NBA 2K16 Review

NBA 2K16 Review

Nothing But Net

Coming off of last year’s server debacle that tarnished some review scores of NBA 2K15, developer Visual Concepts promised a smoother online experience this time around. This yearly update comes with the usual technical tweaks and added content. The most touted addition is a fleshed out story mode helmed by the great Spike Lee, with his name and the star players plastered on the marquee where the cover resembles a movie poster more than video game box art. The improvements are apparent, the game modes plentiful, but overall NBA 2K16 still lacks the full realism we could and should expect on current platforms.

It all begins with the creation of your MyPLAYER avatar, customizing facial details with traditional sliders, or doing a face scan using the PlayStation Camera or Xbox’s Kinect – though this appears to be a fading concept as I have seen very few in the already bustling population of early access players who have utilized this feature.

A small cast donned in motion capture suits starts the scene, with Spike Lee himself waltzing on the set to promote the story mode with a canned speech and eyes scrolling cue cards the entire time. It’s a little disheartening, actually. The story itself, titled Livin ‘Da Dream, takes your custom player through the MyCAREER mode, starting off in your senior year of high school. With a humble Harlem upbringing, your character, nicknamed Freq, is a good boy, keeping his nose clean and practicing hard while maintaining a positive “stay-in-school” attitude. The journey through high school, college, and into the NBA is a structurally rigid campaign. I purposefully blew my three high school games by scoring no points and getting fouled out, and yet recruiters from UCLA, Michigan, Villanova, and other colleges still promoted their programs emphatically while parked on the plaid upholstered chair of my modest Harlem home. The script is fairly straightforward, but it does elicit an emotional connection with your character, which carries over into the game’s other modes.

There’s no shortage of ways to play competitive ball in NBA 2K16. The 2K Pro-Am lets you take your MyPLAYER or entire team in some five-on-five action. It’s a great place to showcase your creativity in designing unique logos, jerseys, and court layouts, as well as showing off your skills on the court. Of course, the Play Now online mode is the quickest way to get into some ranked action, where you work your way up the league ladder from freshman to Hall of Famer. You can even create your own NBA league from scratch and work it with your friends or other players around the world. While running the gauntlet of online modes, my server issues were minimal, amounting to a few players jumping to different parts of the screen in just a couple of matches.

I personally enjoyed the atmosphere and variety of the MyPARK mode. It’s similar in gameplay to NBA 2K15 mode, with several courts available for you and your friends to join the online community and play some 2v2, 3v3, or 1v1v1. The billboards display which courts are hot, enticing you to check out the team to beat. The biggest change in this year’s MyPARK are the backdrops. Instead of simple fenced-in street courts, each of the three venues has clever scenery. Sunset Beach has a massive aquarium, Old Town Flyers flashes with carnival lights filling the night sky, and Rivet City Roughriders takes place in a steel factory where molten metal moves along conveyer belts. In MyPARK, matches finish quickly, and the streetball games are more casual than playing in the pro games, yet still provide plenty of stats to build and accolades to earn, providing an extra method of acquiring in-game currency.

NBA 2K16 Screenshot

You’ll find no shortage of DLC to purchase in NBA 2K16. There are countless superficial goods from licensed and original apparel to hundreds of animations, from passes to slam dunks to celebrations, all authentically pulled from the real world NBA players they are associated with. Apart from swag, there are more practical upgrades to purchase, such as energy-increasing Gatorade products and collectible card buffs. Using these cards can give a significant advantage to players, so those willing fork over some real cash can garner an edge in matches, bordering on pay-to-win territory.

NBA 2K16 Screenshot

But experience and skill still trump on the court, and knowing the nuances of your players at each position and their strengths are the keys to victory. That, and nailing the timing of the game’s action. The response time is actually a bit sluggish, with the system holding your shots, passes, jumps, and reach-ins just enough that you need to adjust your reaction time with the controller to compensate. Playing solo, the AI doesn’t give many inches either. The computer does a great job adapting to play styles, forcing you to be versatile on the court instead of sticking to a simple pattern for easy points. Figuring out the subtle differences between bounce passes and lob passes or the numerous dribbling moves to throw off a defender requires research on your part, as the game provides next to nothing in tutorials. For a game with such a complex control scheme, having minimal help in understanding the massive move set can be extremely off-putting for newcomers. Fortunately, training drills and scrimmage games against a scaled down AI let you control the pace until you are ready to talk smack against worldwide opponents.

I am both impressed and disappointed with the overall visuals. On one end you have the complete NBA roster, fully scanned from head to toe, and they look incredible, right down to the freckles and fine detailing of the tattoos. The mannerisms and facial expressions are flawless, giving each digital player an authentic representation of their real world counterpart. The sheer variety of animations is astounding, and yet the transitions between each are grossly detached. Going from a half-spin to a pump fake to a give & go, there is no fluidity when looking at the full spectrum. Each individual move looks clean, but the jarring separation from one to the next removes much of the sense of realism. Looking beyond the players is again a mixed bag. The glossy reflections of a polished floor, the sweat pouring down faces, and excessive showcasing of sponsors are some of the visuals highlights. But then you have the coaches, fans, and anybody else not given the full scan treatment, who look two console generations removed from the players. The fans in particular, though individually animated, have only a few motions, many of which are synchronized with other fans, and their reactions to the action on the court never truly coalesce into the enthusiasm you would expect when the home team makes a big play. All together the graphics are very good, but it seems that having to still develop for prior generation consoles is limiting the graphical boundaries that can be pushed.

NBA 2K16 Screenshot

Few complaints, though, can be made about the audio. Every squeak on the floor, dribble of the ball, and basket rim hit chimes with precision. The voice acting for the MyCAREER characters is top notch, and the banter between Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith during the pre and post-game coverage is great, albeit a bit hammed up. The A-list soundtrack is heavy on hip hop, but the library of fifty tracks does include some pop, rock, and house music to mix things up every so often.

Visual Concepts continually makes improvements with every new entry in their basketball series. NBA 2K16 tugs heavily on the Spike Lee promotion to sell its improved story mode. Beyond that, the upgrades are more on the technical side. There’s still a ton of content to keep any fan of the franchise busy until next year’s offering. Whether the investment is worthwhile depends on your commitment to enjoying every small enhancement and always being on the current leaderboard roster for the new season.

The most accurately rendered roster of players yet, but the rest of the cast and disjointed animations pull away from the realism. 3.4 Control
No amateurs allowed. The basic moves won’t get you far, and the complete set requires skill and an understanding of the sluggish response time. Pros will make it look easy, though. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack has little variety apart from hip hop, but it’s a solid list, nonetheless. The voice acting is plausible and the sound effects squeaky clean. 4.2 Play Value
Brimming with content, there’s enough to keep you going all the way to next year’s release. Many modes are the same as last year’s, though. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • MyCAREER – A SPIKE LEE JOINT – Our most intense first-person narrative to date, written and directed by Spike Lee. For the first time, manage your off days and earn bonus content through connections, endorsements and a live practice environment.
  • ENHANCED GAMEPLAY – A new motion engine generates smarter, hyper-realistic movement plus new ball & rim physics and player collisions, leading to a more intense and authentic on-court experience.
  • PLAY NOW ONLINE – This year, online head-to-head games matter. For the first time, your online head-to-head record will determine whether or not you advance to higher levels. As you level up, you’ll unlock some of the greatest teams from NBA history to use in your games.
  • MyPARK – Break ankles, drop dimes and create a street legacy at one of three newly enhanced parks. Show off your game to the world in new live-streamed competitive events.
  • MyLEAGUE – Custom build the league you want. For the first time, MyLEAGUE Online allows you to create an online league with friends and gamers from around the world. Play a single season, or up to an 80-year franchise. Virtually every detail of your league is in your hands.

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