- Developer: Visual Concepts
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Release Date: 06/09/2019
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99
- Review code provided by 2K Games
Disclaimer – Screenshots are blocked on the Switch version of NBA 2K, which is a shame – it’s gorgeous. With that in mind, all images are from other versions of the game in screens provided by 2K.
Despite football being the sport traditionally known as a game of two halves, this year’s NBA 2K title snatches the old adage with ease. It’s still the best there is but is that enough anymore?
Reviewing an annualised sports title is always tricky, particularly when it’s a sport you’re particularly invested in. While many would argue this makes you more likely to compromise on lesser parts of the product, I’d argue that it simply means I expect more from a title carrying the NBA licence. Those two halves I mentioned earlier aren’t entirely equal, but it’s difficult to describe one without taking perspective from the other.
NBA 2K20 is the best basketball game you can play today, regardless of console. It’s authenticity, from half-time shows (admittedly carried over from iteration to iteration) to mid-match talk shows, to pre-recorded interviews with virtual representations of players is simply sublime.
Better than all the rest
On the court, the hardwood gleams. The crowd are in perpetual motion, and players have lost some of the “zombie stares” they had last time around. In terms of realism, NBA 2K20 is the best looking game on Nintendo Switch, and thanks to inch-perfect animations, screenshots just don’t do the game justice.
Whether springing up from the ground as new Lakers star Anthony Davis or watching Golden State’s Steph Curry pick out a pass via a careful bounce on the court, NBA 2K20 feels alive. On a bigger TV, it becomes clear that some textures don’t hold up to closer scrutiny, but in handheld mode, you could be forgiven for feeling like you’re watching a live match.
Looks aren’t everything though, and thankfully NBA 2K20 makes some measured changes to the already excellent gameplay of the franchise. While shooting with the Joy-Con’s tiny thumb-stick can take some getting used to, everything soon clicks into place – you’ll be dunking, hitting lay-ups, or sinking three-pointers thanks to more realistic attacking movement from your teammates. This is helped by the occasional defensive hiccup from the opposition as they double up leaving a man open, but on the higher difficulties, this seems to be negated.
With 2K19, the game felt balanced too much towards favouring two attributes – speed and strength. Your biggest players could bulldoze their way through with a simple sprint, making those highlight-reel moments feel cheapened and unearned. Thankfully, 2K20 tweaks this but drastically lowering the amount of sprinting any player can do at once. It prevents constant drives to the basket and promotes a more cerebral approach, picking passes to open players. It makes playmakers that thrive on transitional play much more important in a team’s offensive makeup, while the next ball dribbling system allows for some spectacular steals and breakaway dunks.
This theme of player archetypes carries through into 2K20’s strongest mode, MyCAREER. Players can now assign points to certain attributes, but won’t be able to create an all-round superstar as in year’s past. Instead, it leans on the FIFA way of doing things, with the attributes available being set by other characteristics. For example, a smaller, lighter player will only be able to hit a certain number of attribute points pertaining to strength but may have a much higher running speed than their more sizeable teammates.
This feeds into the storyline of the mode, where players begin as college athletes. Despite a hefty dose of melodrama, it manages to pull some heartstrings with your created player left out in the cold for standing up for what they believe in. We’re not talking “kneeling during the National Anthem” or anything quite so political, but the mode is well written and excellently produced. Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson bring the star power too, and while some cutscenes look a little less sharp than they do on other consoles, the fact this can be played on the go is incredible.
Open your wallet
Unfortunately, there’s another side to NBA 2K20 and it’s sadly unlikely to surprise anyone. NBA 2K20’s MyTEAM mode, the franchise’s comparable mode to EA’s Ultimate Team, is now a literal casino. All subtlety has gone out of the window, meaning you literally wager your hard-earned victories (and the time spent to earn them) on things like roulette wheels to be able to unlock better players for your squad. While your Virtual Currency isn’t wagered, the casino’s machines are used as a reward in some instances – which leaves a really sour taste.
While this has been an issue in the past, and Virtual Currency can be accrued at a much steadier pace than previously, the way the game prompts players to open their wallets feels, honestly, dirty. This is not a free-to-play title, and this is not an early access game. Developers and publishers like 2K should simply not be able to openly beg for your money in order to avoid a tedious grind.
While EA’s Ultimate Team still offers similar principles, the addition of an actual casino in a world where loot boxes and such have been banned for being too close to gambling in some countries feels obscene. This is a publisher challenging consumers to draw the line, and until we do it simply will not improve.
Of course, value is an entirely subjective proposition and your decisions are your own, but given how excellent the game’s basketball fundamentals are it feels all the more disappointing.
There’s also the issue of wi-fi connectivity. As you can imagine, you can’t play MyTEAM offline, but even when you are connected there have been some instances of disconnects and matches ended.
One brief note as well, the game is a sizeable download and takes up 40GB of space on a Nintendo Switch meaning it can only be downloaded on an SD card if you choose to play digitally.
NBA 2K is equally exceptional and diabolical. If you’re looking for a “pick up and play” basketball title with a fun story campaign and exceptional visuals, you’ll be incredibly pleased. If you’re looking to collect players, build an all-conquering team and hold your own online then you might be disappointed to count the cost of such an endeavour.
- Superlative basketball action
- Visually stunning
- MyCAREER might be the best it’s ever been
- A literal casino caps off a shameful VC economy
- Online connectivity woes
NBA 2K20 is the best it’s ever been while on the court, but the experience is cheapened by a tiresome micro-transaction focused economy.