|System: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Visual Concepts|
|Pub: 2K Sports|
|Release: September 29, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violent References|
by Sean Engemann
Coming off of last year's server debacle that tarnished some review scores of NBA 2K15, developer Visual Concepts promised a smoother online experience this time around. This yearly update comes with the usual technical tweaks and added content. The most touted addition is a fleshed out story mode helmed by the great Spike Lee, with his name and the star players plastered on the marquee where the cover resembles a movie poster more than video game box art. The improvements are apparent, the game modes plentiful, but overall NBA 2K16 still lacks the full realism we could and should expect on current platforms.
It all begins with the creation of your MyPLAYER avatar, customizing facial details with traditional sliders, or doing a face scan using the PlayStation Camera or Xbox's Kinect - though this appears to be a fading concept as I have seen very few in the already bustling population of early access players who have utilized this feature.
A small cast donned in motion capture suits starts the scene, with Spike Lee himself waltzing on the set to promote the story mode with a canned speech and eyes scrolling cue cards the entire time. It's a little disheartening, actually. The story itself, titled Livin 'Da Dream, takes your custom player through the MyCAREER mode, starting off in your senior year of high school. With a humble Harlem upbringing, your character, nicknamed Freq, is a good boy, keeping his nose clean and practicing hard while maintaining a positive "stay-in-school" attitude. The journey through high school, college, and into the NBA is a structurally rigid campaign. I purposefully blew my three high school games by scoring no points and getting fouled out, and yet recruiters from UCLA, Michigan, Villanova, and other colleges still promoted their programs emphatically while parked on the plaid upholstered chair of my modest Harlem home. The script is fairly straightforward, but it does elicit an emotional connection with your character, which carries over into the game's other modes.
There's no shortage of ways to play competitive ball in NBA 2K16. The 2K Pro-Am lets you take your MyPLAYER or entire team in some five-on-five action. It's a great place to showcase your creativity in designing unique logos, jerseys, and court layouts, as well as showing off your skills on the court. Of course, the Play Now online mode is the quickest way to get into some ranked action, where you work your way up the league ladder from freshman to Hall of Famer. You can even create your own NBA league from scratch and work it with your friends or other players around the world. While running the gauntlet of online modes, my server issues were minimal, amounting to a few players jumping to different parts of the screen in just a couple of matches.
I personally enjoyed the atmosphere and variety of the MyPARK mode. It's similar in gameplay to NBA 2K15 mode, with several courts available for you and your friends to join the online community and play some 2v2, 3v3, or 1v1v1. The billboards display which courts are hot, enticing you to check out the team to beat. The biggest change in this year's MyPARK are the backdrops. Instead of simple fenced-in street courts, each of the three venues has clever scenery. Sunset Beach has a massive aquarium, Old Town Flyers flashes with carnival lights filling the night sky, and Rivet City Roughriders takes place in a steel factory where molten metal moves along conveyer belts. In MyPARK, matches finish quickly, and the streetball games are more casual than playing in the pro games, yet still provide plenty of stats to build and accolades to earn, providing an extra method of acquiring in-game currency.
You'll find no shortage of DLC to purchase in NBA 2K16. There are countless superficial goods from licensed and original apparel to hundreds of animations, from passes to slam dunks to celebrations, all authentically pulled from the real world NBA players they are associated with. Apart from swag, there are more practical upgrades to purchase, such as energy-increasing Gatorade products and collectible card buffs. Using these cards can give a significant advantage to players, so those willing fork over some real cash can garner an edge in matches, bordering on pay-to-win territory.
But experience and skill still trump on the court, and knowing the nuances of your players at each position and their strengths are the keys to victory. That, and nailing the timing of the game's action. The response time is actually a bit sluggish, with the system holding your shots, passes, jumps, and reach-ins just enough that you need to adjust your reaction time with the controller to compensate. Playing solo, the AI doesn't give many inches either. The computer does a great job adapting to play styles, forcing you to be versatile on the court instead of sticking to a simple pattern for easy points. Figuring out the subtle differences between bounce passes and lob passes or the numerous dribbling moves to throw off a defender requires research on your part, as the game provides next to nothing in tutorials. For a game with such a complex control scheme, having minimal help in understanding the massive move set can be extremely off-putting for newcomers. Fortunately, training drills and scrimmage games against a scaled down AI let you control the pace until you are ready to talk smack against worldwide opponents.