NBA 2K16 Review

By Blair Nokes on September 30, 2015

2K Sports and the talented team at Visual Concepts have dominated the industry with their long-standing NBA 2K franchise. For roughly half a decade they were actually the only series to look to, until EA Sports revived their NBA Live series. Even still, the fanbase behind 2K has shown the world who the leader is, and has been. And year after year they continue to demonstrate exactly why they're consistently "Number 1". 2K15 introduced some terrific gameplay refinements and some impressive facial capturing technology for created characters to offer some eerily realistic representations of your face. With only a year of development time, Visual Concepts still wanted to make sure they would raise their own bar with a far more ambitious title.

With NBA 2K16, one of the most interesting features has to be "Livin "˜Da Dream." It's a story mode written and directed by Spike Lee, which should already raise some eyebrows. Very seldom does a sports game get this much attention to a single player aspect, but the whole experience is extremely refreshing. The purpose is to tell a story and journey of a character beginning in high school, continuing their basketball career in college, and finally making it to the NBA Draft and continuing on in their professional career. Players can customize certain aspects like your character's height, weight, preferred position and other sliders, however there are set elements that cannot be adjusted "“ like your character's name, and your hometown growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, New York. Given the personal nature of the story and how the main characters are fully motion captured, it's understandable that the more crucial elements are restricted for the purposes of a story's fluidity.

This entire mode plays like a pseudo-RPG; As you go on, you can upgrade your player's abilities and stats. Throughout the campaign you interact with other characters which can result in different relationships with rivals, coaches, members of the media, fans, and more. What's delivered is a very personal journey for a sports title, and to my knowledge it's the one of the very few sports simulator titles to actually include a legitimate story mode.

Your additional create-a-character mode hosts a slew of customizable options, almost on a daunting level. To put it in perspective, the tattoo section alone has roughly 1500 different designs. The facial mapping technology present in NBA 2K15 returns once again, allowing you to utilize the Playstation Camera or Kinect sensor to digitally map your face to your player.

There has also been a considerable amount of attention directed at the real NBA players. Many of the NBA players have had their full body scanned to allow for the most realistic representation to date, unlike previous 2K instalments that simply scanned a person's face. This method allows for the entire body of a specific character to loot totally different and unique from other players. On top of that, over 10,000 animations were added to 2K16 with the new "Living World" physics engine, which generates more intelligent, almost hyper-realistic movement that factor in a character's weight, height, foot-planting and even their wingspan. Of course with any good physics engine there come a host of humorous bugs like collision and funny limb movements; regardless, the physics in this game truly do elevate the simulation aspect from previous iterations. In addition to the actual players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans were also scanned to add more realism to the overall environment "“ something typically criticized in most sports games.

The presentation for NBA 2K16 is astounding. Different camera angles offer more realistic broadcast displays or traditional angles from previous basketball titles. Commentary, halftime shows, pre an post games shows, are all addressed and given the same attention to realism. The Postgame show is hosted by Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith; the play-by-play is done by Clark Kellogg, Greg Anthony and Kevin Harlan. It's a great way to engage players and like the whole intention of 2K16 it just adds to make it feel more realistic and authentic.

In addition to the full roster of current NBA teams, classic teams that were originally introduced in NBA 2K11 make a return, such as the '85-'86 Boston Celtics and the '95-'96 Chicago Bulls. Newly introduced in NBA 2K16 are a slew of other classic teams, such as the '99-'00 Toronto Raptors featuring Vince Carter, and the "˜00-"˜01 LA Lakers with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. This is such a great idea to have past legends face off against the current greats. The Euroleague teams also reappear from 2K14, giving players an additional 25 teams to play.

MyTeam mode returns, offering players to create their ultimate basketball team by maintaining a virtual trading card game. You can build your own teams with current and past players, jerseys, coaches and courts. Like a typical TCG, card have different rarities associated, indicating how good the card is. Players can purchase booster backs by spending virtual currency, which can be acquired by spending real money "“ so for those who are willing to invest the time (and cash) into building a perfect deck there are loads of different bundles of virtual currency.

Players can also create their own team from scratch and participate in 5-on-5 matches in the 2K Pro-AM mode. The customized options are fantastic, allowing players to even upload their own custom logos on 2K's website. Interestingly enough, players can even recreate classic teams that no longer exist like the Seattle Supersonics.

There is a new online ranking system for 2K16's Play Now Online for head-to-head and team-up games. Your overall performance in Head-to-head ultimately dictates whether or not you advance. Other than that, online is the same as you would come to expect from the 2K series, and aside from Play Now Offline, it will probably be one of the most played played modes. One thing worth noting is that there were server and connectivity issues present so hopefully they will be patched in its launch window.

MyGM returns, allowing for players to wholly custom all aspects of one singular team and basically act as the boss of the organization. You can sign new players, complete trades, negotiate contracts, and even add features to your arena. It's a great way to simulate the business and industry of the NBA, and Visual Concepts didn't stop there. There are new additions to the mode, such as the ability to relocate your team to a different North American city. There are more off-season activities and you can customize your team's jerseys and arenas. Adding to the authenticity of dealing with players is the ability to have players suffer multiple injuries. There was a considerable amount of effort went to the realism factor of the mode, and it is greatly appreciated.

MyLeague features far more online components and more customization options than MyGM, and you are also in an association made up of 30 user controlled teams "“ as opposed to MyGM's 29 CPU controlled teams. MyLeague also grants more leeway such as the ability to freely relocate their team without the same restrictions that would have applied to MyGM. It is much more like a sandbox experience of the single player MyGM mode.

As previously mentioned, the visual presentation is pretty stunning, and this has definitely been a staple in the NBA 2K series as being one of the visual benchmark titles for sports games. 2K16 is definitely no different; the added animations and the addition of full body scanning truly add new levels of realism, camera angles and the presentation of the pre-game, post-game and halftime shows all evoke a live broadcasting experience, and the volume and scale of the arenas and density of the fans all add to the atmosphere of a real basketball simulator. The music is and overall sound design is very well done. DJ Khaled, DJ Mustard and DJ Premier all helped in curating the soundtrack. There are 50 different songs in NBA 2K16, more than any NBA 2K game before it. There are playlists of the song selections compiled by each DJ and you can even stream the soundtrack from Spotify.

Final Thoughts

NBA 2K16 intended on vastly improving the basketball simulating formula, and offer new and exciting additions to really separate it from their former instalments. With everything added, refined and polished, 2K16 certainly delivers. The addition of fully body scanning for most of the NBA athletes is a great way to deliver the overall authenticity of the NBA players and how the look, feel and play differently from one another. The new physics engine adds a ton of new animations and considers probabilities from an individual player's shape, size and weight. Of course there are going to be drawbacks to any physics engine, but what it executes on average is terrific. The sound is diverse, and for the most part offers something for most players. But for me, the star of NBA 2K16 is easily its story mode, Livin "˜Da Dream. It was such a refreshing way to play a sports game, and is something I hope they incorporate in future instalments.

Livin 'Da Dream brings a fantastic new approach to single player in a sports title.
Full-body scanning adds new levels of detail previously unseen.
The ability to play as the classic Raptors among other teams is a great touch.
Some infrequent and funny bugs with the physics engine.
Network issues that are hopefully resolved.
Microtransactions can get costly for its trading card game.
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