In many ways the evolution of Basketball video games can be compared with Basketball, the sport itself. Way back in 1972  console maker and gaming company Magnavox (one of the first of its kind) released a game simply called “Basketball” for the Magnavox Odyssey console. It was the first of its kind and much like the game Dr. Naismith invented nearly 100 years prior to that, it was primitive and simple. Since then, the sport has evolved and has seen players who forced their dominance onto the game of Basketball and therefore changed the sport forever.

So if Magnavox was the Dr. James Naismith of basketball games then, you could make an argument that the NBA 2K series is  the Michael Jordan of basketball games now. Since its inaugural launch exclusively for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, it has received much praise from critics and gamers alike. In many ways it was, and still is a trendsetter and changes the way we play and judge sports games. Visual Concepts innovative and revolutionary approach has been well documented over the last 15+ years and once again they seem to have broke the mold with this year’s release of NBA 2K16.

In years past, although hugely successful, the only thing standing in NBA 2K’s way was, well……NBA 2K. Server issues around launch and sometimes weeks and months into the release, oftentimes crippled an otherwise stellar franchise. The tight gameplay and incredible depth of 2K however made gamers suffer through some of those times with agony and frustration.

Will this be the year Visual Concepts puts it all together and delivers perhaps the deepest and most immersive sports gaming experience to date? Will online game modes and servers work properly to give this game its dues? We take a deep look at NBA 2K16 for and share our initial impressions in this official review with you guys. So sit back, kick off the “J’s” and let us walk you through every crevasse of this massive Basketball game.

GAMEPLAY

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NBA 2K has always had solid gameplay over the years but never has it felt as good as it does in 2K16. In past iterations the game lacked many fundamental intricacies, allowing gamers to exploit the game rather than mimicking a true basketball experience. Gone are the days of “zig zagging” your way to the basket or running around waiting to get a defender in a bad position. In NBA 2K16 the focus is much more on play calling and defensive A.I. has improved dramatically. Teams will now adjust their defensive efforts against you throughout the game. For example, I played a game with the Trailblazers in which I called a few picks to get Damian Lillard an open shot. The first few times, the defender went under the screen which gave me enough room to shoot. However, after knocking a few of those shots down, the defender then adjusted and went over, and fought through the screens giving me minimal room to shoot.

The passing system has also been revamped with much more intuitive and streamlined ways to get the ball to your teammates. For example, an Alley-Oop can now be performed by simply double tapping the Triangle/Y button instead of having to reach for a trigger or bumper button additionally. This seems like a minor improvement but it adds to the overall pleasure of playing the game.  Bounce passes are also performed with a dedicated button now and are easy to pull off. Another place of major improvement in NBA 2K16 is the post. You can now engage with a defender in the post simply by pressing L2/LT and gone are the long and slow post animations which oftentimes lead to turnovers, especially in Online play in years past.

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12 new classic teams and were added in NBA 2K16 in addition to the already extensive set in the game so far.

Playing in the Park with your created “MyPlayer” however can still lead to difficulties in defending. Partly due to the vast spectrum of overall ratings amongst online players and getting big men matched up with smaller, quicker guards this is hardly avoidable however. I created a 6’ 10” Balanced PF who is rated an 87 overall at the time of this review and I oftentimes found myself in trouble on defense when playing in the park.

The play calling controls also received a new layout. In NBA 2K16 all play calling will be performed with the D-Pad. Although I really welcomed the changes to the passing and post controls, this is one area I wish Visual Concept didn’t change. When wanting to call a play on the fly, you now have to move your finger off the left thumbstick to press the D-Pad. That oftentimes leaves your player vulnerable to get the ball stolen from ore receiving an 8 second violation if trying to set up the play in the backcourt. Overall, gameplay is as good as I have ever seen it with tight controls, great A.I. and it should leave “Sim-Ballers” more than pleased.

Game Modes

It is truly remarkable what NBA 2K16 has to offer when it comes to the different ways this game can be played. Front and center this year is the MyCareer Story mode driven by filmmaker and New York Knicks superfan Spike Lee. You start off, much like in previous years by creating your own player. You can select position, height, weight and also do a complete head scan with the PlayStation Camera. I found the head scan to work from a function standpoint, however the animated version of me it came up with seemed like a generic preset and didn’t really resemble me.

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NBA 2K16 gives you countless options to customize the face, body type, tattoo’s and style of your MyPlayer.

You can then select which high school to attend to begin your career and play a few games trying to lead your team to the state championship. Without trying to spoil anything for you guys, the story then really picks up momentum. You will get recruited by officially licensed college teams (making their debut in NBA2K16) and play a few important games for the school of your liking. Depending on your play, it will determine your draft position. Unlike in NBA 2K14 and NBA 2K15, the Spike Lee driven story focuses on a lot of aspects outside of Basketball and speaks to gamers on a more personal level rather than just press conferences and interactions with teammates.

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Famed director Spike Lee played a major role in the story and direction of NBA 2K16’s MyCareer mode.

If you expect a branching storyline and multiple outcomes this year, you may be disappointed as 2K16’s story plays out more like a movie in which YOU play the main character with some basketball games sprinkled in. I, personally found myself extremely entertained playing through the 3-4 hour story which focuses on your rookie campaign. Upon completing the story, you then have the option to re-watch the movie in its entirety. Additionally a slew of other options open up in the MyCareer mode complete with social media connections, endorsements and the main story is still referenced to by commentators and interviews making this a truly remarkable and enthralling experience. You will also have more say in your player’s choices with multiple choice press conference answers, following your coach’s instructions and choices on how to spend your off days. Overall I applaud Visual Concepts to once again push the envelope and take a chance with the MyCareer mode. It acts as a wonderful complimentary piece to all the other great ways to play NBA 2K16, this Spike Lee joint works flawlessly.

Making its debut this year the Pro-Am which allows gamers to create a Pro-Am team complete with custom logos, jerseys and arenas and lets them compete against fellow teams online. You can invite friends to your pro-am team, which is compiled of created MyCareer players and takes over as an upgraded rec center from NBA 2K15.

MyGM and MyLeague also got a pretty big overhaul as you are now able to play summer league games and the draft lottery and NBA draft got some nice presentation upgrades. 3 team trades make a return and actually seem pretty realistic when you turn off the CPU/CPU trades. Teams now will only trade for/away players that fit their current vision for the future. Staff hirings also seem to matter more than in prior years and the biggest addition to the MyGM mode has got to be the team relocation feature. Full of customization options and ways to rebrand your team the way you like, relocating a team alone can consume you for hours on end. Unfortunately you are not able to import court and jersey designs from your Pro-Am squad but uploading pictures on the desktop site and applying them in the game is a breeze.

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In MyGM you can apply to relocate your team and if approved have the option of moving to one of 60 cities.

MyPark once again lets you play with or against your friends with your created player in a pick-up ball community type of setting. You can choose 1 of 3 factions to join, each with its own themed courts and this year a nice intro presentation highlights the differences between the 3 factions. You can fully customize your player within the park setting and even play a tradional 1 v 1 v 1 game of 21 against 2 online opponents. Having to wait in line essentially to play a game however kills the buzz a little but if you have a few buddies to form a squad with, it will save you some long wait times. Gameplay within the park feels Arcade-ish and sometimes even cheesy but it can be a nice change of pace from the demands of a MyGM career for example.

Play Now also has been improved with a tiered ranking system similar to that in FIFA. Ranking up is fun and adds a little bit of flavor to Online quick matches.

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NBA2K’s most popular mode is back and better than ever as you are now able to create your team’s logos, jerseys and arenas just like in the other game modes adding a much needed personalized touch.

If you are a fan of the highly addicting MyTeam game mode in NBA 2K16, you will also be positively surprised at the added depth and improvements from past years. The mode is loaded with a flurry of special edition cards including “Dynamic Ratings” cards which update throughout the year based on the real life counterparts performances. Additionally you are now able to create your team’s logos, jerseys and arenas just like in the other game modes adding a much needed personalized touch to MyTeam. You couple all those additions with a half dozen ways to play MyTeam this year including a streetball inspired gauntlet mode, and you will be hard pressed to thirst for anything else. The game modes in NBA 2K16 and different ways to play the game will absolutely have something for everyone and I personally have never seen a feature set this rich in any sports game.

Graphics & Presentation

Presentation has always been first class in NBA 2K games and this year is no different. Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Greg Anthony make their 2K debut and join Kevin Harlan, Ernie Johnson, Shaq and Doris Burke to round out the broadcast team. The commentary, although sometimes corny in pre and post game really thrives during games. Kevin Harlan and Greg Anthony oftentimes will not only comment on the on court action but also to what is relevant to the season you are in. Arenas and pre game activities look phenomenal and the cut-away interviews with players are a very nice touch to mirror a real life NBA TV broadcast. Player models also look as good as ever and it seems as if the “virtual sweat” looks more realistic this year. Half time shows, Cheerleaders, national anthems, pre-game light shows, hundreds of different sneakers, it’s all there making NBA 2K16 the best presentation package EVER delivered in a sports game.

Final verdict: 9.5 (All-Time Classic)

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NBA 2K16 delivered on virtually everything it promised throughout the year. Although still early, we could be looking at one of all time greats of this generation. The fact that this game was essentially made in a 9 month development cycle, just speaks to the talent pool over at Visual Concepts. The game is loaded with features and modes to have a fully immersive basketball experience and there is truly something for everyone in this package. It is fairly impossible to make a perfect game and NBA 2K16 still has some minor things to work out but I feel that Visual Concepts really put out an absolute gem this year. NBA 2K16 has “Sports Game of the Year” qualities and if online connectivity holds up, it will certainly be in the conversation.

I hope you enjoyed our NBA 2K16 Review, be sure and stay connected with SGO for all your latest news, tips and tricks regarding NBA 2K16 and all other sports games. You can reach out to me on Twitter @danielbaesel and also make sure to follow Sports Gamers Online for all the latest NBA 2K16 News and Tips!