With apologies to EA Sports' Madden, NHL and FIFA series, 2K Sports' NBA 2K was the best sports video game platform of the last generation of consoles. It meshed a near-Madden level of popularity and cache with NHL levels of realness—to the point EA Sports temporarily discontinued its profitable (albeit maligned) NBA Live series because it could not compete.
2K Sports pushed the capabilities of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles to the brink and came out with a release that never felt like a re-release of last year's game with a roster update. It's the game I spent a ton of time bonding with college roommates over and still an excuse to call up a friend in anticipation of release day.
So when I decided to toss hundreds of dollars Sony's way for a next-gen system, NBA 2K14 was the first game purchase that coincided. And, all these months later, I'm still unsure if that was money well-spent.
The game was unquestionably the best-rendered basketball sim in history. Player likenesses have never been better, and like they had with the previous generation, 2K Sports went all out to create an all-around solid product. For the most part, it worked. The visual improvements and storyline components of MyCareer and MyGM modes stopped the former from being stale and added a dimension to the already excellent latter.
Metacritic scores of 85 don't lie; people liked this game.
But there was an indescribable hollowness to the final product. The game was more beautiful than ever but lacked the details that made previous iterations shine. Individual players were so good they felt like cheat codes; the implementation of Virtual Currency into nearly every aspect of the game rendered some modes unplayable. It was like going on a date with a supermodel and then finding out she only knew three sentences.
That said, there are reasons for optimism as NBA 2K15 nears its release. Every sports video game goes through its fits and starts when making a generational hop; it's only natural as engineers get used to the new software. Plus, with new announcements now coming by the day, it seems 2K Sports is going out of its way to address past concerns.
Let's take a look at a few of the most promising.
Goodbye, Virtual Currency
The implementation of Virtual Currency (VC) was perhaps NBA 2K14's most controversial decision. In MyGM, general managers were barred from making simple decisions—trades, free-agent signings, etc.—until they accrued enough VC to unlock it in their skill set. In My Career, it could be used to buy new clothes, improve players skills, etc.
The reasoning was simple: The more VC becomes ingrained in the NBA 2K experience, the more 2K Sports stood to make from microtransactions. As anyone who has played EA Sports' Ultimate Team knows, microtransactions are small, seemingly innocuous purchases that have become a multi-million dollar cottage industry for gaming companies.
2K Sports, which had largely eschewed the microtransaction bumrush, likely didn't anticipate the criticism it received from fans for making VC such an important aspect.
So they eliminated it. In a Game Informer piece highlighting improvements to My GM, Matt Bertz detailed the debut of a new XP system that will limit the necessity for microtransactions. Simple actions like trades, signings and the like are no longer locked. The basic functions of being a general manager are there from the get-go, and players are rewarded with XP for nearly every task.
Making microtransactions to purchase "special skills" is still a part of the mode, as will it be with nearly every video game from now until our eternal damnation. But NBA 2K15 rightly views them as extras—not items you much purchase to actually have fun with the game.
Kudos to Visual Concepts for recognizing the mistake and moving to rectify it.
Ask anyone their criticisms of NBA 2K14 and they're likely to come back with one of two things: VC or the loss of Association Mode. Association was a staple of the previous gen, perhaps the deepest and most enjoyable "franchise" mode in sports gaming. The elimination of Association Mode in favor of MyGM—which allowed only a one-player experience—left a sour taste for those used to going head-to-head with friends to see who could build a better organization.
At the risk of repeating myself, NBA 2K15 went and rectified that problem too. Association Mode is still dead, but replacing it is something arguably better: MyLeague.
The concept, if executed properly, sounds a customizable and depthy goldmine. Steve Noah of Operation Sports detailed the mode at length in August, highlighting so many improvements they'd be impossible all list here. MyLeague can be run over 80 possible seasons and players will have the option to optimize the salary cap, draft classes, AI actions and a number of other things while controlling up to 30 teams.
There is even the option to punt an also-ran franchise and substitute a classic or Euroleague team into the mix.
"Well, we heard the community loud and clear about wanting a mode that could be fully customizable," Rob Jones and Erick Boenisch told Noah. "A mode that is more of a sandbox of options without limitations. That is what MyLEAGUE is all about. MyLEAGUE gives users the flexibility to do what they want at the pace they wish to do it."
If that sounds incredible, well, you're not alone. The basic function of MyLeague seems to be everything you knew and loved about Association Mode—only given an infinitely higher customization rate. New modes always deserve some healthy skepticism whenever they're rolled out, but MyLeague will be unimpeachable If it's as advertised.
Charles Barkley telling me how terrible I am as a general manager in an Inside the NBA recreation? Take my money. All of it. Don't care if the game is $60. It's yours.
NBA 2K15 releases Oct. 7.
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