Video Games

Video Game Review: Nagging issues undercut otherwise pristine “NBA 2K16”

Chicago’s Pau Gasol is among the players that populate “NBA 2K16,” which got a conceptual assist from Spike Lee.
Chicago’s Pau Gasol is among the players that populate “NBA 2K16,” which got a conceptual assist from Spike Lee. 2K Sports

If you’ve ever wanted to experience life as a walking basketball prodigy stereotype, then “NBA 2K16” is for you.

The latest installment in the powerhouse sports franchise could very well have been called “He Got Game Simulator 2K16.” I was wondering when my player would be offered a cash bonus to sign at a particular college or entrapped by a paternity scam.

This year’s primary draw was filmmaker Spike Lee’s involvement with its wonderful MyCareer game mode, which puts you in control of a created player who will rise to stardom or fall to mediocrity, based on your skills.

It was a great idea for a franchise that has been near the top of the sports gaming genre for over a decade, but it was tripped up by the little things.

Players have no control over the off-the-court interactions during the three-year period scripted by Lee: The superstar’s final year in high school, first year in college and rookie season in the NBA. Good and bad things happen during the story, which is decent despite being riddled with clichés about your player’s rise from the ghetto to super-stardom, but we can’t do anything about it.

This is a textbook pitfall for filmmakers transitioning into gaming. They are used to presenting their vision to a captive audience, but gaming is an interactive medium. We expect the ability to affect our characters’ destinies in meaningful ways – even in the extremely cinematic titles like “Until Dawn” and “Heavy Rain.” The “NBA 2K16” team failed to recognize this.

17The number of “NBA 2K” games since the franchise’s inception in 1999.

I also discovered two minor bugs in the mode.

When I played my high school games, I noticed my teammates – who are typically brain-dead slugs who dragged my player down – can’t miss long buzzer-beating shots. They rise up from half or three-quarter court and swish it, despite being unable to make simple layups at any other time. This is a near impossibility in an otherwise realistic title, so it must be an oversight.

The other one occurs nearly every time my player checked into an NBA game. A pause screen is supposed to show the strengths and weaknesses of the player I am matched up against, but the screen fails to load. It just shows the player, who is awkwardly swaying back in forth like a senior prom wallflower, for about 30 seconds.

These are slight inconveniences, not game-breakers, but they stand out in such a well-respected franchise.

However, the MyCareer mode isn’t a failure by any means. I really enjoyed the inclusion of brief high school and college games to start out my player’s career, and I am not opposed at all to the idea of a narrative – it just needs to be interactive.

After the Spike Lee story concludes, the MyCareer mode is the same first-rate create-a-player experience it always has been. The addition of off-the-court activities – fan events, extra practice, interaction with other NBA players – is dynamite.

The rest of the game is as solid as ever.

The 2K Pro-Am mode has immense promise. Players battle it out in full five-on-five games. Stats are kept for maximum bragging rights, and players can form teams and join leagues. I could see this being the most popular mode in the franchise once 2K irons outs the long queue times.

MyTeam and MyGM also offer a decent change of pace from online and MyCareer games.

7 millionThe number of copies “NBA 2K15” sold over the last year.

The actual gameplay is nearly perfect. The graphics look fantastic. The facial detail is first-rate – casual sports fans could easily pick their favorite players’ digital avatar out of a lineup. The controls are rich and responsive – complex enough to appeal to showboating experts, yet simple enough for anyone to pick up a controller and make a basket or two.

The only nagging issue in the game’s presentation and gameplay is its sound. The sound in “NBA 2K16” is absolutely terrible. This is a minor issue in the grand scheme of a basketball game, but it tugs at the otherwise pristine gameplay.

The most glaring sound issue is the choppy soundbites from the new commentary additions. NBA veteran Greg Anthony takes over for Steve Kerr, who left the commentary booth to coach the Golden State Warriors. Virtually all sports game dialogue is a series of small blurbs cut together, but someone forgot to smooth over Greg Anthony’s edges. He changes vocal tone and delivery mid-sentence, and it clashes with the smooth dialogue of Clark Kellogg and Kevin Harlan, the game’s mainstay commentators.

The same issues are present in the dialogue of the new post-game show commentators: Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

I also hated the soundtrack in “NBA 2K16.” It’s been in decline for some time, but this year may represent a bottoming out. Most sports franchises feature diverse tracks that span multiple genres, but “NBA 2K16” basically unveiled a hip-hop compilation masked as a soundtrack. I understand the importance of rap and hip-hop to the NBA and its fans, but this is a global video game representing a global sport. I expected more.

If sound is your biggest problem, you are doing something right. The “NBA 2K” installments are typically my most-played console games each year, and “NBA 2K16” is no different. It isn’t quite as polished as previous versions, but it makes up for that with ambitious new modes and solid gameplay.

NBA 2K16

Video game review

 1/2

  • Rated “E” for Everyone 10 and up
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • Publisher: 2K Sports
  • Out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC
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