Another year, another edition of 2K’s celebrated basketball franchise. NBA 2K20 is here, and it’s out for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. We took to the digital courts on an Xbox One.
It’s no secret that 2K’s franchise has been the dominant basketball game for many years now – and the impressive thing is that it’s done that purely on its own merits. EA’s NBA Live games in recent years have been pretty good, and without NBA 2K they would have been no-brainers for many fans, but the fact is that 2K’s been setting and raising the bar for a good while now.
NBA 2K has been consistently excellent, to a point where change is mostly incremental rather than substantial. This year is no different, with no single gameplay feature that really stands out as this year’s novelty. The in-game action feels more fluid than ever before this time, which is mostly due to the animation system feeling smoother and more natural. Funnily enough this reminded me of the strides that EA’s made in Madden, but it’s a welcome addition to NBA 2K.
In terms of content, the biggest new things are a new story mode (which is mostly new from a thematical point of view) and the inclusion of WNBA teams. It’s an important addition with regards to any kind of possible gap with the NBA Live franchise, which made the same move years ago – though the implementation is mostly by the numbers in 2K20. There are no women-centric career/story modes available, but female players look the part and 2K20 plays a noticeably different game with women on the court. Instead of emphasizing power and speed, a slower and more thoughtful approach is needed to slice through defenses. It’s interesting because it’s different, but I’m assuming most players will gravitate back to the men’s game after a while.
The story mode is an impactful one this time around, with a narrative that was developed in cooperation with Lebron James. We’ve seen story modes focus some of the attention on life off the court before, but NBA 2K20 interweaves the current social climate with its story this time. Not happy with your college for taking a scholarship away from an injured teammate, you bench yourself in protest and this affects your reputation ahead of the NBA draft.
Standing up for what you believe in is an integral part of the narrative here, and although the experience is short-lived compared to the time you’ll spend in the career mode it’s a memorable take on the cinematic angle that’s become so common in sports games in recent years. There’s not a lot of freedom when it comes to the choices you make off the court, but your performance on the floor is what matters most and there’s some good interplay between how successful you are as a player and what you stand for as a person.
The story segues into the career mode after a while, which is where you notice that not that much is new under the hood this year. Look past the WNBA, story mode and smoother animations, and you’re looking at a game that was built on the foundations of NBA 2K19. Luckily, those are some rock solid foundations to build on. Let’s hope that bigger changes will come once the new console generation arrives on the horizon.