Not ready for opening night
It?s tougher to get pumped for the annual sports-game releases when your own favorite teams are yearly dumpster fires. I?ll admit that baseball games took a backseat for me during the previous decade in the lean years before the San Francisco Giants brought the brilliant Bruce Bochy on board. And playing Madden when the Niners were under the infamous watch of noted ?tactical genius? Mike Singletary? Don?t even get me started.
Of all my beloved hometown Bay Area teams, though, the Golden State Warriors have been the most pathetic, and it?s not even close?we?re talking about an organization that, until this past season, had gone 20 years without a 50-win campaign. But with the dynamic sharpshooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the bruising inside presence of Aussie big man Andrew Bogut, they?re starting to establish themselves as one of the most exciting squads in the NBA. With that in mind, I was actually pumped to try NBA 2K on the new console generation for the first time, figuring that any first-year transitional growing pains would be out of the way the second time around in NBA 2K15.
I figured wrong.
Let?s start off with the good, though. One of the major draws of NBA 2K is MyCareer mode, and I was intrigued by the addition of real NBA player voices to the experience this year. Instead of putting fans in the shoes of a top draft pick like in past iterations, however, 2K15 makes you an undrafted free agent who has to fight for everything he gets?and I actually found this a pretty relatable situation.
The first round of the NBA Draft only offers 30 spots, and teams will often use their second-round picks (the draft only includes two rounds) to acquire the rights to promising overseas players they can bring over when they?re ready. This means that even talented American college stars will usually find themselves on the outside looking in. I went to college with an undrafted player who had a cup of coffee in the NFL, and it was clear to me that, regardless of how he performed?and he did well whenever he got the chance?the guys with the big contracts always got preferential treatment.
That being said, I didn?t exactly feel like ?myself? in MyCareer, even with my real face scanned in (surprisingly, I had no issues getting a decent scan with the PlayStation Camera immediately). The game sticks you with one of two voiceovers: Dumb or Dumber, and your character’s personality and actions drip with nearly unbearable swagger, attitude, and ADHD at every turn.
So, I started doing things I thought this version of “myself” would do when the choice was presented: brag, boast, and show tremendous arrogance about my mad skills as a lights-out shooting guard. The pickings were slim at the start, but I eventually got a tryout with the Detroit Pistons, one of the current doormats of the Eastern Conference. Bear in mind, I?ve hated the Pistons since I was a kid (blame Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, and the ?Bad Boys? for that), but no other team was giving me a shot, so I took it.
The funny thing is, everyone else in the Motor City seemed so clueless and incompetent that I had no choice but to act as arrogant and show as much braggadocio as possible, so I kept taking that attitude to the next level. Nothing was going to get done if I didn?t shoot every chance I got. The team would just spin its wheels unless I demanded the rock every trip up the court.
This led to a rivalry with my alleged ?mentor,? Pistons center Andre Drummond, who provided his real voice in cutscenes. To start with, he chastised me for celebrating after I scored 21 points in 9 minutes off the bench, reminding me that we lost the game. You know why we lost the game, Andre? Because our idiot coach decided to only play me 9 minutes! He didn?t play me the entire second half!
Maybe this wasn?t developer Visual Concepts? intention, but these interactions actually fueled my competitive desire. I didn?t want to be buddies with Andre. I didn?t want him stopping by my house and spouting clichés about how I needed to ?take it game by game.? I wanted to prove him?and everyone else who doubted me?wrong. This is what it?s undoubtedly like for an undrafted rookie in the NBA, especially since you?ve only got a 10-day contract to impress. A guy like that sees all these entitled players around him with guaranteed, multiyear contracts and knows he has to work harder than any of them if he wants to stick.
Thankfully, I did enough to earn a contract for the remainder of the season, but the drama didn?t stop there. Later, Drummond looked at my cellphone and saw that I had apparently sent a text to my agent about finding another team after the season ended?and Andre proceeded to show this message to the rest of the team and scolded me for sending it. Wait, dude. You?re the one who took my private property, and I’m the bad guy? Unlike you, I don?t have a contract for next season, remember?
Needless to say, I wasn?t going to stay with the Pistons after that exchange, so I spent the rest of the year trying to impress for other teams, with my ultimate goal to make it on the Warriors. Against my favorite team, I filled it up for 36 points in 12 minutes?more than half of our total for the game?yet they didn?t show a shred of interest in me when the offseason came. Take it from a Warriors fan: That bench needs improvement! That?s one of my few complaints with how MyCareer plays out; the same few sorry teams will almost always be the ones to show interest, regardless of what position you play or the team?s actual needs.
Once the offseason hit, Drummond had the gall to visit my house and tell me not to walk out on the team (again: You looked at my phone, man!). I told Andre that “it’s a business” (I’d always wanted to say that) and wished the Pistons luck (though I didn?t really mean it). While I didn’t get an offer from the Warriors, at least I finally got to join a competent, marquee team in the Chicago Bulls and had the chance to play alongside big-time stars like Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose.
Of course, the Bulls brought their own set of problems when current real-life Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers mysteriously took over the team when the new season started, and he proceeded to give me a lecture about defense after I scored 35 points in 13 minutes in a key early-season matchup. Really? We blow out the Clippers, and Doc?s giving me guff just because J.J. Redick had a few layups in garbage time at the end? I can?t win with these guys.
For all of its soap-opera shenanigans, there?s a certain addictive quality to MyCareer?it?s consistently engaging, and I hope this is where Visual Concepts keeps the focus with the franchise going forward. Since one person can make such a huge impact in basketball, unlike baseball and football, it?s the perfect sport to delve into this format. In the future, I?d just like to have a wider variety of selectable voices and attitudes for my character, since I didn?t really relate to ?myself? onscreen at all. And I?d love to see other sports franchises follow 2K?s lead and integrate real player voice acting into their own career modes?it?d be a blast to have Giants right fielder (and noted gamer) Hunter Pence let loose with one of his trademark not-safe-for-work fiery orations in the clubhouse in MLB: The Show.
MyCareer is such a draw, in fact, that MyLeague (NBA 2K?s version of season mode) and MyGM feel underwhelming and undercooked by comparison. Interacting with the owner via a series of tiny text boxes doesn?t feel very engaging in the latter mode, and MyLeague is simply a competent season sim?there?s really nothing special to set it apart.
No matter what mode you choose, though, the game sounds great, unlike many sports titles. Play-by-play man Kevin Harlan is one of my favorite announcers, particularly on radio where he’s so descriptive calling football and basketball games. For my money, he does a better job than anyone else when it comes to setting the scene before the snap or an inbound pass.
Steve Kerr provides competent color commentary, but his presence is a bit weird, considering he was named the Warriors? new coach back in May. Still, the fact that there wasn?t time to cut him from the game means that he can commentate on himself coaching the current Warriors while they play against his younger self on the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls. (When retro Kerr threw an errant ball into the stands looking for Toni Kukoc, announcer Kerr lamented “Such a careless pass!” while coach Kerr celebrated on the Warriors’ bench.)
The weak link of the bunch is Clark Kellogg. I?ve never been a fan, and considering he doesn?t even cover the NBA anymore (only college hoops), it’ll be interesting to see if 2K replaces him next year, since Kerr will be gone for sure and the audio will have to be totally revamped. Still, since it?s Harlan?s booming voice you?ll hear most of the time, I can tolerate Kellogg?s inane analysis most of the time.
Less successful is the new pregame show, hosted by digital versions of Inside the NBA?s Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O?Neal. EJ brings a minimal amount of energy, though he does actually show more life than he?s currently displaying as the lead announcer on TBS? postseason baseball coverage. Shaq is even worse, though?he?s as wooden as it gets, and he looks and speaks like he’s dreaming of a Kazaam sequel. Really, 2K couldn?t get Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith for these segments? I like the concept, but the execution falls flat.
Shaq?s sleepy presence aside, this sounds like a pretty solid basketball game, right? And it sure is. I was quite impressed with NBA 2K15…and then it was time to go online.
I don?t think I?ve seen a game switch from competency to utter garbage with such swiftness. 2K?s servers simply aren?t up to the task of running with any sort of consistency or quality?and that wouldn?t be so much of a problem, except the game requires you to go online in certain instances.
The MyPark streetball option, for example, is necessary to increase stats past a certain threshold for your MyCareer player. Now, I would love to tell you what I thought of MyPark, but I wasn?t able to get into a single match over the course of a week with the game. In fact, there were hours and hours over the past couple of days where I couldn?t even return to MyCareer mode at all because 2K?s servers weren?t working properly. (2K told me the MyPark issues would be fixed yesterday. They were not.) Isn?t this partly what caused the whole SimCity debacle for EA last year? After all that, why 2K would build so much of this game around clearly substandard servers baffles me beyond belief.
At least the worst things that happened to me were dropped connections, hard freezes that required a PS4 reset, and not being able to return to MyCareer for hours at a time. Other players have reported having their save files deleted and items they purchased in-game (with real-world funds, mind you) disappearing. That?s unacceptable, and considering that similar problems persisted last year, the long-term ability of 2K to provide basic online infrastructure has to be called into question.
Obviously, I can’t say whether these issues will be solved over the next few weeks and months (2K has added an online status page to keep players updated), but I can say that they?ve soured me greatly on a series that I was excited to return to with NBA 2K15. Why sabotage your own game like this when you don?t have to? If people want to go online, build an online mode for them. If people want to play offline and completely ignore servers that clearly aren?t up to the job, let them. No one thinks MLB: The Show?s online features are stellar, but the game doesn?t hold you hostage with them, so they?re easy for players to ignore if they?re not working properly.
For me, NBA 2K15 comes off as a clash between two cultures: a solid core experience crafted by hardcore hoops fans, and then online features artificially grafted onto the game by clueless folks in suits who insist that buzzwords like ?connectivity? and ?community? go on the back of the box. I don?t know how close to the truth that is, but it sure feels like reality to me.
I hope 2K learns from this, rebuilds NBA 2K16 from the ground up, and clearly separates the offline and online components going forward. If they can?t get the servers working properly, then don?t integrate them so closely into the overall game experience. I can tell you this: If I?d bought NBA 2K15 as a consumer, I?d have lost my patience and returned it?and after this, I wouldn?t be giving the series a second chance next season.
|Developer: Visual Concepts ? Publisher: 2K Sports ? ESRB: E – Everyone ? Release Date: 10.07.14|
NBA 2K15 delivers a solid core basketball experience, particularly with MyCareer mode, which features real-life NBA player voices. But the game ties too much of the experience to its shoddy online component, which sabotages the experience?and even makes the game literally unplayable at times.
|The Good||MyCareer is an engaging trip inside the locker room of an NBA team, complete with authentic player voices; announcing from Kevin Harlan is some of the strongest you’ll hear in a sports game.|
|The Bad||2K’s servers simply aren’t up to the task, and they wreck the overall experience due to their required integration with the game; MyCareer does its best to stick you on the NBA’s least-desirable teams, regardless of your position.|
|The Ugly||MyPark’s playground hoops courts filled with dozens of players waiting to play…and absolutely no games to speak of.|
|NBA 2K15 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. A retail disc was provided by 2K Sports for the benefit of this review.|