NBA 2K15 Review
The heart of the NBA feels alive in 2K15, despite shortcomings
Few team-based sports highlight the individual like basketball does, and even fewer allow the control of a game to pass through a single teammate. Basketball is a flashy sport, a sexy sport; filled with shoe-endorsements, slam-dunk contests, and courtside celebrities. While so many sports video games focus on the mechanics of the game as a whole, few do a great job of making the players on the field/rink/pitch/what-have-you feel as real as the players we watch on TV. While most games focus on the meat and potatoes of mechanics, NBA 2K15 is at work making the drama of sports feel alive.
That’s not to say the mechanics of the game aren’t important as well. NBA 2K15 is a bit of a mixed bag, but overall it plays well. There are solid improvements over last year’s edition. Running plays in previous iterations of NBA2K were kind of a nightmare. First you had to try and get the play called - god forbid to try using Kinect to do this - but even when it worked, it was difficult to run the play itself. NBA 2K15 tries to help you out here. Plays are easier to set up and their execution is a little easier to follow. That being said, the AI still doesn’t execute all that well; numerous times I had players stuck behind screens and passes that would get picked off. The “X”s and “O”s of basketball are still difficult to pick up in NBA 2K15, but the game takes a step in the right direction. Just don’t expect to get Oladipo open on those pick plays every time.
It’s bummer because when the computer is running these plays against you, they look impressive. Teams that thrive on teamwork and passing really highlight how players can get burned on the back door or in the pick-and-roll. The computer’s AI is flashy and skilled, showing you how the play-calling and intuitive passing should work, but doesn’t when the player has control.
The good news is that the defense AI in NBA 2K15 is much improved. First, you won’t see nearly as many ridiculous alley-oop slams against you this year. Second, when you’re screened the defense does a much better job of helping out. It can still be tricky to figure out if you’re supposed to be switching to the guy you’re defending - and on a fast break it’s anyone’s guess who you’re actually supposed to be guarding - but, again, NBA 2K15 has taken a step in the right direction with these controls.
This year’s title, like many of the iterations before it, plays best when you’re playing flashy, show-off basketball. Using the turbo button and the pro stick, you can leave opponents stuck in the mud and drive to the hoop; or create a little separation and nail the jumper. The game does reward you for passing the ball around - literally, just throw it around the perimeter a couple times and watch your shooting percentage improve - but it’s rare that the passing is as precise as you need it to be. The best strategy NBA 2K15 offers is to get the ball to your best players and let them go to work.
This strategy is actually good for myCAREER mode, which returns with a brand new story. Last year’s NBA2K had players play in a game to show off their skills before the draft, making your starting position in the NBA a little more varied. NBA 2K15 starts everyone in the same position. It’s draft day and your name didn’t get called. You wait around and are forced to go through a workout to get on a team. Initially, you’re signed to a 10-day contract, but you can play your way to a year-long gig. During your first 10-day contract - or, possibly, multiple 10-day contracts - the progression is really good. Your player will definitely earn the currency they need to improve their skills and work their way to a solid bench contributor. Unfortunately, that solid progression doesn’t continue.
After the first contract is up, your player will be a free agent and get courted by numerous teams. This section of the game is actually engaging and semi-authentic. Your character is awed by NBA stars walking into their apartment, asking him to come contribute to a championship run. In the end, money and your own preferences determine where your character will end up. Are you going to be loyal to the team that gave you your first shot or are you going to head for the money and rings promised by the NBA elite?
At this point my character was at an overall of 73. He wasn’t superstar material, but he was a decent bench contributor and I was happy in my role. But after I signed with the Chicago Bulls, Doc Rivers showed up and injected me into the starting line-up over my mentor, Jimmy Butler, whose rating was much higher than my own. Suddenly, I went from matching up again guys suited to my skills, to going 1-on-1 with Kevin Durant - which, let me tell you, did not go well.
It’s nice that NBA 2K15 wants to get you in the spotlight, but I was so hopelessly outmatched, I couldn’t do much to help my team win. My mentor would tell me how bad I was, the press would ask why I took responsibility for the loss - the whole time I lacked the option to say, “Yeah, well I never thought I would be bumping Jimmy Butler to the bench.”
The whole time I flounder in the starting role, NBA2K reminds me that - for another $15 - I could bump up the skills of my player so he’s a respectable starter. NBA 2K15 isn’t as aggressive about its microtransactions as last year’s game was, but it still feels pretty gross at times. Everything from dunk animations to clothing costs in-game currency and is locked behind paywalls.
You can also take your player to myPARK where you can compete against other players like yourself, betting in-game currency on your matches and competing to show who has the better NBA star. You choose one of three street teams to join up with, then represent them on the court with 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 games against other human players. You can also visit the Rec Hall where you can play more traditional multiplayer. Having NBA2K nation take their stars to the online arena is an interesting way to build experience and interact with other players, but it doesn’t have matchmaking, so if you don’t have a roster of friends to play with, you might find it hard to get a good game together. In fact, if there is a game going, you have to sit on the sidelines till it’s done before hopping in. Even once you do get in, server issues can make for a laggy experience.