NBA 2K16 redefines just how realistic a sport game can be, and succeeds in making the best basketball game even better.
It’s always interesting to see what sports game developers come up with year after year. Every few years there’s an engine upgrade which brings major leaps in audiovisual presentation, but other than that it’s usually a matter of subtle tweaks here and there, a bit of polish, and the occasional new feature or gameplay mode, no matter how trivial it may seem. NBA 2K16 pleasantly surprised us by not just adding a whole lot of shine and flair to its audiovisual exterior, but offering plenty of innovation under the hood as well.
Going into this, and having seen behind closed doors presentations at game conventions like Gamescom, we figured that a big part of the changes in this game were going to be included in the brand new career mode. NBA 2K16 included a story mode entitled “Livin’ Da Dream”, which follows a talented young player on his road to the NBA draft and eventual stardom. It’s directed by famous director Spike Lee, and as a result it’s a rags to riches type of story that’s full of movie-inspired drama and character development. It’s not just about what happens on the court, it’s also about your choices in life – as the story mode likes to convey.
However, in a mode where making tough choices is an integral part of the experience, it’s surprising how little choice there really is – the experience is rather linear. It also has a few inconsistencies, like how you’re able to create your own character, but no matter how you create him your parents and sister will always be black. It also feels weird that you’re supposed to be a Kobe Bryant-like talent, yet when you finally reach the NBA your skills are (initially) extremely underdeveloped compared to the other players and teams.
Career mode feels like a cinematic sports story that’s not without its fault, but it transitions nicely into the actual game once you make it to the NBA. There – it’s the gameplay which shines, especially in terms of the improved AI. Having played more NBA videogames than having seen NBA games, I’d typically try to find a team and way of playing that worked for me – and I’d stick with that. So if passing the ball around was less effective than dribbling past defenders, I’d be dribbling non-stop.
What NBA 2K16 does extremely well is learn and adapt. If you find what works for you – or what the other team’s weak spot is, then you can only benefit from this for so long. If you’re prone to going down the middle towards the hoop, the other team will soon catch on and change their tactics. It makes perfect sense because that’s exactly what would happen in real life, but NBA 2K16 is the first sports game I’ve played that really nails this.
2K’s NBA series was never particularly easy when it came to scoring, but this dynamic really ramps up the learning curve. Far from a casual sports game, NBA 2K16 really makes you earn those points and wins by playing a more diverse game and changing your strategy on the go. Having a decent understanding of the game of basketball definitely helps in this regard, but this is a game that can also help you develop that understanding if you didn’t have much of it to begin with – which is an amazing credit to the developers.
Aside from the ultra-realistic gameplay, the audiovisual presentation also got an upgrade. Player models look more realistic than ever, animations were added and improved and player collisions make things extra interesting in crowded situations. Aside from the on-court action, the commentary also seems more diverse, fleshed out and on point than it did last year – and a new soundtrack offers more tracks than ever before, though whether you like the tracks or not is matter of personal preference.
There is no doubt that NBA 2K16 improves upon last year’s game, which was already an excellent representation of the sport. It’s too bad that the much-hyped career mode falls a little short of the mark in some ways, but it’s a nice addition to a career mode that would have otherwise been fairly generic. Once you get to the actual “NBA” portion of the game, it’s nothing but greatness.