NBA 2K15 is an interactive sporting soap opera, and it's quite brilliant in that regard. Visual Concepts have been leading the line in terms of narrative framing for career modes for some time, but last year's next-gen version saw them really ratchet things up in terms of context and plotting for MyCareer, upping the stakes by giving you a nemesis to measure yourself against, a mute team buddy to give you inspiration and a kick up the arse when warranted, and interactions with coaches, GMs and the press.
This year, though, they've really gone the extra mile in cultivating a sporting narrative full of drama and emotion. You kick things off as an undrafted rookie with an obnoxious, Jerry Maguire-esque agent shopping you about low-to-mid-level teams for a trial. The greater the team's standing, the harder you'll have to work to impress them, and so on. Succeed, and you'll earn yourself a ten-day contract; do well in the mattering of games during that short time period, and you might win a spot on the rotation for the rest of the season. It's a true underdog setup that then spins out into regular team meetings, chats with your coach, practice sessions, contract negotiations, team-mates finding out about you entertaining the notion of signing with a another team, squabbles about playing opportunities, clashes with other rookies and players, all in the quest to become the greatest player you can be.
It's rather intoxicating stuff, aided by more fully-featured voice work from the characters you'll meet along the way. It must be said, however, that few NBA players have the acting chops of Shaq, and the monotonous drawl of the likes of Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond, not to mention the interesting timing of some lines that VC clearly didn't have the time to record twice, can make dialogue exchanges inadvertently hilarious.
Jackson Ellis, your nemesis from NBA 2K14, is a thing of the past, and that's a shame. I thought he was a wonderful character, even if he was more of a mash-up of player antagonists from any number of sporting movies. This year, you end up clashing with another rookie who's part of your agent's stable of clients. I got Dante Exum, whose voice work is actually just plain awful, who played for a team in a different conference, and who spent most of the first season languishing on the bench while I quickly made it into the starting lineup for the Raptors and began filling up box scores. It just didn't seem as fiery or relevant as the rivalry I'd shared with Ellis.
By and large, though, I feel like NBA 2K15 does a better job of capturing the heart and soul of the NBA experience better than any other game up to this point. I felt guilty when I upped sticks and moved town with my first created player, I could never say know to Ross' soft-spoken suggestions for getting a bit of extra practice in, I felt fired up after the new half-time team talks. The NBA is a carnival of big players and even bigger personalities, and this game truly understands that the spectacle is a huge part of why the sport is so entertaining. In spite of the little niggles here and there, it does a great job of establishing that in this game. It's still not perfect, but it's the best rags-to-riches superstar career experience you can get, and its the beating heart at the core of NBA 2K15 in my opinion.
The on-court action has been seriously tweaked this time around, too. I tend to play most of my matches on the highest difficulty setting, and what's been clear to me, at least, is that there's a much greater margin for error and failure. I like the fact that there's now a shooting bar. It gamifies things a little -- before you had to read the shot animation of your player, and really become comfortable with releasing a shot at the top of the action -- but it ultimately gives you more visual feedback and helps you improve. That stats certainly seem to have more of an impact makes that all the more important.
Player progression has been broken down into broader categories that contain the individual ability statistics of old rather than splurging virtual currency on on thing at a time, but those numbers still make a difference. Perfect timing won't always equal a perfect shot, and picking one's shots has really become something of a necessity this time around. That said, I've been bricking some absolutely wide-open, perfectly executed jumpers, which has been a bit of an exercise in frustration. I also miss the little visual indicators that tell you when you're hot or cold, and when your performance has led to a little boost in offensive production or defensive stopping power. I'm assuming that the red rings below my player are indicators of player rhythm, but the game never bothers to explain that.
I take issue with the friendly AI as well. Opponents will run clever sets, adapt to plays gone awry and knock down open shots. My Raptors, however, have been a team of diabolical screw-ups, especially on defence. Defending in this year's game is tricky enough thanks to a weightier feel to things and sluggish lateral movement (guarding superstars is a nightmare... although that's probably comparable to real life I suppose) without having to deal with clueless compatriots who dither about, clog the paint, and fail to stick with their men. That all being said, the more I play, the more I progress, and the more I'm enjoying myself and things are starting to make sense. But I can't help but feel that last year's on-court gameplay was a bit more fluid. The badge system is confusing as well -- instead of being able to spend virtual currency on the signature skills that you want -- everything is now unlocked dynamically, though you can upgrade certain skills using VC. It moves things away from the VC grind to a certain extent, but it also shrouds top level customisation and lessens the feeling of reward. I used to always save up for the Highlight Reel, knowing that the payoff would be worth it. Now, however, I can't tell when my player is going to suddenly sprout the ability to jam like a boss.
I do appreciate the fact that opponents now really play like they would in real life. Curry will kill you from outside, LeBron is unstoppable when he charges into the paint (but can miss if you crowd him out), the speed of players like Lillard and Ty Lawson is flat out scary, the Durantula will hit obscene clutch shots with your hand right in his face, and never give Kyle Korver any room to shoot. The game does a good job of mustering a palpable sense of threat, though I hope Visual Concepts move further away from canned animations next year. There are loads of variations, but on defence it does sometimes feel like you're fighting the engine a bit.
This is the point where I'd talk about MyPark, and how glorious it is to pit your efforts against those of another human, but unfortunately connectivity issues have meant that this mode has been barely playable. Each year 2K say they'll address their server issues, and each year the NBA 2K iteration launches with a plague of online troubles. I've not too many to deal with myself in MyCareer, but the online modes flit between utterly broken and nervously tense, like you're just waiting for something to go bust. You choose between three city-based affiliations and engage in street ball in the same manner that you did last year. It's still pretty clunky, the Got Next waiting rings are like the worst bits of PS Home, although game score targets have been lowered. In the games I did get to play, the limited defensive options were really exposed -- there are so many ways for opponents (especially quick ball-handlers) to break you down that winning was really just a case of who'll screw up in attack first. You can play full court matches as well, but the dodgy netcode just encouraged me to go back to the other game modes.
MyLeague is basically this year's Association mode, letting you customise a team-based career experience to your liking and then play the thing. It's easy to jump into, as deep as you like (you can define a franchise for up to 80 seasons if you like), and you can even customise divisions, which is a nice touch. MyGM is still a sprawling leviathan, even more so than in previous years. As with MyCareer, Visual Concepts have really made an effort to flesh out the day-to-day details, with a huge array of interweaving conversation options and dialogue trees, visible gauges of your relationships with players and press and a host of issues and bureaucratic dramas that befits the life of an NBA general manager. It's almost overwhelmingly big, to be honest, and I was sort of afraid to jump in. There's so much to be had here across all of NBA 2K15's content and modes, but the game does a fairly risible job of welcoming newcomers into the fold.
It remains, nonetheless, the premier NBA fan experience, all rolled up into one enormous gaming content package. It's sullied somewhat by the repeated connectivity issues that have plagued the series for years, but they've been much calmer of later. The game looks fantastic, the presentation (as if I need to say) is absolutely top notch, even if it's quite weird to have Steve Kerr commentating on matches in which he's also coaching or Doris Burke interviewing an invisible person, but ultimately NBA 2K15 gets to the emotional heart of the sport, and MyGM and MyCareer's rollercoaster, Hollywood sporting dramas are beyond compare. That's not to say they can't improve going forwards, but I'm itching to get back on the floor and put everything on the line for Coach Casey... if only so I can facilitate a sneaky move to the Heat in a couple of weeks.
- The best presentation in the genre
- Looks fantastic
- Sound design and commentary is unreal
- MyCareer has been retooled, now better than ever (with skippable matches)
- Progression and difficulty levels make a real difference
- So. Much. Content.
- Ultimate NBA fan service thanks to NBA 2KTV
- Face Scan is uncanny now that it works properly
- Occasional bugs and glitches
- SORT YOUR SODDING NETCODE OUT, 2K!
- Pacing and controls feel inadequate on defence
The Short Version: NBA 2K15 is probably the best example of sports game fan service out there. It's a comprehensive package for any NBA fan that does an enormous amount to capture the intricacies and the dramas of the league, all the while creating exciting on-court action that is detailed and nuanced and fun to play. However, its years-old connectivity issues, and the dependency of offline modes on online servers once again threaten to ruin what should an outstanding game.