It’s Basketball Season, and you know what that means: another entry in arguably the best sports game series on the planet: NBA2K. In the 20th game in the series, 2K Sports and developer Visual Concepts promised to give us a unique MyCareer experience this time around while further improving last year’s Neighborhood and other game modes such as MyTeam and MyGM. Last year’s NBA2K18 was praised by fans thanks to its solid gameplay and presentation. However, it was also severely bashed with negative reviews thanks to its gross implementation of microtransactions and grind-heavy mechanics in MyCareer. Did NBA2K19 finally learn its lesson this time around? Let’s find out.
Basketball is my favorite sport
NBA2K19’s presentation is solid. The moment you fire up an exhibition game and are greeted to its signature TV-style presentation with commentary from Kevin Harlan and Bill Simmons, you know you’re about to experience a good simulation of NBA basketball.
On the court, the game still feels and plays great. Some of Visual Concepts’ subtle changes include adding a shot meter for layup moves, reduced clipping making most animations cleaner, improvement defense mechanics, and the game’s new Takeover System that is similar to a player’s “On Fire” phase.
If a player continues to play really well by playing good defense and sinking shots, rebounds and assists, that player will activate his Takeover ability, the effects of which vary depending on each player’s archetype. Kawhi Leonard’s Takeover amplifies his already tight defense, Chris Paul dishes out even more solid passes, and Stephen Curry becomes virtually unstoppable on the 3-Point line. You can also activate several players’ Takeover abilities at once, which can lead to interesting combinations and strategies for maintaining momentum and locking down your opponents.
Overall, NBA2K19’s core game is a blast to play, and there are multiple ways to enjoy it, whether against the CPU or a friend. I personally had a fun time messing with the classic and all-time teams. Pitting the All-time Bulls against the All-time Lakers is always a treat. But enough of the core game. A lot of people actually buy NBA2K for the game’s popular MyCareer mode, and boy, the first half of 2K19’s MyCareer mode starts strong.
I’m a Fun Guy
Titled “The Way Back”, NBA2K19’s MyCareer starts you off as a jobber. That’s right. You’re not some hotshot college prospect with a goofy nickname (like THE PRESIDENT OF BASKETBALL), nor a gifted hoop god who got picked following a win at a prestige Street Basketball event. You’re an arrogant kid nicknamed “A.I.” whose confidence that he’ll be drafted in the NBA is shaken when his best pal Corey Harris (TV’s Leverage series’ Aldis Hodge) is drafted and he isn’t. A.I. moves to China to play for the CBA, then begins to grind his way back to achieving his NBA dream.
The Way Back is a unique MyCareer cinematic experience that isn’t as goofy as last year’s story, nor as ham-fisted as Spike Lee’s “Livin’ Da Dream” in 2K16. Imagine a Hollywood sports movie - not all serious, since there are really funny moments in the campaign’s tightly-paced cutscenes - but able to set the mood when the drama kicks in.
Most of the characters are charming and believable (some of them straight-up hammy like Rob Heubel’s G-League coach). Subtle presentation changes really caught my attention - this might be the first NBA2K title to be able to feature authentic Mandarin Chinese commentary in the CBA. It’s clear to see the love put into The Way Back arc, with my only complaint being that it ended too soon. After 3-6 hours, it’s back to NBA Land and to living in this wacky neighborhood full of hoop boys.
“The Way Back is a unique MyCareer cinematic experience that isn’t as goofy as last year’s story, nor as ham-fisted as Spike Lee’s “Livin’ Da Dream” in 2K16.”
Welcome Back to The Suck
Once your MyCareer player makes it to the NBA, it’s as if he transforms from A.I. to Generic Celebrity Basketball Man, taking calls from his new manager, inviting virtual Giannis Antetokounmpo for a pick-up game, accepting sponsor deals, etc. It’s back to the same old MyCareer we’ve seen in the past three iterations. Nothing’s new in the story except for a few interactions with Superstars and funny scripted events involving Shaq and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I found myself wishing MyCareer had concluded at the end of The Way Back.
I’ll admit a primary reason why I didn’t purchase NBA2K18 was The Neighborhood - NBA2K’s living hub for its MyCareer and online modes. Forgoing “boring” menu stacks even for simple upgrades, The Neighborhood forced you to navigate a magical village where you could see online players, form a squad, and even play pick-up games in the Hood. It all sounds fun and ambitious on paper, but NBA2K18’s hub slowed the MyCareer experience and riddled it with sponsored ads and gross microtransaction begging. I didn’t like the direction NBA2K was going. NBA2K19 offers an improved version of The Neighborhood. Gone is the VC charge for haircuts, and the layout has been improved a bit. However, the microtransactions are still there, and a closer look reveals they’re just as gross as last year.
All in all, NBA2K19’s MyCareer started out really strong and interesting, but didn’t have the confidence to push through with something really unique.
It’s All About Your Team (and Your Wallet)
This being an NBA2K game means there’s more than just MyCareer for single-player content. If you’re new to the series, NBA2K19 has a slew of dynasty-driven modes to inspire your inner Gregg Popovich.
First, let’s talk about MyTeam, as some might like it, while others might not. In MyTeam, you get to create your own NBA team via cards obtained from... yep, you guessed it. Booster Packs. Starting out, you’ll be given a couple of packs of cards. The cards are used to shape not only your Roster, but your team’s uniforms, logo/branding, colors, basketball homecourt, your home court’s ball, your coach, playbook, and more. How you shape your team depends on the heart of your cards (and your wallet)! Once your roster and team are assembled, you can either go online and participate in ranked matches against other MyTeam players, or try your luck at completing single player challenges VS a gauntlet of established NBA teams. Winning games will net you VC and MyTeam points that can be spent to get better players, coaches, swank uniforms and more via... yep, you guessed it - Booster Packs!
To be fair, I can see the appeal of a collectible card-based sports dynasty mode. But the fact that more cards can and will power up your team makes it obvious that MyTeam is a pay-to-win game.
Also, subtle design decisions for NBA2K19’s online games rub me the wrong way. For one thing, I am not a fan of the game counting how many penalties were caused during a match, or the game pausing mid-match to ask you or your opponent if you (or your opponent) would want to take the win automatically instead if there were too many penalties. I get that this decision is similar to GT Sports where the game encourages you to “play clean”, but bogus rules like this can lead to your opponent exploiting them against you (it happened to me for 2 online games). Even in video game form, the NBA has gone soft.
“The moment you fire up an exhibition game and are greeted to its signature TV-style presentation with commentary from Kevin Harlan and Bill Simmons, you know you’re about to experience a good simulation of NBA basketball.”
Let’s go, Bulls!
Anyone who hasn’t touched NBA2K’s MyLeague and MyGM is totally missing out on what NBA2K has to offer. Both modes deliver some good old-fashioned fantasy basketball. In MyLeague, you’ll set up your own Basketball Fantasy League; own, manage, and play a team of your choosing against the CPU offline or against groups of friends and strangers online. You can customize almost everything in MyLeague, from the number of teams you want to be involved to the draft orders, trade deadlines, pre-season games, and even how players’ attributes or skills decline and develop over the season. Once you select the team you’ll be handling, you’ll also be introduced to another plethora of customizable options to tweak to further customize and plan how your team will perform. If things like setting up your coaching game plan, training schedules, prospect scouting, and mock drafts sound up your alley, then you’ll definitely feel at home. I haven’t touched much of MyLeague Online, but I’m downright having a blast building an alternate Chicago Bulls team centered around Derrick Rose and …. Bryant Reeves. It’s fantasy basketball, baby!
MyGM offers a similar experience, just with the scope of customization focused solely on the team. While not as deep as sports sim giants Football Manager, NBA2K19’s MyGM presents a ton of options - set up your team’s training schedule, rotation lineups, individual players’ minutes per game, etc. You can even plan your organization’s budget down to ticket pricing for your home games and the price of chili dogs in your stadium. Heck, you can even talk to your staff and players and start discussions on things like trades, requests, changes to your team’s game plan, etc.
Some goofy quirks in MyGM can either turn you off or make the mode’s experience more entertaining. For starters, dialogue between the team staff and players is presented in a manner similar to that of a visual novel. It floors me that 2K Sports and Visual Concepts managed to pull off thousands of lines of story and dialogue for MyGM. They even double down by letting you choose a story-filled version of the mode called “The Saga Continues”. Choosing “The Saga Continues” over a normal MyGM playthrough will give you plenty more visual novel-style plot and dialogue centered around your fictional GM’s quest to bring your team a legacy, except that instead of animé schoolkids at the forefront, it’s old dudes in suits. Have it your way, I guess.
So after all is said and done, is NBA2K19 worth it? The short answer is: if you love basketball and if you are an NBA fan, then it’s a resounding yes. The NBA2K games present arguably the best basketball gaming experience out there, as well as a near-perfect presentation of NBA Basketball. Its current competition in NBA Live 19 has improved drastically over its own predecessor, but nonetheless, you can’t go wrong with NBA2K19 when it comes to the months of near-perfect virtual basketball games you can play with your buddy or against the CPU thanks to the bounty of modes.
The only downsides are MyTeam, and the gross presence of microtransactions and the game’s blatant pay-to-win mentality. If you can avoid the temptation of buying VC and instead continue to grind out your MyCareer player for stats and virtual swag, then you and your wallet will turn out fine.
Solid presentation and gameplay provide that authentic NBA experience
Robust amount of modes including the fantasy basketball experiences MyLeague and MyGM
MyCareer’s “The Way Back” arc is a highly-entertaining single-player story
Gross emphasis on microtransactions in The Neighborhood and MyTeam
Some online rule changes allow for players to exploit the rules
What I’ve Played
Spent a combined 30+ hours with MyCareer, MyGM, MyTeam, and exhibition matches against the CPU and a few friends.
Finished MyCareer’s “The Way Back”
Continues to trudge with the rest of MyCareer mode’s offering
Total amount of VC purchased = 0
[This review is based on a PS4 review copy provided to Too Much Gaming by Sony.]
NBA 2K19 is available now and a PS4 slim bundle is also available at a decent price in the Philippines.