Very few franchises manage to reach a consecutive twenty-year stretch with consecutive releases. But NBA 2K proudly stands among the pack, getting its start originally on the Sega Dreamcast before eventually evolving into the “baller” title as we know it today.
For its 20th anniversary, NBA 2K19 hits the hard court with authority, delivering on a number of features even as some of its setbacks become a little more noticeable than they were last year. If you can look past those and focus on the court performance in general, you’re bound to have a good time. However, if you dig a little too deep, the blemishes become a little clearer.
First, let’s talk about the improvements to the gameplay. Apparently the developers at Visual Concepts have been doing some listening and made a few adjustments on the defensive side of things, as players will try to stop you from getting away with lay-ps each time (unless, of course, you adjust the sliders to keep them at a slow pace) and even contest your three point shots on occasion.
There’s also some adjustments on the offensive side, particularly with said three-pointers. The shot system last year was decent, but needed some work. With 2K19, that’s easier to see, even if it’s still not perfect. That said, at least you have better notification of what to do if your shots aren’t necessarily going in from the outside. That’s a good step forward, and I expect more to be taken next time around.
The real treat, however, is Takeover. This is a skill-based system that, once you meet particular objectives with your player of choice, will reward you with cool little arcade-style bonuses, such as a temporary power boost. Sure, it takes away from the simulation side of things, but it also keeps things interesting, especially when you’re competing against others. If you’re down a few points and suddenly find the proper flow with a few right plays, next thing you know you’ve got a comeback opportunity. I’ll happily cheer for that.
So overall, the gameplay still feels about right. And if you’re not a fan of the hardcourt, you can step onto the Blacktop and do an arcade-style romp to a high score of 21. NBA Street Homecourt it’s not, but it’s a fun little game if you don’t feel like taking basketball too seriously.
But don’t worry. You hardcore sim fans will still find something to dig into if that is your thing. NBA 2K19 once again makes your player the focus of the story with MyCareer, as you build your way up in an amateur league in China before stepping foot in the NBA. This starts with The Way Back and includes a fun little story arc, beginning with The Prelude. It’s here you’ll see a few familiar faces, including the Falcon himself, Anthony Mackie.
The writing here is alright, and there are some fun moments as you go through. But MyCareer eventually gets to a point where it’s more of a grind than a “your story” style of set-up, as you have to go through so much to make your player worth something on the court. Those who have gotten into such a grind before will welcome this mode with open arms. Everyone else, however, will probably turn to one of the more casual offerings and play with someone with far more experience.
As part of MyCareer, there’s also the Neighborhood, a hub where you can do some shopping around. It’s a bit condensed compared to NBA 2K18’s offering, but I assume the development team did that out of convenience. On one hand, it works; but it also takes away from the scope of the mode. And what’s more, you once again run into an issue that’s been affecting the franchise for a while now -- microtransactions.
It’s not necessarily to spend money to succeed here, as you can grind your way through the mode to build up your stats. But the fact you can go with the “pay to win” strategy just doesn’t feel right, and a lot of dedicated NBA fans know this. Again, you can ignore it and just enjoy the general court action, as a lot of players do. But, alas, it doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. Sigh.
Along with MyCareer, MyGM and MyLeague also provide other options when it comes to running an NBA team, though the story with those isn’t nearly as well told as The Way Back. Devotees that got into the modes years ago may still enjoy them, but, again, expect to spend a lot of time to make a little bit of progress. Fortunately, you can take a speedier route through MyGM just to get to the results, which is way more effective when it comes to getting somewhere.
MyTeam is also back, allowing you to play the card collecting game if that’s your thing. There’s more here than ever before, along with building aspects that really get you more into the mode. It’s not really my thing, but there is some charm into building a dream deck of players and seeing what they can do for you.
That brings us to the presentation, which, fortunately, doesn’t really have any real blemishes to speak of. First off, the customization system has been vastly improved, as players look way more lifelike and not like, well, a weirded-out zombie-resembling freak that you’d have a hard time taking on tour. I’m sure even more improvements will be made over time, but as it stands, Visual Concepts did splendid work here.
Then we get to the on-court action itself, and it’s never looked smoother. NBA 2K19 is an absolute beast on the court. The game runs at a beautiful 60 frames per second, with some of the most detailed animation you’ll find in a sports game. The courts and interacting characters are nice too, from the cheerleaders to the performers to the mascots that pump up the crowd whenever they can. There are very slight occurrences with ball physics, but nothing to make you hurl your controller across the room (unless you’re foolishly passing the ball to someone in the crowd, mind you).
Even the lighting effects are impressive, and, well, so’s the “sweat system.” Granted, sometimes a player can look like they’re gushing far more than we thought any human ever could, but the models still look impressive. And the replays are awesome as well, especially the ones you can adjust for those picture-perfect moments.
As for audio, NBA 2K19 features a fine selection of tunes, hand-picked by Travis Scott to bring the beats of the sport to life. There are some good choices here, and I was really surprised to hear the Black Veil Brides make the cut. It’s probably not a dream playlist for some, but I was pleased with the selections.
Commentary is up next, and it’s kind of divided into two spots. With the on-the-court action, Kevin Harlan returns for play-by-play alongside NBA elite Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, as well as Bill Simmons. There are times that it has to play catch-up when plays are happening fast, but I found it to be breezy and enjoyable overall, especially when the guys get into stories about certain players that are in action.
Then you have the halftime show, which is headed up by Inside the NBA’s Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal (fresh from Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, natch) and Kenny Smith. They have their own general natural charisma, but I found the show too condensed for them to truly shine. Again, that was probably by a decision by the developer to keep things moving overall, but an expansion of their work for NBA 2K20 wouldn’t be a bad decision.
Other than that, the sound effects are excellent; the crowd noises really get you excited as you keep playing in each match; and little background interludes make you feel like you’re sitting in the arena. So, business as usual, as Visual Concepts nails the aura once more.
In the end, I feel about the same for NBA 2K19 as I did for NBA 2K18 when I reviewed it last year. On the one hand, the small things that could use improvements -- way less microtransactions and general focus on storytelling to be balanced overall -- still need them. But on the other, the developers make the game feel just as good as it ever has, especially with the new Takeover system providing a chance for a comeback and other little punch-ups to the gameplay.
On top of that, The Way Back has promise if it can be expanded upon; the commentary is getting into just the right groove; the music playlist just keeps getting better and better; and the graphics are phenomenal, even with minor tweaks to last year’s model. And it’s fun to mix it up with a friend on the court, unless they end up more skilled than you.
So if basketball’s your thing, you won’t find a better game out there. Just mind some of the blemishes and those damn microtransactions.0comments
WWG’s Score: 4 out of 5
(Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.)