It's fitting that NBA 2K20's coverstar Anthony Davis went to Hollywood to join LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers.
One of the offseason's big moves vibes well with a Hollywood-style offering from developer Visual Concepts in the MyCareer mode, not to mention the general true-to-life broadcast presentation quirks and quality-of-life tweaks.
Unlike Davis and LeBron, 2K has gone unchallenged for a while now, and 2K19 wasn't any exception (82 on Metacritic). But 2K20 isn't some veteran kicking back on a fat contract, as it offers more of a LeBron-type contender trying to keep the crown thanks to a dialed-in focus on fan feedback and lacking areas.
We're a few years into the new motion system in the NBA 2K series, and it finally feels like things are where they were always meant to be from the onset.
Specifically, there is no more ice skating. It might sound silly, but the weight and sudden movements of some of the globe's fastest athletes have always felt a bit off. Those at the controls of the series clearly heard this, as the motion engine has seen another tweak that is noticeable upon booting up the game for the first time.
This works in tandem with a few other alterations to really bring things together. Changes to the sprint button are a big starting point to mention. In the past, slamming down sprint didn't have much in the way of ill consequences.
That's not true anymore. Using sprint without considering it as most have in the past now has a big impact on stamina, to the point even a real-life workhorse like LeBron can get gassed and need to head to the bench.
This is a fun shift moving everything closer to a simulation experience. But perhaps even better, it presents another layer of strategy because now slamming on the sprint when making a cut or on a fast break is more meaningful and requires precise timings to make it work.
Another system working with these other two points is the distinctive dribbling alterations. This will throw off even longtime players at first. In the past, every player on the digital court dribbled the same, minus a few modifiers via moves.
That's also not true anymore. LeBron handles the ball differently than a point guard or a clumsy center in real life, and that's reflected here. It isn't the biggest change to the gameplay experience, but it combines well with the motion and sprint tweaks to really improve the overall feel.
Add it all up, and as a brief example, there is no longer some big center like Joel Embiid shooting down the floor to block a speedy point guard on a breakaway because of turbo-button abuse.
Fittingly, team styles match real life better. Many teams seemed to perform the same way, especially in the hands of the A.I. Now, the Golden State Warriors are aggressively pushing it up the floor and taking more outside attempts. The teams that like to bang in the paint seem to focus on that aspect more.
Defense seems tighter, too, which begs for more off-ball movement and actually paying attention to play calls. Combine that with the motion changes and one can see why the seemingly annual calls of "best gameplay to date" truly apply.
The gameplay isn't without some drawbacks, as expected. Rebounding is still a bit spotty, both in how players just miss the ball sometimes and how it seems to phase through players. The shot meter and dribble indicator that lets a player know when the ball is in a position to get swiped are a tad small, though they are welcome features nonetheless.
As a whole, none of the items bumped up this year are back-of-box material. But they are the incremental improvements a sports series should strive for and provide a welcome, enjoyable experience for returning or new players.
Graphics and Presentation
The wicked roster turnover and casual cross-country shuffling of so many superstar players this offseason helps make NBA 2K20 feel fresher than ever from a visual standpoint.
That isn't meant to sell the game's visual prowess short, but it can be jarring to see some of these uber-recognizable faces in new places. That the faces of the game's biggest star players look so great only make the effect even better.
Frankly, NBA 2K has never had a big issue in the visuals department. Players have sensible proportions (even if the motion systems didn't always agree), jerseys and hair flow well and sweat glistens.
The immersive side of things is still grand, too. This is the best broadcast-feeling sports game on the market, with smooth players and coaching interviews throughout and a brilliant announcer team calling the action.
Arenas add layers to this. The college-style fight songs in the MyCareer mode or the pro-game chants of the crowd in the NBA, along with announcers and all the bells and whistles, really make the immersion shine on something like an Astro A50. This goes doubly for the on-court chatter, which is something real-game broadcasts could always use more of, too.
As a whole, the game simply seems more vibrant in its colors. The brightness captures the incredible in motion and does so at an almost staggering level. The 2K Sports brand has never really had problems one-upping itself in the graphics or presentation departments, so longtime players can rest assured that the usual greatness is here.
MyCareer, Features and More
A revival of MyCareer this year is more like a jolt with Hollywood-level elements.
Idris Elba takes a starring role in the story, and it is essentially a movie moving from cameo to cameo. That doesn't mean it's bad, as some of the character motivations are good story fodder with quality lessons. But the player is restricted to bouncing from game to game between cutscenes before eventually getting spit out into the usual standard fare solo journey.
Make no mistake, the production value here is off the charts. The cutscenes are lengthy and better than a sports video game's cutscenes have any right being. It's a hefty offering with excellent acting, but that it eventually dumps the player into the usual gameplay cycle is a little disappointing.
Speaking of revivals, The Neighborhood is back in a more nuanced way than in the past. Players who didn't previously enjoy it probably won't here. But there is some upside in the competitive offering, though slowly plodding around and sitting through load screens was a common complaint of its last iteration, and it is once again here.
Reputation is once more a big emphasis in this segment of gameplay, which is nice for those who want to grind. Some smooth minigame additions like Disk Golf throw in a new wrinkle for a respectable result.
MyGM isn't the most talked-about feature this year, but it needs to have a nod here. The simple addition of action points changes everything—for the better. Instead of going wild with maneuvers each and every day, the action points system means players are restricted and can only do so much. Players unlock more action points as they level up. That adds realism and a serious sense of weight behind decisions to the otherwise tried-and-true mode.
MyTeam is also back, and it has a hard time convincing players to stick with the grind—like similar modes, such as Madden's Ultimate Team, have in the past. This is mitigated somewhat with the addition of daily login bonuses. That isn't anything new to other genres, but it's a much-needed addition here that makes the grind seem less daunting, which could encourage players to stick around for some of the fun randomized gameplay.
Otherwise, things don't feel too different. Paths to rewards seem clearer than in the past, and evolving cards is an interesting twist on progression. But the mode already hit on many of the beats it needed, including online play or varied ways to play against the computer and tackle challenges.
One of the biggest talking points this year for NBA 2K20 came in the form of the WNBA. Every team is in the game, as are the players, and it has quite a bigger-than-expected impact.
In part, that's because it plays so differently from the normal game. Picking spots, running plays and decision-making are more critical within the WNBA modes of the game, and it's a blast to have this sort of change of pace.
It should go without saying, but it's great to see the women's side of the pros included and all the good that coincides with such a feature. That said, it needs to be expanded in future games besides just a season mode. A fully fledged MyGM offering or something similar would be nice, as for now, it can feel limited from a modes standpoint.
One of the more welcome developments is the further implementation of an RPG-lite feel with the MyPLAYER builder. Crafting a player's looks is one thing, but this in-depth creator grants players access to a deep suite of stat builds with handy pie charts and the ability to pump up the ceiling of every notable stat.
From there, players get to choose a Takeover trait to further make the gameplay experience personal and can then test the build. It's easy to see how players will want to create a handful of different builds in what amounts to a sports RPG, even if folks don't realize that's what it is. It's a shame some of the gameplay elements afterward feel grindy and plodding, but this is a huge step forward and should pop up in other sports games sooner than later.
One area 2K Sports might not get enough credit for is 2KU, its robust tutorial section. This remains one of the best in the sporting realm and is an in-depth guide for new players. It's especially helpful with some of the gameplay changes rolling out this year.
We've reached an apex of sorts with sports games in this console lifecycle, where the best of the best really need to stand out in innovative ways to convince players who aren't concerned with a roster refresh to grab the newest copy.
NBA 2K20 is a mixed bag within those requirements. The star-power-fueled story mode is enjoyable, though it will be subject to plenty of scrutiny. The addition of the WNBA is the exclamation point as far as new additions goes.
But context matters here, and the fact is the series didn't have a ton of room to grow in the first place, which is a testament to the base game 2K Sports continues to build upon each year. There is a mind-boggling number of things to do within the game centered around the global powerhouse of a sport, and they are wrapped within a suite of accessibility options that don't have an equal.
As an entry point for new players or simply the latest addition for the returning players, NBA 2K20 is an expected good time with enough upgrades to warrant a look.