2K is back with the latest instalment of the NBA series, NBA 2K20, and as with every release, 2K never exactly reinvents the wheel. They don’t need to though as the wheel they already have is fantastic. However, with the constant demand for ever realistic simulation, graphical improvement and new game modes, they always find ways to add something new and get the fans talking. This time, sadly, that’s not always for the right reasons.
As you’d expect, NBA 2K20 looks and feels sublime, that’s nothing new. Each edition of this series brings a flurry of new animations that makes it feel more and more like we’re watching a real game of basketball and that’s exactly what’s happened here. The vast majority of players look identical to their real counterparts; you can spot the iconic Steph Curry jump shot a mile off and you know when the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, dominates the basket with a huge dunk. This only further envelopes the believability of the simulation and, again, makes it look like we are watching a real game of NBA.
As well as the animations, the individual beads of sweat glisten in the harsh arena lighting, the jerseys and shorts flow effortlessly as players move, and the physics of both movement and the ball are simply spot on. 2K really seem to have outdone themselves this time and every time I have taken to the court, I have spotted something new to gawp over.
There is another big change too, found in the sprinting. The spring bar now depletes very quickly, and so this means you can’t just spam the RT button and run everywhere with a quick player like Kyrie Irving and make it to the bucket. The stamina bar is now used more like a resource where you use it only, if and when, it is needed. This makes the general gameplay a little slower, but more like a simulation, or in other words an actual game of basketball. This does, however, make successful fast breaks incredibly satisfying. Blasting past the opposition and slamming home 2 points with a powerful windmill.
The biggest draw with NBA 2K20 is the new MyCareer, or “When the Lights Are Brightest”. And as you’d expect it’s bigger and better than ever. 2K has collaborated with the LeBron James affiliated Spring Hill Entertainment to create a compelling and highly cinematic story. It has a star studded cast with Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, Ernie Hudson, and even Tom Middleditch, the dude from Silicon Valley. It feels like more of a movie than a game as it looks stunning, the writing is genuinely good and it’s also a great way to learn the mechanics of the game so you can dominate in other game modes. However, with all this being the case, it is just another cliché story where your character will grind his way to the NBA, facing trials, tribulations and general speed bumps along the way. It’ll be up to him to show his inner strength to get past it all and rise to the top. It does tackle a few new issues this time around though and you also get to play some fun mini games during the NBA Draft Combine, but ultimately it’s still a story we’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s just lucky that this version actually does it pretty well.
The level of customisation in MyCareer also surpasses anything I’ve played before in previous 2K titles, letting you edit damn near everything about your player. You can edit their finishing, shooting, playmaking and defensive/rebound attributes to the point. You can change the player physicality and mould the exact star you want based on how you wish to see them dominate the court. You can also change every type of animation your player has so you can replicate current NBA players’ jumpshots, change their dunks, dribble pull-ups etc. In fact, you can change every single aspect of your player for a truly unique experience tailored exactly to what you want. And the better you play in MyCareer the more points you collect to both upgrade your attributes and then collect badges. These badges are unlocked after you play well in certain game aspects, and whilst it feels a little grindy with progression being slow, it is great watching your player improve as each game goes on. It just all needs to happen a little faster.
As ever, the commentary from both Kevin Harlan and Gregg Anthony is top notch. They’re reactive, honest and give us lots of free flowing information about players and teams. It feels natural and each game delivers a different experience as the commentary genuinely changes with different styles of match ups. Obviously they only have a limited amount of dialogue to use as, after all, it is all scripted and pre-recorded, and this also goes for the on-court commentary and interviews with David Aldridge. He’s back, as ever, giving us great insights to the two teams, running between quarters interviews with the big stars of the night.
But then there is the biggest blight of 2K20, MyTeam, the game mode where you build the ultimate team from players both past and present. You play through different game modes to collect VC or MT (in-game currency) to buy card packs. Yep, card packs where you spend your hard earned in-game money you’ve grinded endlessly for and hope you get a half decent player. Unless that is, you do what 2K are really hoping you do, which is skip all the grind and just spend your real money to buy more card packs and hope even harder that you don’t get a card pack full of new courts, jerseys and a coach. Will you get at least 1 good player this time? Maybe. If you don’t, you’ll have to participate in countless mundane challenges to get working your way up to affording them.
The entire MyTeam mode is built around micro-transactions and it’s made such an unfathomably huge dent in the entire game. If card packs don’t make it bad enough, 2K20 has incorporated a literal casino element to further take that last slither of hope. You use in-game currency to spin the wheel, play a ball drop game that will bounce on a good or bad card pack, or even use a slot machine. It’s literally a casino! When will they just let the players have fun with this mode and not just force us to throw in real money in order to fully enjoy it? Shame on you 2K.
MyTeam aside, NBA 2K20 still has some amazing game modes to offer. There’s the usual MyLeague modes where you can play a season with your favourite team, play MyGM where you manage every aspect of a team through the NBA season, play online and dominate other people, and now you can even play with the much improved WNBA league and play a whole WNBA season. With the addition of every team in the WNBA, you can take part in a very different style of basketball with quick movement and fluid fundamentals to enjoy the most well represented women’s league to date. It’s a fantastic incorporation to the game and I can’t wait until they include a female option in MyCareer.
NBA 2K20 on Xbox One is an absolutely stunning game. The aesthetics and physics are the best I’ve ever experienced in a basketball game, the customisation and level of detail in created players and icons from the league is simply stunning, and the sheer volume of game modes to chose from is incredible. The huge downside to this game though is the greed from 2K who only want you for your money, making it purposefully hard to improve in MyTeam unless you bow to this.