Basketball video-gaming is in a Golden State right now. And much like the Warriors team itself, some fantastic additions will keep the 2K series moving forward as champions of the genre, although a few adjustments to still need to be made before any talk of a “perfect season” can begin.
Starting with the overwhelming positives, and it has to be said that NBA 2k19 looks and sounds awesome. The pre-game feel that 2k offers is the best in sports games period, and there is a dazzling attention to detail almost everywhere on the court. Whether it be the players, commentators, coaches or the crowd, NBA 2k is just about perfect in creating a dynamic big-game feel that would get even the most cynical Gold Coast Blaze fan psyched for some ball. The only place that doesn’t blow me away with its polish is in the pre-game show starring Big Shaq, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, but the pre-game talk they give it still so entertaining to watch and beyond what any other game tries to do that it’s almost rude to criticise. The track-list feels great to listen to as well, and I felt actively cooler going through the game menus with the vanilla tracks playing than when listening to any other music I could find.
But onto the gameplay itself, and NBA 2k19 offers a buffet-style feast of options for gameplay designed to cater to every baller’s need, although they have definitely angled harder towards purists than casual fans. In gameplay there is an extraordinary level of detail and amount of moves, plays and tactics to learn, while all the players in the game play to their real-world counterparts strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. The natural flow of a game is also better than ever to experience, as the players feel like they have a solid yet flexible weight to them as they move around the court, and it being very cool to see a player’s attributes actively deviating throughout a game as they get hot and struggle with form respectively, and the new “Takeover” mode that gives temporary buffs to well-performing players giving each moment in the game something extra to focus on for an advantage on attack or defence. Indeed, I really wish more sports games could feature something as simple and well-executed as the “Takeover” mode was performed here, as a temporary 99-rated player in the middle of a game really rewards a well-built attack and thought-out game-plan.
While it would be nice if they included some more casual control modes for casual players, the introduction of a new “Blacktop” mode that’s designed to bring some NBA-Street-style play, along with some new fun game modes like “dodgeball” and “trampoline basketball” in MyCareer mode go a decent ways to filling this void. Indeed, the “Neighbourhood” in MyCareer is full of neat things to do with your personalised player, although it can be a bit of a mess to work through, and some to-the-point menus would have worked wonders. Before any player can get here in MyCareer mode though, you have to play through the story mode titled “The Way Back”. While the story doesn’t reach the same level of narrative force as when Spike Lee was involved in 2k16, it is a noticeable improvement on the lackadaisical attempt from 2k18, although many of the objectives like assist numbers can feel a bit grind-y. And boy, for those who are unwilling to pay to improve your MyPlayer’s stats, the grind is well and truly alive. Unless you are willing to pay good money to get some coins, most of the MyPlayer experience, and indeed the MyTeam experience – which is NBA 2k19’s continuing answer to Ultimate Team, will involve using players will average-or-below ability for many, many hours before you get the coins to have a real impact. It’s eerily close to the symptoms that sprung the Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversy last year, and is the major design flaw that keeps NBA 2k19 back. The key other areas that could have used improvement are in online matchmaking, which often features exceedingly long load times and server issues, and the MyGM story mode. While there is still an option to have a non-narrative GM mode for any players who, like me, love the thrill of performing a rags-to-riches story through the means of clever trading and building your own team from the ground up, NBA 2k19 has doubled down on a MyGM story mode that first appeared in 2k18, although it’s definitely not a main draw. There are many mundane meetings and decisions that don’t matter filling in time unnecessarily, and while there are some funnily written parts in the text-based narrative that doesn’t take itself too seriously, there seems to have been a clear amount of “half-assery” that went into this game mode that isn’t present anywhere else in 2k19. There’s a reason that some of the starting-out achievements in the MyGM story only had a 2% achievement rate when I received them – there are simply better things to do.
Ultimately, if you love basketball, NBA 2k19 will be your game of the year. So in that way, NBA 2k19 may have achieved just about everything it needed to set out to do. However, if this game didn’t have micro-transactions keeping guard on so many of the cooler parts of gameplay and forcing players to commit to the GRIND, it would have received 5-stars by many and could have been talked about in the same light as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto 5 as the greatest games of all time. The fact that so much is behind the micro transactions is what keeps NBA Live still alive as a viable competitor. At the end of the day, I give NBA 2k19 a 4 out of 5.
Final rating: 4/5.
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