Review: NBA 2K15 – Now With More Pharrell
The NBA 2K series has become the juggernaut of basketball games for consoles and continues to look like it will hold that top spot. But, as the old saying goes, every good winner needs competition. Looking at this year’s iteration of the title, this rings true as the only motivation pushing this franchise to improve is itself and at times that just isn’t enough.
Is the game terrible? Far from it. Is it incredible? Unfortunately, not quite.
As someone who has played a lot of iterations of NBA 2K, ranging from the Dreamcast to this generation’s, I believe it gives me a good insight on the franchise and allows for some tough love. The biggest graphical jump came with last year’s title but that does not mean they stopped upping the ante this year.
The folks at 2K added over 5,000 new animations and even went as far as scanning cheerleaders to ensure a more authentic look and feel. Also adding to the look and feel is the addition of pre-game banter from Shaq and Ernie Johnson. At times, if someone passes by your screen and does not recognize the controller icons on screen, it could easily pass for a real live NBA game.
NBA 2K 15 boils down to some basic modes which include: MyLeague, MyGM, MyCareer/MyPark, 2KTV, NBA Today and MyTeam. MyLeague focuses on providing the player with a completely customizable season and franchise experience.
MyGM focuses on giving the player the reins of an NBA team as the general manager and allowing you to set everything on the team, ranging from ticket prices, roster spots to even what workouts players will endure. MyCareer/MyPark meanwhile focuses on YOU, or at least your virtual self and how you will become an NBA legend.
2KTV is an episodic weekly show where Rachel DeMita hosts some random NBA things and discusses happenings in the 2K world and in the overall NBA. NBA Today gives you a snap shot of all the real life games happening that day as well as letting you participate in online/offline games. MyTeam is where you build your own NBA team while collecting cards and buying packs, which is very addictive and easily one of the most frustrating modes to play.
Whenever I sit down with a copy of NBA 2K, the first thing I do is create myself as either a Center or Power Forward and go straight to the MyCareer portion of the game. While my character choice was no different this year, once you delve into this mode you will see some quick differences. Now you can scan your face using the game camera if you have one; although the concept sounds great it takes time and patience for it to work well in practice. Also, a ton of good lighting helps or you will look like an orc from Mordor.
Gone is the NBA draft and instead you are an undrafted free agent that will fight your way onto a team. This is a cool concept that allows you to control your destiny a bit more as you now will go to a team’s workout and have to perform to a certain Grade in order to make their team.
The better the team the higher the grade you will need to make the cut so don’t expect to make your favorite team off the bat. Also expect, if you do make a team, to be relegated to a 10 day contract and still have to battle to stay and have your contract renewed.
Another big difference in MyCareer is in the development of your character and how and where you can spend all your VC. You can still blow your VC on pointless crap like t-shirts and sneakers but more importantly there are now Attribute upgrade categories that will increase a group of stats that coincide with that group. So now you can choose from increasing either Jump Shooter, Inside Scorer, Athlete, Playmaker, Rebounder or Defender categories. Another difference in this year’s career mode is that Badges can be earned and then upgraded with VC.
MyCareer does a commendable job of piecing in small parts to make you feel like you were in the NBA, from conversations with your agent to having some of your texts being leaked onto social media. Unfortunately where it still lacks sorely is in the voice and acting in the MyCareer sections. Your character sounds the same no matter the look and fits the “stereotypical urban ghetto male” persona whenever he opens his mouth. The character that plays your agent is also severely lacking in the acting department, resulting in how awkward conversations with your character feel and play out.
My other favorite mode, and one of the most maddening for me for many reasons, is MyTeam. Here you open packs of cards like a kid back in your youth and use those cards to piece together a team. Half the fun is collecting your squad but this can take quite a long time and you’ll have to get used to using some scrubs early on while fighting through some tough games, until you can purchase more and better cards for your ultimate team.
Modes aside NBA 2K15 feels crisp and plays well while looking great. Shots are now measured by a timing meter on the bottom of each player that allows you to learn proper release points for each player as well as various types of shots. Shots feel better and actually take true bounces and rattles like in the NBA.
Down low play has also been upgraded and you can expect to have the ability to put more post moves on players in order to create space and let yourself get off that baby hook for the score. Cheesing on defense has been cut down on those in bound passes where you used to be able to camp out and grind steals.
Online play for me was a mixed bag. I love playing in MyPark and taking my created character onto the street courts to pit my skills against other players. Unfortunately, when the game launched this was nothing short of a mess. My game would constantly freeze or I would step on the court and then lag out, among other issues.
This was a big problem for last year’s game as well and to me it is inexcusable to have it happen again. However, since that less than stellar launch the game has been patched quite a bit and now the online modes seem to be stable and playable; regardless, this was a huge turn off for anyone who had experienced these headaches in the past.
Another issue I came across early in the launch of the game was my created character being reset about four or five times. His looks and attributes would just disappear, as well as his earned VC, which was quite infuriating. Good news is this has been patched recently but it did not help my blood pressure early on.
On a side note, something to expect as you play through any mode of NBA 2K15 is a constant and shameless Sprite promotional barrage. You will see Sprite plastered on the tables, chairs, walls, MyPark and pretty much anywhere you could possibly imagine. Sprite isn’t the only offender as Sprint makes appearances (as well as other brands) but Sprite is the only one that smacks you in the face with a blast of lemon and lime.
Pharrell Williams joins this year’s title as the one in charge of the 2K Beats portion, similarly to how Jay Z had the honors a couple of years back. Fortunately his hat did not make it into the game (except for in one of the menus) but all of his choices on tunes did, which for the most part work pretty well in the game. Expect to hear Gwen Stefani’s Spider Webs followed up by Lorde’s Team and A Tribe Called Quests’ Scenario. Pharrell’s eclectic style gives you a good flow of music to ball to while appeasing a large mass of listeners.
So the big question is after all that talk of music, shots and modes, is this game worth buying?
I would say yes to any basketball fan out there but it may take some convincing if you held on to last years copy and are very happy with that one. It does feature plenty of improvements, which are nice and certainly warrant a purchase, but the launch of the game bogged down with server issues was a real let down to many. NBA 2K15 does keep you well connected with the NBA, which is a plus. (Heck, I learned that Brook Lopez was out of commission for the Brooklyn Nets from the game — now that is pretty impressive.)
All in all, NBA 2K continues to dominate the basketball market. However, it may need a true competitor to really push the limits of what it can offer the player in terms of quality.