Competition is scarce on the basketball video game scene, but that hasn't kept the team at 2K from pushing the NBA 2K franchise forward. Even with that success, one might assume that hiccups may occur as more and more untread ground is tread, as with any franchise. Thankfully, not much keeps NBA 2K15 from feeling like an investable improvement over last year's installment.
The beginning moments of the game are somewhat peculiar and a little old-school. Instead of the game featuring a formal tutorial, it takes into account that either the controls are simplistic enough for newcomers to grasp readily or that enough players have familiarity with the game to not necessitate any form of tutorial. After loading the game, 2K15 jumps right into a game between the Spurs and the Heat, and players must complete that game in order to jump into other game modes or access the main menu screen. During this game, the only sound is the game's soundtrack, which removes the sounds of the court and the commentators, even when the music is muted. Reacting to this first game depends on the player and if hands-on learning is preferred; equally so, the game doesn't count for anything except practice, so there's neither harm nor foul, but this beginning may feel disjointed for some while feeling like cleaning out the cobwebs for others.
Regardless of the first few steps of the game, NBA2K15 looks even cleaner than it did last year. To be clear, the graphics were immaculate in 2K14, but 2K15 is more crisp and less automated. Animations still play a key part in how the more sophisticated player interactions pan out, but no longer will over-elongated animations cause players to automatically step out of bounds. With this in mind, lanes are much harder to defend against and making a wrong or overextended move will result in points for the opposing team, so the overall give-and-take this time around makes the game dynamic on both sides of the ball.
Shooting has taken a significant shift as well. Veteran players: don't panic, because the familiar shooting scheme from older games is still a choice in settings. While shooting, the controlled player will have a half circle appear below him that's divided in half. From that halfway point, a visual representation of that player's ability to shoot in a given moment ebbs, and Square must be held until the meter reaches that halfway point. So, in theory, any shot could be made at any time if one's timing is perfect enough to land on that halfway point in the half circle; but there's always the defense to worry about. What this shooting scheme does is allow new players to jump into the game and begin to feel success much easier while still getting the challenge of professional basketball in video game form. Again, the old scheme is still an option for veteran players, but the new shooting is welcoming enough to justify at least giving it a try.
The general presentation of the game mimics television incredibly well, following suit to the likes of ESPN NFL 2K5 as analysts Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal deliver some inspired pre-game dialogue relative to each game—even if its presentation is rather droll and awkward at times and if facial movement feels like an English-dubbed anime. Commentators perform an impeccable string of dialogue relative to each circumstance, giving detailed background information on each player as each player presents himself on the court with significant performance. Equally so, the dialogue becomes very influential to player development in MyPlayer as each new milestone is highlighted immediately as it's met, which creates a connection to the gamer's involvement in the game itself. On-court reporters also interact with the major players at quarter breaks, and while the conversations themselves pertain accurately to how the game has been played, mouth movement suffers from the same odd presentation that Ernie and Shaq exhibit.
MyCareer has intriguing additions in 2K15 that expands the game mode's repertoire. A microcosm to the complete creation package is a more detailed story that accompanies the custom character's development, featuring interactions with teammates, player representatives, coaches, and general managers. Developing a MyCareer player is simplified, as all player stats are divided between six generalized groupings. Conversations directly reflect how the player performed on the court, which gives a stern sense of success or failure. At the same time, there's a fine line between good and bad, and that lands in the letter-grade rubric between B- and C+. There were times when I was one play away from being in the B range and others where my rating was skewed by an unfortunate shift in defensive assignment, resulting in a lowered grade and bouts of frustration. Compounding on that frustration was my initial confusion as to why scoring points on the court doesn't always directly reflect on the grade. A low grade resulting from bad mechanics on the court will still be recorded as such, but a low grade will be received better by the AI coaching staff if the player scores a lot of points on the field. The lower grade will still affect the way public and team perceive the MyCareer player, but this behind-the-scenes formula allows both point-hungry and strategic players to be successful at their own game.
The other addition to the MyCareer player is its integration into the new game mode MyPark. Here, online gamers can take their created players and take on others on a public court. Players move freely to any court of their choosing and step into pick-up games against other players. What makes this mode enthralling is that it grants more space on the court for players to learn the game, find and expose lanes, and gain insight into proper passing. For now, server delay is somewhat present; shot timing and offensive movement are significantly affected. While this requires a change in timing, MyPark is nonetheless an enthralling enough mode that learning new timing with the new shooting scheme isn't quite as hard as it may sound; still, stronger servers would make the game mode much better.
The addition of MyGM gives players a chance to completely head a basketball team. From drafting rookies to cutting team members, players have the ability to make all decisions for the team of their choice as well as play the traditional seasons of basketball like a normal franchise mode. In regards to presentation, MyGM utilizes a defaulted general manager who directly communicates with the customized player generated in MyCareer, and that player ends up becoming the face of the team and the official public representative of the general manager. This ends up feeling a little strange, since most of the dialogue choices throughout the “storyline” are made by the MyPlayer and the general manager sets goals that need to be met throughout the year, ultimately feeling like the customized player is making decisions based on what the computer-generated GM dictates. Regardless, the MyGM mode yields an complete basketball experience—from press conferences to team management—that would only be bettered by applying it to a Connected Careers-type mode as found in the Madden franchise.
Loading is one consequence of all sports video games, and as is customary, 2K15 decorates a lot of them with commentary and stat sheets. Regardless, loading into a game takes about a minute each time and loading to the menus from a game takes 30 seconds. The 49-gigabyte install makes skipping commentary, game time events, and celebrations absolutely seamless and lag-free, but the install does nothing to shorten the time it takes to load games. This goes double for the MyCareer mode, where absolutely nothing goes on except watching a progress wheel in the bottom right corner count up to 100%.
All things considered, NBA 2K15 has taken into account what may have deterred new players and welcomed them with a more accessible gameplay style while still granting veterans the option to choose traditional, challenging shooting schemes. While suffering load times and server lag as well as some small presentation confusion, 2K15 irons out a great deal of issues with player animations and overall pacing that helps strengthen the integrity of the overall product. NBA 2K15 is the game that basketball fans want for a perfect balance of challenge and accessibility.