NBA 2K has been the top dog in basketball video games for over a decade at this point. With NBA Live being more of a court jester than an actual competitor (apologies to Tha Hoop Gawd), there is plenty of reasons why developer Visual Concepts could become complacent. However, that is not the case as NBA 2K16 is the most ambitious title in the series.
While story modes in sports titles are not new, NBA 2K16 takes it to 100 by recruiting Spike Lee to direct their MyCAREER mode. The story, titled Livin’ Da Dream, acts as a documentary showing how a star high school basketball player from Harlem was able to make it to the NBA. In fact, for all intents and purposes, this is pretty much an animated Spike Lee Joint.
As with any Spike Lee film, there is a lot of drama to watch unfold. Your created player, who is named Frequency Vibrations (not even kidding), has a whole cast of characters in his entourage including aspiring rapper Bo$$-Key-Yacht$. If this sounds ridiculous, it is. But it is so much fun to watch unfold.
The story isn’t particularly great, nor is it paced well with 15-20 minute cutscenes constantly taking place after the player plays a single basketball game, but I was always interested in seeing how Frequency’s adventure would end. This isn’t Do The Right Thing, but you can tell Spike Lee took this project seriously.
As noted above, MyCAREER mode grinds to a halt with cutscenes that last up to 20 minutes. Sadly, each of these cutscenes have about five minutes of plot stretched out to quadruple the length. The writing is generally strong, although there are some hilariously bad lines about “keeping it one hunned.” There is also the huge plot hole where your family is black no matter what race your created character is. That said, the flaws are easy to overlook and NBA 2K16 should be applauded for doing something so crazy.
Livin’ Da Dream wraps up after the first NBA season for Frequency Vibrations, and then plays like the mode from that point on. That means you’ll have to watch how you play on the court to get good grades from your coach, do appearances, and improve your player over time. MyCAREER is still an excellent mode, and Livin’ Da Dream is a great entry into it.
We The Best
The rest of NBA 2K16 builds upon the strong foundation the series’ core gameplay. There aren’t really any new concepts to learn when playing, but the physics engine has been totally redone from last year. This makes for a more realistic game on the court, and makes ball and rim movement look natural.
Visual Concepts has done a great job in offering up a ton of modes to play basketball in. These include series mainstays such as MyGM, where you run a team while also trying to please players and the team owner, and the customizable franchise mode called MyLeague. Both of these modes are as fully featured as ever, so simulation fans will be happy to know that they can set prices for concessions and even merchandise. You can even run an online season if you want.
Returning from NBA 2K15 is MyTEAM, Visual Concepts attempt at recreating the success that is EA’s Ultimate Team card game. If you have never enjoyed these modes in the past, then this will do nothing to change your mind. I still hate how heavy the mode leans into micro-transactions (more on that later), and having to play with bad players from the get-go just isn’t fun. That said, MyTEAM does have a cool challenge mode that will task your squad with completing a specific task. These include some cool “what if” scenarios, but sadly it will take a while for players to be able to unlock these since you’ll need specific players for the more interesting challenges.
There are also two modes that use your player from MyCAREER called MyPARK and the online-only 2K Pro-Am. MyPark allows players to play and watch different street ball matches such as 3v3. Players can join squads with their friends and take on other groups. It is a nice diversion from playing regulation basketball, and a sad reminder that we haven’t had an NBA Street game in what seems like forever.
Meanwhile 2K Pro-Am allows you to play standard 5v5 games with friends or play as a walk-on in an established squad. Well, at least in theory. Any NBA 2K fan will know how fickle the servers are in the series and the game consistently failed to put me in a Pro-Am match. In fact, it regularly had me walk onto the court as if I was going to play a match only to walk around and go back into the locker room that serves as a loading screen. Your mileage may vary, but the mode was completely busted at the time of writing.
It is worth noting that the netcode for when I played actual matches online worked perfectly, it was just Pro-Am that failed to work. Practically every mode in the game, besides the story-driven MyCAREER, supports online play. So those looking for a game to sink hundreds of hours into will be happy.
Thankfully, there is a bright side to waiting in a locker room endlessly. While waiting players will get to listen to NBA 2K16‘s phenomenal soundtrack. Well, actually the game’s five unique soundtracks. Visual Concepts had three of the most well known DJs (including the always screaming DJ Khaled) pick out 10 tracks each for the soundtrack, while also including 10 songs from past games and music from “around the world.”
All of the soundtracks are great with rappers such as Nas, Drake, and Ace Hood lay down some great rhymes to play basketball to. If you’re not a fan of rap music, then you’ll be glad to know that there is enough variety for everyone. The wide ranging soundtrack also features Ramones, The Flaming Lips, and Living Colour. This is one of the best licensed soundtracks since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and Wipeout XL.
Another great addition to the game is the inclusion of 12 teams from the past. These include classic teams such as ’64-’65 Boston Celtics and even recent legendary teams such as the ’12-’13 Miami Heat. As a Philadelphia 76ers fan, I was pumped to revisit better times and play as Allen Iverson again.
While there are certainly some stumbling points, NBA 2K16 is another great entry in 2K’s series. Livin’ Da Dream may feature more cutscenes than Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but it’s an interesting way to present a career mode. Visual Concepts is not afraid to take risks, and most of them have paid off in NBA 2K16.
Review code for NBA 2K16 provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here