Jeff Markiewicz On October 27, 2015 at 11:50 am

NBA2k16_logoNBA 2K16 is the latest game in the popular NBA 2K line that stretches all the way back to before the turn of the century with its first entry on the Dreamcast. The franchise’s developer, Visual Concepts, goes back over another two decades. Starting in 1988, they have churned out tons of games like Task Force, Clayfighters, and One. Despite the variety of different games, they found their greatest success with their Sports 2K line and since then, Visual Concepts has churned out consistently high quality sports games year in and year out. The NBA 2K franchise is no exception to this and has always found itself well received by fans and critics alike, can this year’s iteration continue the success?

The most popular mode that NBA 2K16 has to offer is obviously the career mode. Sports games are naturally devoid of a traditional story. The story in these games are the ones you make on the court. With NBA 2K16, Visual Concepts and Spike Lee have attempted to fill this void. This means there is actually a story with traditional narrative structure complete with cutscenes and voice acting. It’s definitely an intriguing concept. The story is called Livin’ Da Dream and is directed by Spike Lee. After you create your custom character, the story starts. You’re a high school kid from Harlem trying to make it into college. You select a high school team to play for and you play out your final season. Throughout the season, college coaches will come and try to recruit you to come play for their team. Obviously not all colleges are represented but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they are in fact all real colleges and they even feature their signature fight songs and such. After college, you move onto professional ball and so on. The story follows your successes and struggles as you grow up to be a professional basketball player on and off the court in the NBA.

Overall, if you were able to parse out this story and experience it on its own, I feel like it would be a lot more entertaining despite being quite predictable. The issue is you go from story to court to story to court. You keep getting bounced back and forth and sometimes between games, there is no story. Then as you get to the end of the story, it feels like it accelerates at breakneck speed. It also doesn’t help that the story is bookended by behind the scenes video from Spike Lee as if the story couldn’t hold up on its own. The next issue is that it’s nice that the game gives you choices but there are other times it simply never gives you the option. You’re the main character but your only real direction for him is on the court. Visual Concepts should be commended for how they incorporated the flow from high school basketball all the way to professional. It’s impressive how the announcers and presentation changes from each form. They nailed a lot of the technical aspects to facilitate the story. Overall, the story was a great experiment but doesn’t actually payoff. I do enjoy how the story segues straight into career mode and even after the main story is over, announcers and interviews with your character makes it still feel alive.

After the story mode, the game opens up with a variety of options for how to develop your character and play out your NBA career. Doing well in games will net you more playing time and experience in which to upgrade various stats of your character. Off the court, you can choose to practice, indulge in sponsors, or make connections to boost the amount of fans you have and get other perks. Overall, if you like the story or not, the core gameplay is solid. It’s approachable by anyone and deep enough to satisfy most fans.

The next big mode offered is the ability to manage a team. This one puts you in the seat to make all the decisions and it’s a lot of fun. This mode exemplifies the ability to go deep or play superficially on the surface. The game supports however you like to play. This mode starts with the owner of the team taking to you about what he would like to accomplish for the year and you can answer if they are reasonable or unattainable. After this, you’re unleashed to do as you please. If you hit the bullet points the owner wants, you’ll get more money. You can allocate funds for the year. You can make decisions on how to handle the injuries. An important system underlying this is to manage trust. Everyone has their own goals and it’s a tug of war game to make everyone happy. If you’re doing a good job in their eyes, your trust in them goes up. If you want to trust your coaches with big decisions, you can have them do it. If people are having low trust in your management, you can even give them pep talks. Overall, it’s a well done and fleshed out mode that some people will find a lot of fun in but it will take some micromanagement to be very successful.

The online is broken up into a couple different ways to play. As always, there is a traditional competitive play for one-on-one matches. This is self-explanatory and is paired with a ranking system that will hopefully keep games fair. There is also the ability to form leagues if you have a lot of friends. The more interesting modes take the form of a pick-up game mode and a trading card mode. The pick-up game mode plops you in the middle of a park with seven active games going at once. The games are 3-on-3 to 21 points and if you want to join, you simply move your avatar up to the queue spot on the side of the court. It’s really cool. There is a ranking system so you know what you’re getting yourself into. The game allows you to customize your avatar with different apparel so you can look cool while schooling the local kids. Overall, it’s a really neat way to play.
The third online mode throws a wrinkle into the street basketball formula. As stated above it’s a card trading game ala where you need to collect cards. The cards will be of different players in the NBA with various stats or some boosts. If you want more cards you can win them in games, purchase them in packs, or find a specific one in the auction house. You use these cards to play in the gauntlet. This is a competitive multiplayer game that lets you form a team of 3 players from your cards and have them compete on the court verse someone else’s cards. So while your cards may give you an advantage but your skill on the court can still make the difference. Overall, it’s a fun new twist on the traditional formula.

Overall, the multiplayer offerings are quite complete. You can play traditional basketball, street basketball, and even collect cards. The ranking systems are sufficient and you have all of the regular teams plus some special legendary ones from years past. The customizability is nice, you can even create your own basketball courts and upload your own logos in some modes. If you’re looking to take your basketball game online, there are a lot of options and creative ways to play.

The graphics in NBA 2K16 are quite good. The players are all modeled quite well. The create-a-player uses a unique system in which you sculpt a profile instead of throwing a million sliders at the player and the results are quite nice. You probably won’t be able to make a super ugly character like Dark Souls or Skyrim but that’s a plus for some people. Unfortunately, hair can interfere a bit with the depth of field blurring techniques at times and eyes can sometimes appear almost completely black from a distance. Animations are typically great with hands being in the proper place with the ball and feet moving appropriately. Outside of the court though, they can feel a bit stiff and almost nonexistent, especially in the post-game reports. The basketball courts look amazing. When the camera pans down to the court floor, the depth and detail of the wood becomes really impressive. Sometimes there is a divide between the audio and the crowd where you’ll hear an abundance of cheering and clapping and everyone is just sitting patiently watching the game. The basketball courts that take place outside are a bit less impressive, especially the backgrounds. Overall, NBA 2K16 looks fantastic except for some minor things but the one aspect that it excels is at the presentation. The models, animations, and courts take a backseat to the successful illusion of watching a real broadcast of a professional basketball game. The on-screen graphics, announcers, music, and smooth camera transitions all contribute to making the game feel real.

Similarly to the graphics, the audio presentation is top notch. Everything sounds mixed perfectly to give a real simulation of a real television broadcast. The announcers are well done and entertaining. The only downside is that, like any game announcers, they will get a little repetitive with time. The music is spot on and has a nice variety. The voice acting for the story is well done. The interviews that get cut to in the game can vary in quality though and rarely some sound effects can end abruptly. Overall, the graphics paired with the excellent sound design make for a fantastic facsimile of the television experience.

NBA 2K16 is a highly fleshed out title with a lot of different ways to play. The career mode offers a real narrative story and nice options for developing your character. Managing a team has deep options to either micromanage everyone or back off and let your subordinates handle the minor situations. The online offers traditional ways to play, including creating your own league as well as neat pickup game modes with tons of games going simultaneously in a park or court. The gameplay is easy to pick up and offers a lot of nice ways to set plays and work with your teammates. One of the tenets that I appreciated the most about the game is its flexibility. If you hate the story, skip the cutscenes. If you don’t want to micromanage your team, simulate as many days as you want. There is a wide amount of things to do and each is customizable to how you want to do it. One of the options that I didn’t like offered were the various coin systems the game has incorporated. If you want to level your character up quicker, plop some money down for these type of coins. Want more cards for your deck? Plop some more money down for this different coin system. Overall, this should not impede your enjoyment of this otherwise highly enjoyable game. NBA 2K16 succeeds at what it always has, basketball. If you’re a basketball fan, this game is jammed pack with a variety of ways to play and is a blast for almost everyone to play.


The core gameplay is great, it’s approachable and highly customizable. The story is hit or miss but well done. Online options are great. Coin systems disappointing.


The technical graphics are pretty good but it’s the great camera work and on-screen graphics that really delivers.


After playing for some time with the same team, the announcers will get a little repetitive but overall the presentation and mixing of the audio gives an impression of a professional broadcast.


NBA 2K16 succeeds at what it always has, basketball. The depth and variety of ways to play is amazing. The ease of which to get into the game is great. The story could’ve been better.

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