Using the Kinect to scan my ugly mug into this game was a tiresome process that even when it did finally work, didn’t work all that well. Then, there’s the growing ire from the 2K community that the My Player and My Team progression is so closely tied to micro-transactions. You have only a couple of options here, grind the many modes of NBA 2K to earn coins to boosts your statistics, or just buy them. With the option to essentially purchase stats for your character, trying to earn said points instead of buying them puts you way behind the curve in terms of player development. It doesn’t feel entirely unfair, and there are plenty of ways to do it, it’s just incredibly time consuming. For players with jobs and more going on in their lives, there really is no option other than to just purchase the VC coins.
The NBA 2K series has been notorious for online issues at launch. My fingers are crossed, but this year I haven’t encountered a single connection issue with the game during this review. That’s a considerable step forward for the series if this trend continues, and possibly the most important thing for a series which has it’s gameplay, graphics, and modes dialed in so well.
NBA 2K16 feels more like a refinement than a revolution, but that’s ok. While Spike Lee’s inclusion in the game was marketed as a major selling point, it really isn’t as deep as you might think. Visual Concepts tightens up gameplay in this release, and it looks as good as it ever has. That combined with the introduction of fan-favorite modes and completely new offerings make NB2K16 the best 2K Basketball game we’ve seen since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched.
- Available On: PS4, XB1, PC, PS3, X360
- Published By: 2K Sports
- Developed By: Visual Concepts
- Genre: Sports
- US Release Date: September 25th, 2015
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "In 2K16 Visual Concepts proves once again that they’ve still got their fans in mind, adding new features and modes, re-introducing old favorites, and sharpening both the visuals, presentation, and gameplay to near perfection."