In the year 1999 EA Sports was hit with a new competitor in the video game basketball genre. Developer Visual Concepts launched the NBA 2K series which has gone from strength to strength since that first outing. The series was originally published by SEGA but now by 2K Sports. Whilst EA has (eventually) pulled ahead in the football stakes with FIFA and stands unchallenged with Madden it has consistently been beaten into a poor second by the NBA 2K series. NBA 2K19 marks the 20th in the series and after a slight wobble with 2K18 is NBA 2K19 the G.O.A.T or just a bench warmer until the inevitable 2K20 next year?
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is very much the mantra here. Saying that the devs have made the usual yearly tweaks seemingly taking on-board the criticisms made of last years iteration. Defence is much improved and is now a lot harder to drive through to the basket with defenders being fair more robust than previously. Rebounding is another area that has been fixed with success now depending on timing and positioning rather then luck. Transitional play still needs improvement before it accurately reflects the real life NBA and this is something the devs will work on for the next edition. The improvements have given the game a steeper learning curve with the controls and various moves taking some time to master. The excellent 2KU mode (U standing for University) is tutorial mode that will take you through the basics. You will find that with repeated play you will begin to master the controls and after each game you will notice the improvement. It is worth putting in the time and effort to this as there is still nothing more satisfying than landing the perfect dunk or hitting a game winning three pointer. The A.I. in the game has been improved but still on occasions makes some odd decisions especially when it comes to time management. All in all the game continues to improve and builds on previous versions.
The usual multitude of game modes are present and correct and NBA 2K19 even sees some additions to what are already extensive and in-depth games modes. The exhibition and Black Top modes (the latter being street basketball 1v1 up to 5v5) make it easy to pick up and play both on and off line. However it is the “My” game modes where the majority of players will sink their time. The NBA 2K series were the first to introduce story mode to sports games and whilst EA have copied this they are still not up to par with this. My Career returns with a whole new take on the rookie trying to break into the NBA story. My Career:The Way Back sees your player starting his career in China after having been overlooked in the NBA draft. With strong writing and excellent voice acting by the likes of Haley Joel Osment (he sees dead people!) and Anthony Mackie the five hour or so playable story mode is enjoyable but maybe lacking in replayability. In the short time I have spent playing this mode my only criticism is that the Chinese commentary can be quite annoying. I am sure that if I had learnt Mandarin it would be a different story. From what I have played so far this is an excellent mode and the ingame challenges are enough to keep you interested and strive for your player to succeed and make it in the NBA.
MyLeague is probably the mode that the majority of people will invest their time in with NBA 2K19. This mode allows you to build upon an existing NBA franchise or indeed build a new one from the ground up with a mind boggling amount of customization options. The traditional mode gives you an 80 season experience which you can play how you like making as many changes as you wish to make. There is an online option this year which allows you to involve you friends along with offline single season and cutomizable play off experiences. The world or rather the NBA is very much your oyster here and you can invest as much or a little time as you want.
MyGM (general manager) has had an overhaul in NBA 2K19 with their now being two options. Traditional MyGM has you take on the role of an NBA General Manager with a set of goals to achieve as you take your team through the season and hopefully championship glory. MyGM:The Story continues is a new story mode in the vein of MyCareer. This continues the story started in NBA 2K18 but sees you in charge of a new franchise team which you have to build from scratch. The idea is great but sadly the execution is poor. Bizarrely there is no voice acting but instead reams and reams of text boxes to read whilst the onscreen character wave their arms and randomly move their lips whilst the games hip hop backing track continues the play. I must admit I started to get bored pretty quickly with this mode and raced through the seemingly endless text boxes without properly reading them. There are the odd moments when you have to choose a response but these don’t seem to have a great effect on the outcome. I will persevere with this mode as the idea is good but if it continues in a similar vein I will soon abandon. A rare dud in what is an excellent game.
MyTeam inevitabley returns and with it those dreaded micro transactions. Card collecting modes such as this and EA’s FUT and MUT (FIFA and Madden’s versions) are seemingly here to stay and I must admit that opening packs is quite fun and exciting. The ability to get classic players, rare star players and classic kit is great and means you can build your ultimate fantasy team. There are multiple off and online game modes and challenges that allow you to build your virtual currency but without paying out real cash it can be a bit of a grind. New challenges will be added as the real life NBA season progresses and there will be enough here to keep your interest during and beyond the 2018/19 season. Micro transactions are devisive and there are always going to be players willing to pay to get ahead. The mode in itself is great its just a shame that its overshadowed but what is rapidly becoming a real issue in gaming.
The NBA 2k series is famed for being visually stunning and NBA 2K19 does not disappoint. The player likenesses are spot on and the TV style presentation is pulled off with real aplomb. The graphics are superb down to the smallest details with the arenas matching their real life counterparts and even the fans having a “real” feel to them (take note EA and FIFA!). With the present technology there is really nowhere for the series to go with the graphics and NBA 2K19 truly delivers on this aspect of the game .
Again this is another area where the series has long been at the top of its game and NBA 2K19 is no exception. The TV style presentation is perfectly executed and the sound effects are spot on right down to the squeak of the players trainers (they are only sneakers if your American) on the court. The sounds of the big game atmosphere are perfectly replicated and the thumping soundtrack during the game menus is on point. The commentary is another area where the game excels. There is great variety in it and it dynamically reflects the game you are playing. There are well executed player interviews using real players voices which give the game that authentic TV show feel. This is coupled with pre and post-game shows delivered by real life pundits such as the mighty Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson Jr. All in all the audio is excellent and other sports games could learn a lot from it especially the ingame commentary which is always relevant and not too repetitive.
With so many game modes all offering an in-depth and involved experience there are literally hours and hours of play in NBA 2k19 both offline and online. MyTeam and MyLeague offer hours of play although prepare to grind if you want to succeed in MyTeam. As the real life NBA season progresses the real world will have a direct effect on the available challenges and updates will reflect what is going on in the real life NBA. There is enough off and online content to keep even the most avid basketball occupied until at least the NBA 2K20 is released next year and even beyond.
In conclusion NBA 2K19 is still top of the class some 20 years on. The gloss on the game still remains slightly tarnished by the presence of micro transactions but these are not vital for progress in the game. If you can get past this then NBA 2k19 offers the best video game basketball experience and like Le Bron himself the title of G.O.A.T. is arguably deserved. The steep learning curve and extraordinary amount of content may put off the casual gamer or first timer but to the die hard basketball fans NBA 2k19 remains the franchise of choice for now at least. Over to you EA!
NBA 2K19 gets a Thumb Culture Gold award.
It would have been a platinum but the continued presence of micro transactions lets the game down and stops it achieving near perfection.
Disclaimer: We received a digital code to carry out this review