Another year has passed and the next annual installment of NBA 2K is here. Let’s cut to the chase and quickly talk about the thing that makes this year’s game so controversial – the gambling-like mechanics. Yes, there are card packs in the game, much like they are in FIFA 2K. However, this review will be focused on the gameplay elements as well as the latest additions to NBA 2K.
Additionally, the slot machines and pachinko gameplay are already in the trailer, so let’s leave it at that. Oh, one final thing, talking about the controls is a bit overwhelming considering that there’s more to it than just pressing buttons. Like an actual game of basketball, it all boils down to teamwork and positioning. In short, the controls will only get a small mention in this review.
From the opening screen, players can choose to have a standard match between past and present teams in the association’s history. What to know how the current champions, the Toronto Raptors, stack up against the Showtime Lakers? Here’s your chance. Games can be played in a variety of ways, from full-court 5-on-5 matches to casual streetball. It’s the all-around mode that gets players hyped for the other game modes, namely MyTeam and MyCareer.
The basics of the controls include passing and shooting. Pushing the right analog stick up or down sets up for jump shot. Holding the stick fills up a meter beside the character’s head. The closer it is to being full, the better the chances of the ball going through the hoop. A perfectly full bar guarantees a basket. Moving the right stick left or right allows for some ball moves between hands. Since movements are heavy and animation dependent, determining your next move based on the character’s animations is essential. In terms of face buttons, the square is used for shooting and X is for passing. And that’s about it for the very basics. All the face buttons and the shoulder buttons have a use. The button changes function depending on the player is holding the ball or not. With that in mind, the basics will have to suffice for now.
MyTeam is where most of the player base stay engaged in. It’s the yearly cycle of opening up card packs and collecting more cards to build up teams to play in games where the player can earn more packs from winning said games. The whole idea is to build up a collection of NBA legends and hopefully use duplicate cards or unwanted cards and trade them in for currency to buy cards that the player actually wants. From that explanation alone, one is right in thinking that it’s going to take a while to build up that collection. But fret not, for 2K’s got you covered. By using Virtual Currency (or VC for short), the player can buy as many packs as they want from whatever set they want using real money. (Yeah… Did I mention that this game is rated E for Everyone…)
The second, and probably the most fun game mode, is MyCareer. In this mode, players go through the long grind of the NBA season. The goal is to build up a rookie hopeful into a full-fledged NBA legend. The mode’s prologue sets the stage for Che, the player’s custom athlete, as he navigates life on and off the court as you work your way towards getting drafted. This is a great set up and motivator for anyone who’s ever wanted to play a full career but doesn’t want to just watch stats go up on a stats sheet.
There is a real emotion investment as your avatar takes on the responsibility of being the next generation’s basketball icon. It also helps that this year’s production is a step up in terms of in-game cinematics and storytelling. Though it is worth noting that the animations in the new MyCareer mode can be a bit stiff… with more misses than hits in the voice acting department. But the key takeaway here is that the game is much better with the new story that the developers added. It is downright compelling, I dare say.
The progression rate for each game in MyCareer is slow goings in the early part. This is because most of your VC will be going towards boosting stats. Becoming a 1st round pick gets the player a base salary of 1k VC per game played. Unfortunately, skipping the games and allowing the match to play out automatically WILL NOT generate VC. This stumps the character’s development. At the very least, missing out on games reduces the overall played games in one season. Adding real money speeds up the process, and allows the player to buy pretty much whatever they want.
Getting a new team contract and product endorsements will grant a greater income. And that goes a long way in terms of building up your character and all that sweet cosmetic stuff.
The Neighborhood makes a return in the game. This hub world is pretty much a glorified menu screen that allows players to walk around and buy cosmetic items to show off to everyone else on the server. I don’t know… it’s immersive in a way. The glaring bright spot in the whole area is the Ante Up Casino where players can bet VC in games of skill. Beside the building is the Daily wheel spin that players can do to get a daily free prize.
The final game mode is MyLeague. If anyone’s ever wondered what it’s like to build and maintain a championship level basketball, then this is the answer. The decisions made here affect the team down the line, much like how it goes down in the real world.
One of the things that most people overlook when talking about this year’s NBA 2K is the addition of the WNBA. 12 WNBA teams have been added in the game, which is a first for any NBA 2K installment. This is looking like a step in the right direction and would have garnered more attention, if not for the fact that the game is mired in controversy.
One of the things that’s most notable things right now is the return of 2KTV being part of the loading screen. This is a definite far cry from a time when 2K19 showed unskippable ads in loading screens. Maybe it’s wishful thinking and the ads will come along suddenly as they did last year. At this point, the community wouldn’t be surprised at that decision. For now, players can enjoy behind-the-scenes stuff involving MyTeam’s development and some insights on the WNBA addition from Candice Parker herself.
Speaking of loading screens, it’s been a couple of weeks now since the game launched. And all I can say is that the game is in a much better shape than it was initially. The loading screens have been reduced slightly. (They’re still long, mind you.) But waiting for a game to load isn’t as painful as it once did. The number of bugs has also been noticeable down, for the PS4 release, at the very least. The developers are probably scrambling to meet with some of the expectations of the paying gamers who decided to invest more into their $60+ game.
NBA 2K20 is still the best basketball simulator in the market. The additions to this year’s installment is a testament that the developers are still willing to make changes for the better. They’ve done a fairly decent job in pumping out yet another game in a span of a little under a year. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s relatively the same game as last year with a bit more tacked on top of it. The microtransactions are here to stay, and as long as there are people willing to pay for that little bit extra, it’s not going anywhere.
2K’s baffling decision to showcase simulated gambling is what really stands out the most. Maybe it’s their last-ditch effort to squeeze whatever is left from their fan base before loot boxes are deemed illegal or 2K itself gets stuck with that mature rating. Who knows at this point? On the bright side, it seems like a good chunk of content can be earned via gameplay without spending any real-world money. It’s just going to take a significant amount of time to make much progress.
As for the base game itself. It’s a good game. And this is coming from a fan’s perspective who is more willing to grind out their VC in MyCareer games. Obviously, it’s going to be a ridiculously long grind, but that’s sort of the idea, right? Give us players this long journey, but if you inject some more money into it, the game’s going to be much more fun and rewarding. At least the card pack animations for getting incredibly rare cards looks cool. This is one game that I recommend for the NBA die-hard fan. And probably only them.
Disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by 2K Games. Read our review policy to know how we go with our game reviews.
Tested on: PS4