Last year when NBA 2K14 was released for Sony PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the visuals were so good, it blew away fans of the series and anyone who caught a glimpse of the masterfully rendered players and environments on the new hardware.
This year, the task in front of the developers of the game was a little more challenging.
With everyone already accustomed to next-generation graphics, NBA 2K15 needed to provide substance to the newest version that goes far beyond eye candy. Last year's game was fun and was generally well received, but it was bogged down by some server issues, awkward online/offline functionality and a limited feature set.
This year, Ronnie Singh, aka Ronnie 2K, told me at last month's Community Team-Up event that the server issues are a thing of the past. In addition to that, the game packs a feature set that is vast, if nothing else.
Having spent the better part of the last week going through every strand of the game on PS4, there's plenty to talk about.
Graphics and Animation: Still Pretty
NBA 2K14 revolutionized the process of realistic character rendering. NBA 2K15 strives to build upon what last year's game started.
For the most part, the game is as visually pleasing as it was last year. There's a few changes, but I'm not sure you can call all of the new details improvements. Some may see the changes as regression, others as improvements and some could be indifferent. Some of the new look—such as the new body models—is a stylistic alteration.
Some fans complained that the models were too muscular, thus slightly more slender bodies were adopted this time around. I never had an issue with the models in the past, aside from the fact that there seemed to be a lack of variation between muscular, thick and thin players.
It wasn't a major issue, but if pressed to nitpick, that would be the thing most worth mentioning as it relates to player renders this year and last year.
As for faces, the game nailed most of the players in the NBA last year, but there were a few guys such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jamal Crawford who weren't accurately rendered.
In this year's game, the ratio of accurate and inaccurate player models is about the same. CP3 was corrected, but apparently, the dev team hasn't had a chance to scan Williams or Crawford.
Both still look off base. There are a few other players who could probably stand to be redone to match the rest of the game's clear and present beauty but not enough to warrant a serious complaint.
Some might take issue with the fact that few strides have been made on the visual side, but let's be honest: The game looked ahead of its time last year. There's no crime in simply sustaining in this area—especially if time, attention and expertise were applied to other areas of the game.
There's literally thousands of new animations in the game, and this adds to the realism. In the paint, there's far more contact on drives. The various collisions look realistic, and there's a decreased amount of clipping that occurs with contact.
It isn't gone entirely as you'll still see the occasional arm pass through another player, but there's no doubt the game has improved in that area. The arenas, coaches and surroundings still look fantastic. The game still succeeds in creating one of the most authentic virtual sports environments around.
Though I think I'm more a fan of the body styles from last year, there's still far more to love than to make issue of in the visual department.
Gameplay and Realism: Live Ball
Defense is Back
One of the first things you'll notice in NBA 2K15's gameplay is the increased bumping and physical contact. It's a welcomed addition to the gameplay that brings defense back into the fabric of the experience.
Last year's game was a little too free flowing at times, and games could easily turn into three-point shootouts. This year, the make-to-miss ratio is much more realistic. Even the best three-point shooter doesn't make every open three, and that's reflected in NBA 2K15.
More realistic shooting percentages are just part of the injection of realism. The ball seems to be more live and accessible at all times, with the increased passing control that helps to vary the movement of the ball and the player interaction with the rock.
Blocks, steals and tipped balls create cool scrambles and the type of action that is fun, but still realistic. The aforementioned play in the paint is another great boost to gameplay.
Let's Get Physical
Playing in the post feels more physical, and drives to the basket aren't as automatic as before. Contesting shots at the rim is far more rewarding in NBA 2K15 than in past versions.
It makes teams with good interior defense, such as the Chicago Bulls, feel more authentic. The increase in contact cuts both ways. There are more and-ones—which is a good thing—and more free throws for gamers who attack the basket with skill.
The engine that determines charges and other offensive fouls has been tweaked. Last year, some gamers used to try to get cheap charge fouls in the backcourt, but this exploit has been handled.
The different levels of impact dictate the result, and it functions realistically.
On the downside, there are a few gaps in gameplay in which there doesn't appear to be a sufficient animation for the situation. I noticed a few instances in which the ball didn't react in a way that was realistic.
This doesn't really impact gameplay or happen too frequently. It's more of a small aesthetic issue. As negatives go, that's all I found as it relates to gameplay. There's been a plethora of functionality added to the strategy side as well.
Only Hope to Contain Them
Gamers can again adjust defensive strategies for each player on the opposing team. Point of Emphasis is back, but it's placed in the proper perspective as a teamwide strategy. Last year, it was just about the only coaching angle a gamer could take, and it left the defense without enough options against big-time scorers.
* Tip: Setting the individual defensive strategy to deny is a good strategy against sharp shooters and ball-dominant stars.
With the ability to play each player in a variety of ways, there's more tools at your disposal to try and lock down an opponent.
Thanks to the dev team and the new man in charge of player ratings, computer-controlled players behave more realistic on offense and defense. Mike Stauffer was brought in to revamp the player ratings. He has implemented more ratings such as defensive IQ and perimeter defensive IQ to help differentiate the good defenders from the subpar ones.
Only four players in the game have an overall rating of 90 or above. The Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James is tops at 98 and cover athlete Kevin Durant has a 95. You can see all of the player ratings here.
Follow Stauffer on Twitter to stay abreast of updates through the season.
On offense, the freelance sets incorporate elements of each coach's playbook, so you can get movement and action without calling a play. This allows for authentic gameplay for gamers who don't want to run detailed sets on every possession.
You can see the imprint left by the likes of Scott O'Gallagher aka SOG and Nino Samuel aka Da Czar. These two former players and basketball minds lent their expertise to the NBA 2K project, and the results are quite impressive.
* Tip: There's a lot of dribble moves to master and change together, but the new 2KU is an excellent tutorial designed to teach you the game. Take advantage of it.
NBA 2K15 offers the most balanced and sound gameplay of any game in the series' rich history.
Sound and Presentation: Flash and Substance
2K Understands Presentation
Few publishers and developers of sports video games understand the importance of presentation like 2K Sports/Visual Concepts.
Games like NFL 2K5 introduced ideas in presentation that many titles today still haven't replicated, let alone surpassed. The halftime show in NFL 2K5 is still the best ever.
NBA 2K14 delivered in the area of presentation in a major way with authentic halftime and postgame interviews. Real NBA players and coach's voices were used and synced with their on-screen likenesses for awesome virtual interviews with sideline reporter Doris Burke.
This was augmented by a pretty solid halftime show anchored by Damon Bruce. He guided you through halftime highlights, and it was one of the most watchable halftime shows in the sports video game genre.
This year, Bruce isn't in the game, and there are no halftime highlights. While that's a slight bummer, there's a ton of new presentation elements added that make up for the absence of the halftime show.
At any point in the game, you can replay all of the highlights involving any player on either team. Some gamers won't care about this, but others will love the ability to go back and look at how LeBron scored all 40 of his points.
At the end of the game, the Jordan MVP gets a jazzy screen that displays a cool action pose and all of his stats from the game. It's pretty slick.
Shaq and Ernie
Before the game begins, there's finally a pregame show, and it features TNT's Ernie Johnson and former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal. The two have excellent virtual chemistry, and the sequences are about as entertaining as Inside the NBA.
It would have been great to see them come back at halftime and the end of the game for a postgame wrapup, but perhaps that'll make it into next year's game.
Kerr's Back and Pharrell's Influence
In other areas under the S&P umbrella, the commentary is still a strong suit. Amazingly, Steve Kerr—the new head coach of the Golden State Warriors—is still part of the announce team. What's more shocking is that there's a decent amount of new stories and lines from Kerr, Clark Kellogg and Kevin Harlan.
To be honest, I was expecting this aspect of the game to be a disappointment, but it's just as strong as it has been in the past. The soundtrack was curated by Pharrell Williams. While there are a few tracks that I like, I'd say I was more of a fan of LeBron James' selections from last year, but to each its own.
Also, the redesigned menus in the game are beautiful and much easier to follow. The roster screens and overall look of the game is dynamic and exciting.
Game Modes and Options: Jampacked
MyCareer Takes the Next Step
Where do I begin?
There's so much to offer in NBA 2K15, it can actually be overwhelming. Aside from the obvious quick games on and offline, there's so many ways to play it's incredible.
In every area NBA 2K14 fell short in from an options standpoint, NBA 2K15 blows it out of the water. It starts with one of the most popular modes in the game, MyCareer.
Who doesn't enjoy taking their created player through an entire career?
The create-a-player suite in last year's game was extremely limited. In this year's game, there's two ways to create your MyPlayer, and both are awesome. First and foremost, gamers will now have the ability to scan in their own faces to customize their MyPlayer with greater detail than ever before.
I had an opportunity to test this out last month, and the results were very accurate. Now, anyone with a PlayStation 4 camera or Kinect for the XB1 can scan their face in their living room.
There is something you should know about this process, though. It can be tedious and frustrating if you don't have the proper amount of light. Natural light is best, but positioning lamps, etc. nearby is a solid substitute.
Check out the process below.
The more reference points collected with your scan, the more accurate your render will be. Once your scan is complete, you may have to adjust your skin tone, or you may even choose to use the face-sculpting option as well.
While this aspect can be a little time consuming, it's totally worth it to get an accurate scan if you are a fan of MyCareer. There's nothing like seeing yourself in the game.
For those who don't have the patience or a camera, there's a traditional CAP suite that allows you to use a head template and alter several facial features, as well as add various hairstyles and facial hair details.
Conceptually, this is not new, it's just far more blown out and comprehensive in NBA 2K15. After playing around with the tool, I'm convinced that with enough skills, you could make just about anyone. Once you've created your MyPlayer, you're ready to start your journey.
NBA 2K14 introduced a real story-driven, role-playing aspect in MyCareer. You had to compete for a spot in the NBA draft and contend with a rival throughout your career. In NBA 2K15, things are different. You begin as an undrafted free agent and have to earn your spot on a 10-day contract, go through free agency and hopefully stick on a team and become an all-time great.
There's countless hours of gameplay in this mode alone, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.
Card Packs, Auction Houses and More
MyTeam returns with more goodies for fans of the mode. Finally, there's an auction house available to sell and bid on cards. The presentation of the mode has been greatly improved. Pack openings are more exciting in NBA 2K15 than in any other sports video game with a mode of the same concept.
There's so many on and offline challenges, it can be quite addictive. No matter how you play, MyTeam has something to offer anyone who understands the draw of card collecting and fantasy sports.
*Tip: Looking for a list of achievements/awards in the game? Click here for the full list.
The Near-Ultimate Sandbox
If you love franchise modes, NBA 2K15 comes equipped with the best one ever created. MyLeague brings a set of customizable options that should be the envy of every developer of a similar mode.
You can customize rosters, player attributes—like predetermined injuries—health of 16 different body parts, player loyalty, motivations, league and team alignment and more. This mode is what gamers like myself have longed to have for years.
You can play one single season or a franchise with 80 seasons in which you control every franchise in the NBA. You can even swap out NBA teams for any number of the 25 Euroleague clubs in the game.
Gamers can download a custom-made draft class, create one of your own or use a random and auto-generated class. This class is then imported into your MyLeague or MyGM experience.
MyGM is Up For Most Improved Player
Last year, MyGM had several issues with the salary cap, draft picks and the balance between virtual currency and offline experience points (XP). This year's game has cleaned up those issues and added details like the luxury tax, hard cap and more.
Thankfully, essential abilities, such as editing lineups, aren't tied to VC this year. There are special badges of influence that have to be purchased but nothing that doesn't make sense.
MyGM offers many of the elements MyLeague does, but you can only control one team instead of 30, and there are role-playing aspects again this year.
More depth has been added to the conversations you have with players, coaches and other general managers in an effort to add to the realism.
With the ability to create up to 150 players that you can add to custom rosters, the depth of the franchise modes in NBA 2K15 is astonishing. The only thing that's missing from this package is the ability to create and import custom teams.
Online Play Personified
Online leagues return with the ability to host and join leagues with custom rosters with users numbering from two to 30.
That's just part of the appeal of online play in the game. Along with the online aspects of MyTeam, there's also the expansion of the Park concept. It has grown into what is now called MyPark, which is a new spin on the old Crew concept.
Basically, gamers can take their MyPlayers online to play on street courts with thousands of other MyPlayers in one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four or full five-on-five pickup basketball.
To add to the concept, there's now park affiliations, challenges and the Jordan Rec Center. At the JRC, MyPlayers will still battle, but in the virtual gym, there are full NBA rules with officials. There's also a realm of the mode called The Stage in which MyPlayers will battle in games with real VC on the line.
A classic from the moment I ripped off the plastic.
NBA 2K15 offers the deepest and complete virtual hoops experience ever. Mind you, the servers weren't being taxed when this evaluation was written, but online issues is the only thing that can derail this title.
Rarely does a game with so much hype deliver the way NBA 2K15 does. It's truly a crowning achievement and one of the best video games I've ever played. This is an absolute must-have. Here are the numbers:
- Graphics and Animation: 9
- Gameplay and Realism: 9.25
- Sound and Presentation: 9.5
- Game Modes and Options: 9.75
- Overall: 9.3
Follow Brian Mazique aka FranchisePlay, the Sports Video Game Journalist