With EA’s NBA Live series once again floundering, it’s left to the all-conquering NBA 2K series to essentially compete with itself. It would be easy for Visual Concepts to rest on its laurels in light of such paltry competition (sorry EA), but in fairness to the California-based development team, they have once again released a sequel that, while fundamentally similar to last year’s release, is superior to its predecessor in just about every way.
While the jump in visual fidelity can’t compare to last year’s generational leap, this is a cleaner, crisper looking game with presentation (around the court in particular) appearing vastly improved to 2K14. Court side interviews and MyCareer based agent discussions can still feel a little awkward and, while the pre-game introduction with Ernie Johnson and Shaq is certainly true to TV, seeing Shaq’s dead eyes as he waits for his turn to speak can be a little creepy (honestly, It’s like watching somebody flick the power on and off as he talks). Still, while the game still has issues with its on-going efforts to completely recreate the TV experience, this year’s release certainly hits more than it misses with slicker presentation across the board and a generally improved structure.
Out on the court, things still look fantastic with each arena looking better than ever and the players themselves arguably representing the finest likenesses available in any sports title on the market. The biggest improvement though comes in the form of the new animations, movements and physics. Not only does both player and ball movement look better than ever before, but the effect that these additions have on the actual gameplay make this the most realistic and natural feeling NBA game to date.
Ball physics feel more nuanced and movement in particular, while slightly more weighty, looks closer to the real thing while opening up an array of options on both the offensive and defensive side of the game. NBA 2K15 is all about making space and driving the lane offered by the defender. Blindly driving at the basket will get you nowhere quick, instead, you’ll need to manipulate the defenders balance via a collection of slick side-steps and movements that will open up room for a more open shot or a quick drive in to space.
Not only do these new movement allow you to carefully craft additional space for the shot, but the new shot meter will also give you a visual representation of how you have been rewarded for your hard work. Rather than assuming that the space you made for yourself has given you a better chance of hitting that jumper, the shot bar gives you a clear (but unobtrusive) visual representation of your chances.
As you move about the court, the bar will widen and shorten based upon the player on the ball and their position on the court. The wider the bar, the easier it is to make the shot with timing window shortening or widening based upon numerous factors including the defenders around you and the proximity to that player’s unique signature shot etc. It’s a fundamentally simplistic addition, but one that makes a huge difference to the core gameplay.
It’s not all about the offence though – the defensive side of the game also feels far more nuanced thanks to the greater emphasis on balance and positioning. It is initially trickier than last year and a single mistake can see skilled players drive past you in the blink of an eye, but even the most talented and fleet footed of offensive players can be stopped in their tracks by careful planning and tactical positioning.
The best thing about it is that, while trickier to master, fundamentally solid defending can now be achieved by little more than carefully standing your ground. As long as you are not mismatched, you can defend via a collection of very basic inputs based upon a reading of the game rather than an intensive knowledge of the finer points of the control scheme. Of course, like on offence, there are an array of subtle controls to make your defence even more effective, but the emphasis on the fundamentals really does make this a much more fluent experience.
Off the court, NBA 2K15 is as slick and content rich as you might expect. It’s not hugely removed from 2014, but MyLeague, which is similar to the old Association Mode offers something new by giving you the opportunity to craft your own unique experience by crafting every aspect of the game from the minutes and seasons played to the specific roster and salary caps etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the level of choice in this mode is beyond anything else you’ll find in a sports game this year.
As you’d expect, all the old stalwarts of the series have returned, only now with a new and much appreciated lick of paint. The biggest beneficiary of this is arguably the all-consuming MyCareer. Yes, as you may have already seen, the new face scanning technology is decidedly hit and miss (mostly miss), but get past that and the improved presentation make this a far less cringe-inducing proposition while still delivering all of the content that one would expect find. That’s not to say there haven’t been changes of course – MyCareer now starts pre-draft based upon an initial 10 day contract, options in regards to upgrades have been pleasingly streamlined and progression now feels more natural. Sure, the experience is essentially the same as last year, but these minor improvements go a long way towards making this the best version of MyCareer yet.
Outside of MyCareer, the other major modes including MyPark, MyTeam and MyGM are all very similar to last year’s release, and while the changes to each vary from minor to, well, very minor, like everything else in this game, those implemented have all made a positive impact on the overall experience. Online still has its issues and remains the series’ Achilles’ heel, but get past the technical issues and NBA 2K15 is nonetheless home to a wealth of options and as always, enough content to swallow your social life whole should you allow it.
It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and still has a few presentational issues, but NBA 2K15 improves upon last year’s already fantastic release in just about every way while saving the biggest changes for the fundamental gameplay out on the court. The visual upgrade isn’t nearly as pronounced this time around, but the new animations, balancing and improved physics make this the most authentic feeling basketball game to date. The learning curve might be a little steeper, but the rewards are greater than ever with both offence and defence feeling like a constantly evolving battle of wits. It looks fantastic, it plays great, and once again trounces the competition with consummate ease.
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