By Anthony L. Cuaycong
LET’S FACE IT. The NBA 2K franchise is a venerable one built on both the intrinsic pull of its source material and the collective talent of its developers. Never has the National Basketball Association (NBA) been more popular, and its already immense global reach — propped up by outstanding leadership and instantly recognizable marquee names — continues to grow by the day. Meanwhile, Visual Concepts has turned the otherwise-vicarious experience of appreciating matches at the sport’s highest level into an extremely impressive undertaking.
Needless to say, exceedingly high expectations borne of previous successes have accompanied the release of NBA 2K19. Even as sports titles are an acquired taste, the series has continually managed to draw in a wide swath of the gaming public, including multi-discipline sports buffs who normally gravitate toward real-life preferences, and casual button mashers out for adrenaline-pumping action devoid of violence. Its immediate past iteration sold north of 10 million copies, and it expects to generate at least as much business this time around.
Which, in a nutshell, is why the NBA 2K series has engendered extreme loyalty over the last two decades and, along with the likes of Borderlands, Civilization, and WWE 2K, counts among Take-Two Interactive’s flagship franchises. Despite the high number of main releases in its lifetime, it has managed to continually churn out bigger and better offspring. And for NBA 2K19, the improvements are evident from the get-go, its gorgeous looks manifesting in everything from the courts to the players’ faces to the action itself.
Needless to say, NBA 2K19 benefits from the latest advances in technology to meet its overriding objective of approximating real life. Painstaking care has been taken to make gamers feel truly part of the proceedings. Cutscenes and animated sequences flow naturally and, save for the stilted dialogue on occasion, manage to set up the action well. Meanwhile, the Face Scan feature is much improved vis-a-vis its predecessor’s, allowing it to transcend its arm’s-length leanings and boast of as firsthand an offering as possible.
For gamers who want the best version of NBA 2K19, the PlayStation 4’s is the way to go. It’s stunning graphically and aurally, and the DualShock 4 trumps other controllers in terms of executing complex players’ moves. And while it provides neither the on-the-go option of the Switch nor the native 4K resolution of the Xbox One X, it nonetheless comes out ahead because of its humongous ownership base. Unlike the competition’s ecosystems, Sony’s is extremely populated, making interaction with others online a breeze; Microsoft’s looks grand, but isn’t as dense, while Nintendo’s is especially barren, thus negating any advantages of undocked gameplay.
In terms of the on-court action, NBA 2K18 plays smoothly and runs fairly well. As with previous incarnations, it displays a natural smoothness to the animations, and in-game players control and handle naturally, even for series neophytes. The programmers’ painstaking level of care and attention is evident in the visceral feast. As with previous iterations, graphical bugs occasionally manifest themselves, and the feedback can be jarring at first; over time, though, they can be welcome injections of levity in the midst of intense battles.
Quick games aside, NBA 2K19 will invariably be getting the most mileage through its MyCareer mode. Providing a Create-And-Control-Your-Own-Character system, MyCareer is basically the game’s story track, entitled “The Way Back” and delivered with elements more commonly found in role-playing games. And, in this regard, it takes pains to deliver an enveloping experience. It begins with character creation, wherein gamers can craft their player to their liking and, yes, even to their likeness through the use of a smartphone app. They are then thrust into the Prelude, which serves to inform them of their player’s plight; not good enough to be drafted in the NBA, he gets to hoop in China and then advance to the G-League before he meets his objective and makes it to the bigs.
Make no mistake. The process isn’t as simple as it sounds. En route to unwrapping the narrative, the player will have to choose teams, negotiate contracts, prove his worth on the court, and hone his skills and develop new ones required for him to progress. Parenthetically, MyCareer grants access to “The Neighborhood,” an online hub that has him roaming around and doing whatever he pleases in semi-open-world fashion. In short, it’s the mode that gives players the best bang for their buck.
On the flip side, MyCareer is likewise where gamers are encouraged to part with real bucks. How good their respective players can become is determined by upgrades as acquired through Virtual Currency (VC) either toiled for or bought outright. The good news is that NBA 2K19 has made these easier to be earned. Notably, its immediate past predecessor all but compelled real-life spending in order to bypass the intense grinding otherwise required for character improvements. The bad news is that progression via in-game work remains tedious and time-consuming, what with myriad individual skills needing to be improved and higher-level upgrades becoming more expensive. Simply put, the appeal of microtransactions continues to be underscored by evident pay-to-win features.
That said, NBA 2K19 delivers in spades. MyGM and MyLeague, its management-sim components, are deep and engrossing. Meanwhile, competition is enhanced by subtle and significant changes that serve not just to satisfy, but to delight; among the more pronounced is the introduction of the Takeover system which provides stat boosts once a meter is filled through streaks of offensive and defensive gems. And regardless of the player’s station or skill level, the fluidity of movement, seamless transition between animations and controlled situations, and near-perfect presentation of variables — from the pre-game and post-game shows to the live-ball commentary to the interviews — help keep gamers involved and engaged.
All told, NBA 2K19 is an easy recommend. Forget EA Sports’ apparent determination to revive the NBA Live franchise. For pro hoops (or, to be honest, any kind of hoops), no title is better. And while it also shines on the Switch and Xbox One X, it’s best appreciated on the PS4 platform, where the sheer number of gamers makes for a robust “My Neighborhood” experience. (As an aside, Sony has kept with tradition and rolled out a console bundle that includes a physical copy of the game and extends the warranty to two years). The superb execution and unparalleled gameplay make it the undisputed king of basketball simulations. Enough said.
Video Game Review
PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch
• Outstanding gameplay, hewing as close to real life as possible
• Excellent audio-visual presentation
• Seamless transitions between in-game animations and controlled actions
• Open-world offerings in “My Neighborhood,” particularly on the PS4
• Microtransactions abound in MyCareer Mode
• Occasional graphical glitches can stunt the immersive experience
• Preset cutscenes for “The Way Back” don’t always reflect the character’s progression, or lack thereof
• Fewer online peers for Switch gamers