Another year, another basketball season, another NBA 2K game. And yes, another success. Except for ‘another basketball season’ bit, as it looks (at the time of writing) like the lockout will scupper it and you’ll have to resort to watching Deron Williams and Luol Deng strutting their stuff in Turkey or Spain.
But as for the game itself, it’s like there was never a pay dispute related to the odd million dollars here and there. Oh, except for the fact none of this season’s rookies are in the game, which is a bit rubbish, but not 2K’s fault. One would imagine that they would be patched in if the lock out is avoided.
All the current stars are present and correct though, including a load of classic players like Dr J, Karl Malone and some guy called Jordan. They take pride of place on the redesigned front end in the NBA’s Greatest Mode, although there’s no room for Yinka Dare, perplexingly (sarcasm).
It’s a nice distraction, and will eat up a good deal of playing time, but obviously the meat of the game is in the regular team modes and, of course, the My Player mode, which is still the best example of its kind in all of sports entertainment.
This has been slimmed down a bit and the pre-NBA bit has been trimmed to feature one Rookie All Stars vs Rookie Elite match in which you are encouraged to shine. The better you do (and the position you’ve selected for your player) determines where you end up being drafted, as does the result of the new ‘interviews with general managers’ bit, where you get to impress the teams that want you. Or fluff your lines by being too arrogant/wimpy, too.
Once you’re into your career, there’s more things to do. You can play every game or skip to key ones, enabling those less dedicated to get through their careers quicker, and there are more ‘perks’ like endorsement deals, Jordan trying to flog shoes with your name on them, that sort of thing. All present in the last one, just expanded upon here.
What wasn’t in the last one was a wage. Now you get to negotiate your salary, which when paid allows you to spend it on new moves, fan days and so on. Also you can now save up the experience points you earn during games in order to improve some core attributes, like your ability to do skill moves and extravagant dunks.
So as usual, the My Player mode is still the place to be, even if the commentary gets a bit repetitive after 50 or so games on the same roster. Yes, I know the Knicks did well to get Carmelo Anthony, you’ve said it every single match, Mr Commentator. One criticism would be to argue that you should always be allowed to just choose which team you get drafted to, even if it’s not realistic. Your reviewer wants to play for the Jazz, but never, ever gets drafted or traded to them.
Also, the sim quarter time is always 12 minutes while yours as a human is 5 minutes. It’s vital to remember to change these to similar amounts of time, because otherwise the stats of your team are wildly skewed. A small thing perhaps, but important if you harbour ambitions of getting into the Rookie or Sophomore All Star teams.
Create a Legend is also back, but you can pick any current player now, rather than being forced into Jordan’s massive sneaks. There’s not much difference between this and the regular My Player mode, except it’s less fun and you can’t do the press conferences.
You’ll probably be playing through the menus in silence though, because this year’s 2K Beats are absolutely atrocious, with the only vaguely listenable non-hipster music being Kurtis Blow’s ‘Basketball’, which is the theme. But it also has an annoying backing vocal section that plays at the beginning, which gets on your nerves very quickly.
But what about the gameplay itself, the real reason you’re playing? That’s an easy question to answer - it’s still completely great. By this point, only little things are getting tweaked, so it’s as wonderfully fluid and ‘real’ an experience as you’ll find in sports game form.
One niggle might be that you get done for off the ball charging fouls a lot, which can get frustrating if you’re a forward who’s already picked up a number of ‘proper’ fouls and then foul out because you were just trying to move and crash into an opponent under their basket.
And yes, it is really is as difficult as that to spot a real flaw in the game engine. It might be a bit biased towards the AI before shifting the sliders down a little bit, but it’s less obvious in this version - to the point it may well not even be an issue worth mentioning at all any more.
So for basketball fans, this is an absolutely essential purchase, no question about it. There’s a reason EA’s not really bothering with non-NBA Jam basketball products any more and this series has crushed its Live franchise into the dust. And rightly so. You won’t be sorry if you get this, the last or the one before, they’re all just brilliant. The next one will be too, probably.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with the Utah Jazz.
EDIT - Oh, and as for multiplayer modes, they're basically fine, same old, except for the addition of online Association play, where you can set up a franchise and play with your chums over the course of a season. So like FIFA's online clubs thing. It's decent and will doubtless be improved up in next year's version when the inevitable bugs and flaws are discovered over hundreds of hours of play by the community.
- The best basketball game ever
- Legends mode, even featuring a 60s black and white game!
- My Player still as buttock-slappingly good as ever
- Some of the faces look a bit rubbish sometimes
- Too many accidental off the ball charge fouls
- Not enough stuff to complain about in the Cons bit
The Short Version: There's no other sports game as good as this. Simple. Get it if you like basketball or just get it because you like sports games. Get it just because you can play a Bill Russell game in the 60s in black and white. Get it... well, just because.