September 09, 2019
If you've never played basketball for real before, you might never know the joy of landing a perfect jump shot or elegantly finger-rolling in a simple lay-up. I used to play basketball, and even I can barely remember, which is why I like to live vicariously through the NBA 2K games these days. For more than ten years, the NBA 2K series has been the only basketball game worth caring about, and NBA 2K20 is no different. Mostly because it's a lot like last year's game, albeit slightly nicer-looking.
There's the rub – NBA 2K19 was really rather good, issues with horribly obtrusive microtransactions and progression aside. And while NBA 2K20 has a handful of small incremental improvements over its predecessor, it also has all of the same problems. Like, for instance, having to grind to muddle your way through the MyCareer mode yet again, scraping together enough VC (that pesky Virtual Currency) to upgrade your custom baller. VC, predictably, casts a long shadow over 2K20.
Unless you want to fork over real cash for a shortcut, progression through any of NBA 2K20's banner modes (namely MyCareer and MyTeam) is a slog, and neither mode is really interesting enough to hold your attention. MyCareer tries to do almost too much this year, increasing the number of different hoops you have to jump through before being drafted into the NBA, and consequently, it gets pretty boring, pretty quickly.
The worst offender is the NBA Combine, which puts you through a series of rubbish drills – several godawful mini-games that involve button mashing or nonsensical analogue stick twiddling. Success in this portion of your MyCareer will see your stock rise astronomically ahead of the NBA Draft, almost rendering everything else that comes before it null and void. Of course, even if your performance is terrible, you'll be touted as the next big thing, despite being utterly crap.
Once you're drafted and on your way to being an NBA mainstay, 'The Neighborhood' opens up, and you're free to explore the park and all of its usual pit stops. Or ignore it altogether. Little has changed in The Neighborhood; you'll find all of your old haunts still present and correct, with a few new mini-games thrown in to divert your attention. Essentially, things are much like before, however, with ProAm competitions, Blacktop games, and other distractions to partake in.
NBA 2K20 fundamentally remains a very good basketball game, and if you can ignore all of the pay-to-win fripperies and other irritations, there's no escaping that fact. It's another reason MyCareer is so frustrating, being more preoccupied with telling its story in lengthy, slightly dull cut-scenes than just getting on with driving forward your painfully slow ascent to NBA stardom. New guy Che is a relatively humble, relatable protagonist, at least, unlike previous lead characters, like A.I., Freq, or Prez. But Che's tale of would-be NBA fame doesn't do enough to really sustain your interest.
In spite of its various shortcomings, then, at its heart, NBA 2K20 is the same fantastic basketball simulation that it has been, year in, year out. There are flaws, like persistent, annoying cutaways that ensure sponsors get a look-in, like the State Farm highlight reel or Gatorade something-or-other, or occasional fiddliness when you're trying to set a strategy or pull off a successful play. And there are bugs, which is to be expected given that this is a new engine. NBA 2K20 feels weightier than previous games, movement being very deliberate and relatively slow, while defensive play is somewhat messy.
What NBA 2K20's new engine does manage to deliver is some lovely lighting, which is especially beneficial during the cinematic MyCareer cut-scenes, featuring Idris Elba as your team coach and Rosario Dawson as your friendly college adviser. No amount of prettiness and attention to visual detail can draw attention away from the issues that blight the game’s innards, however - those same old issues with broken servers and cynical microtransactions that conspire to spoil both the MyCareer and MyTeam modes.
It's a real shame, as NBA 2K20 is beautifully presented, and the deeply involving MyGM and MyLeague modes are also back again to absorb hours of your time, as you steer your chosen NBA dynasty to glory. Online, the game performs fine for the most part too, save for the usual server wobbles and such. Compounding the game's issues are some horrid loading times that are especially problematic when you're merely trying to upgrade your MyPlayer's stats using the VC you've earned or paid for, and the game is struggling to access the hoary, unreliable servers.
It's the very problem that marred last year's game (and several years before that, even). NBA 2K20 is an enjoyable, polished basketball sim scuffed by a series of needless aspects revolving around the implementation of VC and shonky servers. It's at the point now where these aspects simply too hard to ignore each year, especially when it puts a dampener on what is otherwise a fantastic game. Visual Concepts might do well to go back to basics, and rethink the direction that NBA 2K is heading in.
I still can't stand NBA 2K's music choices. One KRS One track aside, the soundtrack is an unwelcome assault on the ears. There's no substitute for the game's commentary, though. It remains the best around.
NBA 2K20's new engine ensures it truly looks the part, with TV broadcast-style presentation, spookily accurate player likenesses, and excellent lighting. The only downside is a handful of (thankfully rare) bugs and weird, glassy eyes.
Defensive play has been fluffed for this year's iteration – it just doesn't feel quite right. The weightiness of players means movement can feel sluggish at times, and the ebb and flow of a game can sometimes be off-kilter. Still, at a fundamental level, NBA 2K20 still plays like a dream, save for the aforementioned minor issues.
What's offered here is simply far too similar to what Visual Concepts served up last year. The Neighborhood in MyCareer is practically identical, MyCareer itself is dull, MyTeam is a microtransactions fest, and indeed, VC buggers up everything. The unreliable servers remain an annoying technical sticking point too. On the plus side, the addition of the WNBA is a good thing.
A much better, more 'achievable' trophy list that is weighted heavily towards the modes that most people play – MyCareer and MyTeam. Much lighter on the grind, this is an improvement over previous lists. Good.
NBA 2K20 is so similar to last year's game that it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend it like we normally would. If you haven't bought an NBA 2K game in a while, then by all means, don't hesitate to dive right in. But if you're still happily playing NBA 2K19, there's really no reason to make the switch. Major, sweeping changes are clearly in order, and we hope to see big things happening for NBA 2K21.