While the beginning of the NBA Season is an exciting time every year, for a fan in Ohio this year is special. Our prodigal son has returned, and promises to make basketball in the Buckeye State a much more exciting experience this year. Of course, it’s going to be a tough path to the championship if Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Lebron’s old running mates Bosh and Wade have anything to say about it. The NBA is, more than any other major sport, a personality driven league. With only 5 men on the court at any given time, each player means that much more, and the great ones are international superstars.
This is where NBA 2K15 excels; putting you in the shoes (for better or worse) of a player with superstar potential and forcing you to make split-second decisions on the court that mean the difference between winning and losing, rallying your team or driving them apart. Unfortunately, stumbling blocks in the net code and the overall polish of the game makes the experience feel like, well, like the Cav’s without Lebron.
Platforms: PS4, XB1, PC, 360, PS3
Multiplayer: Online and local
Let’s get all the cards out on the table early. The net code, much maligned in last year’s game, is easily the weakest aspect of 2K15. There are multiple connectivity issues, lag, or straight up broken modes related to the online portions of the game. These problems rear their head most aggressively during the MyPark mode. MyPark takes the created MyPlayer to a virtual playground of street-ball courts. Once in MyPark, players can run up to any of the number of courts available and line up next to the action to signify that you’ve “Got Next”. Once the current game completes (or both teams fill in the event there isn’t a current game running) the 3v3 or 2v2 action begins. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
In practice MyPark is marred by tremendous lag, inconsistent connectivity, and (worst of all) freezes. While I managed to successfully run a decent amount of really fun pick-up games with strangers, these were the minority. Multiple times my character froze in place, and although I could still spin the camera around I lost all other button functionality. Most games were cursed with lag that prevented effective defense or passing, rendering constant fast-breaks and ball hogging more effective. Perhaps the strangest issue I experienced was when all the players disappeared during a MyPark contest, leaving only the ball floating through the air (and humorously spinning toward the hoop while I presume the invisible player was going for a windmill jam).
While the server issues for me only showed up while actually playing online games, what makes the matters worse is many of the offline modes (most notably MyCareer) require an internet connection. Thankfully, as mentioned I had no disconnection or other network issues while playing the single player content of the game, but if these issues deteriorate it’s likely to expand.
While we’re on the subject of negatives, let’s talk a bit about the visual issues with the game. Multiple glitches are scattered throughout the presentation. While they are mostly harmless, they still underline the same lack of polish as the aforementioned net code. The most common glitch involves sideline reporter Doris Burke. Just as in real life, Doris will pick the brains of players on the court after the game, asking them questions about their team’s performance. About 50% of the time Doris will stand there, asking very intelligent questions to absolutely no one. Once she finishes though, she will immediately warp sideways to wherever her intended target (victim?) happens to be on the court. Thanks to the marvelous depth of field effect that means sometimes players are treated to a long distance, very blurry, completion of the interview. While this is the most common glitch it’s certainly not the only one, as closed lips when talking, clipping and the like also pop up from time to time.
Also on the topic of visual inconsistency, the graphics and presentation seem to be a bit of a step back from last year. Many players, while still very solid, look slightly downgraded from last year’s impressive models. The lighting seems a bit duller this year, which is probably more realistic but definitely less striking. The halftime show is non-existent, replaced by still screens and stats. Players do get Ernie Johnson and Shaq in a pregame show, which is admittedly pretty solid.
So if you’ve read this far you’re probably wondering how that score at the top of the page got there. Simple; I can’t stop playing this game. You see, despite all the online issues, despite the visual inconsistency the actual on-court gameplay is outstanding. The game controls like a dream. Players move with a very believable sense of weight on both offense and defense, meaning players need to play precisely on either side of the ball to win. If they expect to drive straight down the middle and dunk every time they’ll quickly be humbled. Likewise, players need to balance your distance from opposing players on defense to prevent either being light up or driven around. No easy steals or cheese blocks in this game.
NBA 2K15 also makes it easy to command the floor with the ability to call Smart Plays on L1 or LB. This feature draws the play out on the court and identifies where players need to pass, dribble, or stand. The controls are very complex but also intuitive and it didn’t take long for me to uncover the more subtle variations of passes and shots. Make no mistake, you’ll need to know your way around both controls and the court if you’re going to be successful at the higher difficulties, as the AI overall is very strong.
All the modes you would expect from a modern sports game are here. MyGM is your “franchise” style mode that allows you to control every aspect of an NBA team, from hiring coaches and front office personnel to trading players, signing free-agents and more. There is a lot of depth here, and fans of this style of gameplay won’t be disappointed, particularly with the new XP system. For those who need a bit more control, MyLeague allows players to control just about every facet of multiple teams, including custom rosters.
By far my favorite mode is MyCareer. This mode follows a created player through his career from undrafted prospect to potential NBA Hall of Famer. More than just a simple game to game career there are cutscenes, dialogue choices, off-court drama and rivalries to replicate everything a star player goes through. Those of you that have followed my reviews on the site or podcast know I’m a sucker for a great career mode, and NBA 2K15 offers one of the best. The gameplay when controlling one player is flawless, and the game almost seems built around this.
While playing the career player, players need to pay attention to multiple things on and off the court. In addition to personal stats the Teammate grade system returns. I love this mechanic, as it accomplishes to major things. It forces players to play unselfishly, which makes for a more realistic experience. The other major thing it does is it teaches how to play. I found after sinking a ton of hours into MyCareer not only was I getting much better teammate grades, but I was playing better in all the other modes too. The game forced me to not just practice, but practice the right way.
If there is a weakness to MyCareer it’s in the aforementioned cut scenes. These scenes, while attempting to paint a picture of the day to day life of a NBA star, unfortunately fail in a couple areas. Firstly, while it’s commendable that 2K was able to get many actual NBA players to voice themselves, this turns out to be more of a negative than a positive. Professional voice actors should send these players a fruit basket, because they just made their jobs look a whole lot harder. Clearly reading off of cue cards, awkward pauses and generally flat performances really pulled me out of the action.
The other aspect of MyCareer that is disappointing is the created player himself. Unfortunately, by virtue of the mostly terrible dialogue writing and the tone and delivery of the voice acting, the player comes across as very difficult to actually like. Even statements that should be innocuous come across as arrogant at best, and plain irritating at worst. There is a wide gulf between confidence and cockiness, and the player certainly falls on the wrong side.
The other major game mode this year is MyTeam. This mode tasked me with earning (or buying) packs of cards that include players, boosts, coaches, jerseys, and more. While it contained some fun challenges and an interesting Domination mode that pitted me against increasingly difficult opponents and tasked me with earning stars by virtue of my performance, it ultimately came across as a real grind. Packs are expensive, and if I wanted to improve my team enough to compete I needed to either grind for MyTeam specific currency or VC (which can be purchased with real world money and is probably better used on the MyCareer player). I can see why others may find the collection and challenge aspect of the mode appealing, but it isn’t for me.
I wish that NBA 2K15 didn’t have the netcode issues it has. Without them this would be a (pardon the pun) slamdunk purchase for all basketball fans. On the court the magnificent gameplay ensures you’ll want to play game after game. Unfortunately, if you want to play those games online you’ll inevitably hit a brick wall. If your plan is to play mostly offline you’ll find a lot to love here. Hopefully 2K will quickly iron out their issues and give this game the infrastructure its gameplay deserves.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.