The NBA 2K franchise is an anomaly among many sports titles. Despite the NBA having a smaller following than football over here in the UK, the 2K titles often perform incredibly well – testament to incredible authenticity and a huge suite of play modes.
This year is no different, and NBA 2K20 wrings every last bit of light bouncing off the hardwood, every bead of sweat, and every intricately detailed tattoo out of the now ageing engine – somehow still being the best looking sports game on Xbox One, particularly on the Xbox One X where the smallest details get their due after loitering in sub-4K obscurity in year’s past.
In motion, NBA 2K20 is superlative. Players move like athletes, not drifting across the court but striding with purpose, and the new dribbling animations mean that every bounce is a chance at a turnover, the ball no longer glued to players’ fingertips. With new animations for the latest addition of the WNBA roster, it’s clear plenty of effort has been put into making NBA 2K20 both play and look eerily close to the real thing.
The WNBA animations really tease out the new tweaks in NBA 2K20’s gameplay, and for many players used to delivering dunk after dunk it’ll feel like they’ve been sent flying. No longer can big men power past defenders by simply holding the sprint button, as the game’s pace has been tuned down considerably. Don’t worry – while things aren’t exactly glacial, this is still basketball, which at it’s core is all about powerful athletes covering ground quickly.
What it does do is highlight the importantance of playmakers and point guards in a team’s lineup. While Steph Curry is an easy pick for any side, his keen eye for a pass and the way he plays almost like a quarterback has new utility, with offensive players making much smarter runs.
Of course, playing with the best of the best is one thing, but we all need to start somewhere. MyCAREER offers exactly that, a chance to begin your career as an exceptionally promising college student. After tasting early success, your creation is shunted out for calling to attention the way student athletes are treated, and while it feels like a stunted analogy to the Colin Kaepernick situation, it’s clear that an attempt was made to touch on more serious subject matter. It also helps when you can call on Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson’s impressive acting chops, and while the post-story is where you’ll spend most of your time, it still feels fun to see and hear them within the confines of an annualised sports franchise.
MyCAREER also tweaks the way in which players fill certain roles and archetypes. These are created when beginning the campaign, and while it initially feels limiting to essentially set a ceiling for each skill in the game, it prevents players from becoming unrealistic all-rounders and shortens the climb to an overall score of 99.
Outside of MyCAREER, there are plenty of staple modes returning. MyLEAGUE is easily where you’re likely to spend most of your time, building a team and competing for decades, but it’s essentially the same as NBA 2K19’s.
MyGM feels like a regression of last year’s version, stripping out some of that game’s narrative flourishes and adding leaderboards. It’s a bizarre decision for a mode many people sink plenty of time into simply because they enjoy playing it solo, and also hamstrings the customisable options within the mode. No difficulty options, no custom rosters, nothing. On top of that, your actions are decided upon by an allocation of ability points which means you’re limited as to what you can achieve in a certain window.
MyTEAM, the series’ Ultimate Team style card collecting mode, returns with a disappointing new addition – a casino. As if the 2K franchise hadn’t been pummelled by fans and media enough, the developers seem to have leaned in. What may have been intended as a tongue-in-cheek moment comes off as the kind of poorly thought out and crass arrogance that players will pay regardless.
You can’t spend Virtual Currency in the game’s casino, but so many of the game’s reward mechanisms flow through it that it feels almost embarrassing to return to after each match. Virtual Currency is doled out a little more regularly than in previous years, but the game seems so intent to wave the option to purchase it outright in front of players that it permeates every mode including MyCAREER.
It’s such a shame, because despite this ridiculous economy and reliance on randomisation to earn loot boxes of players, the only other issues are a spotty online connection and the inability to play as WNBA teams online. Unfortunately, the casino feels like it’s goading the player to determine the game’s value – which is disappointing in a fully priced, retail release from one of the world’s biggest franchises.
The shame of all this is that without these practices, NBA 2K20 can stand tall as the best basketball sim available. Even running unopposed with the retirement of the NBA Live franchise, it continues to get better and better on the court, but serious issues surrounding that experience leave it feeling less and less impressive year on year. Here’s hoping 2K can end that trend.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.