It came as no surprise that 2K was bringing its dominant NBA 2K franchise back this year. NBA 2K19 is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC – we played on Microsoft’s platform for this year’s edition.
One of the reasons I was looking forward to NBA 2K19 is that last year was an interesting one – it saw NBA Live emerge as a viable alternative to 2K’s deep and intricate simulation, and even though 2K still came out on top I was curious to see if it would nudge them into a new direction for this year.
If it did, it pushed them further into another direction, with a deeper simulation than before – especially in the defensive sense. My old “NBA Jam”-style of swatting at the ball resulted in way more fouls being called on me this year, and positional play has become even more of a factor than it was before. Fail to move into a spot with a clear line of sight to the intended receiver, and your pass is more likely to get intercepted than ever before.
NBA 2K19 seems to favor the defensive player, which provides a stark contrast to the likes of NBA Live – and I won’t even discuss NBA Jam and NBA Playgrounds in this regard. It’s a design decision that is sure to please the kind of fan who enjoys watching post-game analyses and appreciates the thought that goes into the offensive and defensive tactics of the sport, but I keep feeling it may also alienate the casual fan who enjoys the sport for the highlight reel and spectacular shots and dunks. You know – the kind of gamer who doesn’t watch full-length games on TV and also makes sure his in-game matches are short and sweet.
Outside of the core gameplay, 2K made great strides in its narrative MyCareer mode, which is much better polished than last year’s story. Your up and coming star now travels abroad to play in the Chinese league for a bit, before making it back to the US for his shot at the big leagues. It’s a lengthy mode too, and features a ton of nice touches – including Chinese commentary for the matches you play there, bolstering that feeling that you traveled far to make your dream happen.
I also found The Neighborhood to be far more polished than last year – which is when the mode had its debut and felt a little like a fish out of the water with too much pointless walking around. The area you get to engage in has been more tightly designed this time around, and feels more vibrant and alive as a result. They’ve also added more arcade-like flavor into the mix by adding games that take place on courts that allow for wall passes and trampoline-fueled jumps. If you were looking for something to push NBA 2K more towards the fun factor of other franchises, then this is it.
Unfortunately, with all their emphasis on delivering a great core gameplay experience, 2K still managed to cram in a whole bunch of microtransaction-related content. Your wallet is shared across game modes, which make some of them feel way too much like a grind if you’re not planning on spending extra (real world) money on the game in order to take a shortcut to success. While questionable to begin with, your need for this in-game money is further capitalized on by giving you the option to wager your hard earned money in order to either double it or lose it all – which smells of a kind of gambling that has little place in a game this expensive (especially if you splurged on the most expensive editions that come with in-game currency).
The audiovisual presentation in NBA 2K19 is extremely similar to last year’s, but that’s pretty much a non-issue for me because it’s still such a gorgeous game and right up there with the best of them – even EA’s Frostbite-fueled titles. It’s too bad the commentary and match day presentation didn’t get a further boost though, as 2K had made some excellent strides there with 2K18.
At the end of the day, NBA 2K19 offers subtle improvements over last year’s version, but no radical changes or new features. It’s still an excellent basketball simulation, but I could see all but the most hardcore fans being content just sticking to last year’s edition or waiting to see how NBA Live turns out this year.