Another year, another September and another installment of the NBA 2K video game experience. The annual basketball simulation from Visual Concepts, as published by 2K Sports returns, marking the 21st entry in the series. As the years have gone on, it’s become harder and harder to grade these games and find something new to say as the core game and modes remain mostly the same year to year, resulting in a continuously polished game with the greatest available basketball gameplay mechanics and some minor tweaks thrown in, as is common with an annual sports franchise.
The best place to start, as always, is discussing the gameplay, as this is the core of the NBA 2K franchise and what ultimately will keep players coming back for more. If you’re familiar with past NBA 2K games, the core gameplay experience remains largely the same, as do the controls. It feels as though I have pointed this out in a previous entry, but it would appear as though defense has been especially focused on this year with more emphasis on man to man, each player on the offensive team guarded closely and tightly by a player on the defensive team. Gone this year is the ability to easily drive to the basket in most instances, instead requiring players to reply more on patient offense, enhanced court vision and basketball IQ as well as making use of offensive and defensive set options during play to constantly switch zones (eg: 3-2 zone offense, 4 out 1 offense) and making intelligent use of plays like the Pick and Rolls to get open during a screen to shoot uncontested baskets, which is especially good for perimeter and mid range jumpshots, or make timely passes to a good big man for a momentum rattling dunk to posterizing Alley Oop. More than ever, players will be punished for sloppy plays, bad passes and poor dribbling; especially as steals have been made easier than ever this year. It is all too easy to the CPU to strip the ball from a dribbler or get in perfect position in the passing lane to intercept the ball and force a turnover, as if the majority of CPU controlled players are Kawhi Leonard. On the plus side it’s also easier for the player to do this too, but one has to be smart about it or risk incurring a reach-in foul, especially on higher difficulties. It also seems as though the timing of the shot meter has been tinkered somewhat from 2K18, but didn’t find much difficulty with this.
Presentation remains a highlight in NBA 2K19. Menus receive a visual overhaul this year and are easy to navigate; the soundtrack curated by rapper Travis Scott is lively and full of energy. The NBA Pre-Game and Halftime Shows return once again with Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny “The Jet” Smith being as entertaining as ever, recording new interactions and stories for one to hear before the game in most modes and MyCareer as well as at halftime in Play Now quick games. Returning this year, the commentary team is joined once again by guest Legends, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, when you play on the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics home courts respectively, as well as being joined for the first time by ESPN analyst Bill Simmons.
Arguably (one of the most) the most popular modes in the series, MyCareer and The Neighborhood returns again this year with more cinematic drama than ever before. Titled “The Way Back” during the initial Prelude chapters Your MyPlayer nicknamed “A.I.” started as a undrafted hot college prospect who is forced to take his career to the China league where you’ll have to gain the attention of scouts to fight your way back to the G-League and gain the attention and interest of NBA teams. Featuring a celebrity mo-cap cast including Anthony Mackie, Haley Joel Osment, Ricky Whittle, Aldis Hodge, Michael Rappaport, Blake Jenner and more; as well as good acting from the person mo-capping “A.I.”, this is the best acted and scripted MyCareer narrative yet and there are many cutscenes during The Prelude and lengthy ones at that. Once the Prelude ends, we are treated to a more familiar MyCareer set-up with our MyCourt, running The Park, working out at the Gatorade Training Facility and Team Practice Facility. There’s still some excitement once hitting the NBA including appearances from NBA legends. Much of the emphasis is placed on playing well and getting got stops and highlight plays to generate more interest and earn more fans which in turn enables you to eventually earn better sponsorships from companies like Foot Locker, Gatorade, Nike, Jordan, Resse’s Puff and more. It becomes a lot easy to make better shots and plays by increasing your stats and customizing your animations to your level of comfort, however doing so requires VC (Virtual Currency), which can be earned in game from almost any mode, but is still a grind compared to the amount required to level up your MyPlayer until your base attribute cap limits (not counting further attribute limits once your break your caps by playing consistently at a respectable level and working out at the Gatorade Facility and Team Practice). 2K have addresses some concerns from last year requiring the heavy VC grind by awarding slightly more VC per game (especially if you negotiate a good contract) and earning VC from sponsorship event appearances, daily goals, as well as daily spins and the MyNBA 2K19 app (possible last year too), however even then the grind is still very long and unless one is married to the game for several hours a day or drops hundreds of Rands on bundle VC packs from the Playstation Store, the ability to level up and enjoy your MyPlayer experience to it’s highest potential will pass you by.
Additionally, emphasis has been placed on carefully selecting a MyPlayer build with 2 primary skills which when combined with your desired position and body stats determine your initial maximum possible attribute caps. It is crucial to play to your MyPlayers strengths, especially once dropping VC on attributes, clothing, shoes and accessories. These will also factor into areas of the Park like the courts and ProAm, when playing 2v2/3v3 with others or forming a squad. Beware of players exploiting certain builds and positions in the Neighborhood to rack up their win-loss records. Other park activities include trampoline cages, dodge ball games and trivia contests.
MyGM receives a new story this year with your MyPlayer having successfully managed an NBA Team and now gaining the interest of a new owner getting his feet wet in the NBA and starting an expansion team. The story is good and the amount of choices and decions one has to consider in the early going are impressive, but be prepared to read a lot of text, for long stretches of time. I wanted to start managing my team’s finances and coaching but spent so long reading heavy text blocks, scene after scene after scene that I started losing interest by the time we were able to start choosing our expansion market and strategy. A quicker setup into the MyGM gameplay system would have been greatly appreciated. MyLeage and MyLeague online return with just as many options to customize your NBA league however you want down to the smallest of details. For pack collectors, MyTeam returns too with new modes, new weekly, daily domination challenges, plus an a reworked locker code implementation to keep players coming back for more.
At its core, NBA 2K19 remains a fun game that regardless of how frustrating it can get at times, still is overall very enjoyable and keeps providing a reason to come back for more. Despite gameplay and defensive improvements, some tweaking could still be made to shot contesting shooting percentages on the part of the CPU as well as the ratio of made open shots vs. lightly and heavily contested shots. No matter your preference online or offline, if you’re a fan of basketball videogames, NBA 2K19 has something to offer you. Despite EA’s NBA Live catching up and making it’s own improvements each year, for now, this series still remains the cream of the crop, despite some business practices related to VC causing a stir within the 2K gaming community.
Reviewed on: PS4
Available on: PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Age Rating: Pegi 3+
Publisher/Developer: 2K Sports/Visual Concepts
Estimated RRP: RR899+
Release Date: 7 September 2018
- Audio & Commentary
- MyCareer narrative
- VC and “subtle” push for Microtransactions
- Cheesing exploiting gameplay mechanics