The first game of the beloved 2K series to hit next-gen consoles, NBA 2K14, was a jaw-dropping visual showcase that cloaked a sub-par collection of modes and features. It looked better than any sports game that came before it, but it felt like the start of something bigger. WithNBA 2K15, developer Visual Concepts and 2K Games have delivered the full package. 2K15 is the richest game in the series to date, and its greatness lies in its versatility. There’s a game mode for everyone in 2K15, the hardest part might just be deciding which one you like the most.
The biggest change to the tried-and-true 2K formula is the addition of the shot meter. Whenever you take a shot, a meter underneath your player will indicate the correct release point. If you release the stick far too early or too late, the meter will turn red, and you’ll most likely miss. If you manage to release the stick just at the right time, the meter will flash green, and your player will drain it. Allow Patrick Beverley to demonstrate.
Part of the challenge of a 2K game is learning the nuances of each player’s jumpshot, but it was frustrating to randomly miss when it seemed like you released at the perfect time in older games. The shot meter offers excellent feedback on every shot and makes it easier to deal with players like Shawn Marion who have bizarre releases. It’s extremely satisfying to hit the perfect shot right in the center of the meter, but you can’t rely on the tool 100 percent of the time. When playing with the default broadcast view, the other players on the floor frequently block your vision of the meter, leaving you to watch the height of your player’s jump, as you would in 2K14.
Aside from the shot meter, 2K veterans should feel right at home. Visual Concepts has added thousands of new animations to the game, making every trip down the floor feel unique, and every playcall just a bit different. Players have an especially weighty feel in 2K15, and they move more realistically around the court, with far less sliding on defense. My favorite change is the rework to steals. The game rewards players who position themselves well and time their actions perfectly, rather than the ones who mash the buttons on players with a high steal rating hoping for a turnover.
If you’re a total newcomer to the series, be prepared for a considerable learning curve — this is a basketball sim, and it’s most enjoyable when played with as such — but there’s a surprisingly enjoyable series of video tutorials that go over the finer points, narrated by NBA All-Stars. Kevin Durant explains the shot meter, Stephen Curry details the new dribbling moves (there are more than 100 new size-up moves you can use to embarrass defenders), and Anthony Davis covers defense.
Visual Concepts made some bold changes to MyCareer in 2K14, transforming the mode into a story-based experience of a player-created NBA rookie trying to make it in the league. It was a good first step, but the dialogue in cutscenes was often cringeworthy, and having conversations with silent teammates in the locker room felt a little awkward. It’s clear the developers focused on presentation this year, and it certainly paid off.
Players with the Xbox One’s Kinect or the PS4’s camera have the option of scanning their own face in the player creation process, and the game sometimes does an impressive job of accurately replicating your own persona (it also sometimes make you look like an alien). If you don’t want to scan yourself — or if you don’t have a camera — the manual face editor is robust and easy to use.
The pre-draft Rookie Showcase is gone, and you no longer have to sit through an entire draft. You start MyCareer in 2K15 as an undrafted free agent, and a few months after the season begins, your agent will offer to arrange a tryout with any team in the league.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Being able to pick your team is a huge improvement.
In previous iterations, your performance in the pre-draft game(s) would be graded, and those grades would influence your draft stock, but you wouldn’t have complete control of where you land. 2K15 gives you the option of joining any team in the league, which allows you to pick the best situation for your fledgling virtual pro. If you simply want to play for your favorite team, you can, but you can also pick a squad that needs help at your position, allowing you to earn a starting spot earlier in your career. I played as a shooting guard and chose to go to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where I only needed to beat out Kevin Martin in the rotation. In 2K14, I might have been drafted to the Lakers and stuck behind Kobe Bryant until I demanded a trade. It’s a night-and-day difference, and makes MyCareer much more enjoyable in the early stages.
No matter which team you play for, you’ll have conversations with teammates that are actually voiced by the stars themselves. If you play for the Thunder, Kevin Durant will be there to criticize your poor play, or offer words of encouragement after a tough loss. It’s disappointing that there are only two voice options for your own player, the rest of the voice acting in the mode — from the team GM to your agent — is very well done and makes MyCareer a more immersive experience. Players who want to compete online using their virtual pro can play pickup games in MyPark. I was unable to test out MyPark since there were very few players online during the review period, but I will update the review with impressions after launch.
MyTeam is back with a number of improvements to help the mode’s depth, most notably a transfer market. Instead of only being able to collect players from buying packs, you can now buy and sell players through auctions, which will make it easier to craft a team you actually want to play with.
Basketball historians will likely have the most fun with MyTeam, as you can create a lineup featuring some of the best players from the last 50 years. There are hundreds of classic players to choose from that can be mixed and matched with current NBA players — the biggest limitation is your own creativity and willingness to grind for in-game currency to purchase players.
For people who want to control every aspect of an NBA franchise, from the salary of your athletic trainer to the price of hot dogs, MyGM is back for its sophomore season. In MyGM, you choose a team and take over as the general manager, and you have the ability to run your franchise into the ground with terrible trade decisions, or create the newest dynasty in the league. If you’re into micromanagement, you can absolutely lose yourself in the astounding depth of MyGM. The mode is not for everyone — I quickly grew annoyed when DeMar DeRozan was constantly bugging me about increasing the intensity of practices while his teammate Terrence Ross was messaging me to say practices were too tough(you truly can’t please everyone) — but MyGM offers a management simulation that’s quickly approaching the level of a genre-leader likeFootball Manager. The conversation system has been improved and is far more dynamic, and a new injury system will force you to make tough calls on resting or playing a banged up player.
Visual Concepts irked fans by ditching The Association mode in 2K14, but its introduced a spiritual successor in 2K15 with MyLeague. You can play a single season with any team, or take control of an 80-year franchise, without having to worry about all the little things from MyGM. What really makes MyLeague is the level of customization — you can completely redesign the league to your choosing, swapping in any number of foreign or classic teams. Want the Central Division to pit the 1998 Chicago Bulls against LeBron’s Cavaliers? You can do that.
NBA 2K14 felt a little bare-bones when it came to menus and presentation, but 2k15 overhauls the experience. The trio of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr provide the best commentary of any sports video game, hands down, and the broadcasts feel fresh. Given that Kerr became the head coach of the Golden State Warriors this summer, it’s a bit odd for him to still be a part of the commentary team, but the move happened too close to the release for a replacement to be found. New to the series is pre-game analysis by TNT’s Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal. In-game, you’ll notice new camera cuts and pans that highlight the detailed crowd and help give the game a more realistic look. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake 2k15 for a actual game — most player models look identical to their real-life counterparts. Pharrell Williams selected the soundtrack for 2K15, and there’s a more eclectic mix of tunes than last year’s hip-hop heavy mix. There’s 27 songs in total, which sounds like a lot, but if you take a few songs out of the rotation, you’re going to be hearing repeats fairly frequently.
I did encounter a few glitches that will hopefully be ironed out in upcoming patches. During postgame interviews with Doris Burke, players will occasionally walk through the person being interviewed — in one game, Burke interviewed a player who wasn’t standing in view of the camera, and she disappeared entirely after a few seconds. During one game in MyCareer mode, as I was waiting on the bench, the first-person camera somehow got stuck inside my player’s skull, and I could only see the back of his teeth and eyes (strange!). These camera hiccups (which only ever happened during a break in play or after the game) resolved themselves and never caused the game to crash, so they were more comical than anything.
The Achilles heel of the 2K series has always been its shaky online infrastructure, and it remains to be seen whether or not that aspect of the game has truly improved from last year. In the online matches I played, there was noticeable lag that affected my timing on shots and movements on defense (trying to stay in front of a guard like Russell Westbrook is almost impossible). The game wasn’t unplayable by any stretch, but compared to the buttery-smooth gameplay against the AI, it’s a frustrating experience.
Sports video games are often criticized as $60 roster updates, but NBA 2K15 is a meaningful step forward for the franchise, and there’s enough new content here to please even the most hardcore 2K fans. Even if you only like basketball a little, if you have a next-gen console, you should play NBA 2K15.