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Having reviewed the NBA 2K series for AAGH since NBA 2K8, I can say I’m pretty familiar with the series. 2K series vets all know its strengths, its weaknesses, and what it needed to improve on from previous years. NBA 2K16 is the best NBA 2K yet, and considering that this was already pretty much the best annual major professional sports series running, the dynasty shows no signs of slowing down.

Sounding Good, Looking Better

NBA 2K16 looks amazing, from the likenesses of the real athletes (2K Sports used full-body scans this year to really nail this) to the smooth, fluid animations, you can really see the years of progress that have lead here. Some issues linger, such as coaches and the pre-game show crew of Shaq, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson not looking or moving as good as the actual players and some players being represented better than others (for instance, Nik Stauskas was given oddly pink hair) but all in all the visual presentation is very good. The audio work is almost as well done but the commentary doesn’t seem to flow quite as smoothly now that they’ve replaced Steve Kerr in the announcing booth with Greg Anthony, especially since it removed several years’ worth of lines of dialog that Kerr had already recorded. So can we definitively say that this is the best presentation in the series to date? Unfortunately, no.

NBA 2K16

CP3 debates trying to split Curry and Harrison Barnes

MyCareer isn’t really about your career

MyCareer, the role-playing game mode where you take a new, custom NBA player of your own creation from draft day to (hopefully) the hall of fame, has become a fan favorite and is my personal favorite way to play. Each year there is a new twist on it, and while last year’s “you went undrafted and have a chip on your shoulder because of it” story was a tad trite, this year 2K brought in Spike Lee to write a custom story for your character. Sadly, this custom story is in fact one, very linear story about one very specific player.

This player, one “Frequency Vibrations” from Harlem, can look however you choose but the story itself is always the same, as are your character’s family, friends, lifestyle and personality, and the narrative plays out overproduced drama and tragedy in very broad strokes. If you don’t want to role play as a poor kid from Harlem with some shaky connections, then you’re out of luck. This hurts the most in that the actual games, which starts with you playing your senior season in high school before going to college, are surprisingly fun. If it wasn’t for sitting through the story, I’d be happy to play that part of the mode again.

NBA 2K16

The college and high school games are a fun change

Once you make the NBA, you play a truncated first season, and then pretty much say goodbye to everyone you met in the first part of the mode since they don’t factor in anymore. This part of MyCareer is extremely satisfying as you balance commitments to other players and endorsements with practice. This portion plays much more like the MyCareer/MyPlayer mode of old, and as such it fits like a glove for those who’ve played it before, and yet between the off-court activities and your customizable practice gym it somehow still feels fresh. I still dislike how leveling up your skills takes the same currency as buying accessories like wrist or arm bands, and the court customizing’s pricing seems skewed towards encouraging you to buy Virtual Currency with real money if you care to indulge in that. You MyCareer court isn’t really worth toying with, to be honest, as the options are minimal. If you want to let your creative side loose, you’ll want to try the other modes.

In MyLeague and MyGM, you can relocate your team and/or rebrand them, designing new uniforms and a custom court. This is amazingly addictive to creative types and the options are varied enough that you can create new teams, rebrand existing teams or recreate old looks for current teams by uploading custom artwork to their website.

NBA 2K16

Court creation is a blast

So how does it play?

We’re almost 700 words into this review and I haven’t even mentioned how NBA 2K16 plays yet. That’s called saving the best for last, because it plays really well. It takes time to get used to three passing buttons (bounce pass, chest pass and lob pass) but learning which one to use when can make running your offense much more intuitive. I love the simple shot meter below your player’s feet, and the fact that it can be toggled either off or “results only” (which only shows how you did after you take the shot) makes it unobtrusive. The ball handling is much improved from previous years and the player-on-player contact feels more violent than in years past. The AI still has some weaknesses that can exploited and it still gets way more leniency than you do in areas like bad shot making, but all in all it plays a good, competitive game of roundball.

One of my primary complaints comes on the defensive end. Blocking shots around the rim can be really frustrating as you miss many that it looks like you should have at least gotten a hand on, while on the perimeter you can sometimes almost warp to a defender on a close out to get the block. It is also harder than it should be to take a big guy off the dribble, even with the likes of Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving, due to their length and NBA 2K16 not doing a good enough job modeling the relative speed and quickness gap.

NBA 2K16

There are also new retro teams like the ’07 Celtics and ’08 Cavs

NBA 2K16 is the best NBA sim I have played to date. It includes a number of other modes that I haven’t tackled here, including a number of ways to play online. Unfortunately, the servers have that typical NBA 2K malaise about them and cannot really be relied upon. As a single player or offline multiplayer basketball game, however, NBA 2K is in a league of its own.

Final Score

9.25

Pluses:

Minuses:

+ Great graphics

+ Solid, intuitive controls

+ Team re-branding is a blast

+ A ton of modes to play

+ High school/college games

– MyCareer story

– Server instability

– Commentary takes a step backwards


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