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NBA 2K16 Review: Cream of the Crop

In celebration of the worldwide launch of NBA 2K16, I’ve put in the necessary hours to review the newest iteration of the 2K franchise so that you, the consumer, have the necessary knowledge to guide you in the purchase-making decision of NBA 2K16.

Let’s begin with the new features that this title brings. The graphics (which looked incredible on next-gen consoles last year) have been improved even more this year, with NBA players getting their entire bodies scanned instead of just their face so that the realism could be seen in every last detail. From beads of sweat to neck tattoos, 2K16 has made it a mission to create the most visually realistic basketball video game to date.

via Operation Sports

via Operation Sports

The player likeness doesn’t end with the graphics: celebrations, free throw routines, the way players walk – all that and more have been integrated into the game so that individual players feel unique and realistic. You’ll see Stephen Curry tapping his chest and pointing to the sky after hitting a three, Carmelo Anthony smacking a three-sign into the side of his head, and Russell Westbrook scream and celebrate after a big play. Every team feels unique, not only from how different players feel but how the entire team operates.

Moving from the graphics to the gameplay, 2K16 has taken a big step into improving the CPU. In past versions, even at the Hall of Fame difficulty level, the game came down to individually breaking down your opponent with a series of dribble moves (or even just turbo-ing past them) and then either finishing at the basket or finding the open man. Once one figured that out, there was no challenge in going up against the CPU. This year, the defense has been revamped in a whole new way.

While it was easy enough to score in previous iterations (a simple size-up move would send a defender back shaking enough to launch an open shot), the game developers have added better AI for both on-ball and off-ball defense. On-ball defense from the CPU rarely allows simple penetration off a dribble drive; no longer can a simple crossover create enough space to drive past a defender. Even a minus defender like Damian Lillard had no trouble staying in front of the shifty Kyrie Irving. Sometimes it feels like the CPU is glued to my player, but it balances out the gameplay from years past.

Instead of being able to blow by any defender with any player, the gameplay this year is more focused on finding the right matchups or using team basketball to generate the best look. Having a slower big man on a quicker guard or a taller player against a smaller player will lead to the most success in one-on-one gameplay, but in most cases the best way to free oneself is to call plays or call for an on-ball screen.

Speaking of set plays, the 2K franchise has long been known for having the most in-depth plays and realistic team playbooks. You’ll see the Miami Heat running a lot of action involving the 5 at the top of the key swinging to a guard and following up with an on-ball screen, and you’ll see the San Antonio Spurs involving the action on the weak-side to open up a corner three.

Added this year are realistic team sets on the defensive end, with unique defensive sets to each team: everything from how teams play a pick-and-roll (for example, the Los Angeles Clippers will double every screen-and-roll with Stephen Curry) to set defenses (The Mavericks will play man-to-man and switch to a 2-3 zone after a couple of passes) have been looked at and integrated into the game.

In terms of off-ball defense, the CPU has been improved so that one can no longer spam one play over and over (in years past, it was easy enough to run the same baseline screen over and over to free a shooter). The defenders will now key in on a play after seeing it a couple of times and make the necessary adjustments to counteract that.

Is the new defense an improvement? It balances out the game for sure. No longer is it a race to see who can score the most points before time expires; instead, it becomes a real basketball game. It’s incredibly difficult to generate good looks – making them that much more valuable – and having a five-point lead down the stretch begins to put a lot of pressure on the opposing team, as they have to figure out ways to score against a stout defense.

In general, the CPU has been much improved. On defense they understand mismatches (will immediately double-down if a big man has a point guard switched onto him in the post) and on offense they move logically – instead of standing around waiting for something to happen, the players move organically and set screens for one another, looking to free up a good shot.

The new and improved defense and CPU intelligence added with the ever reliable gameplay mechanics and physics have pushed out the most realistic basketball simulation on the market.

The fun doesn’t stop there. NBA 2K16 is loaded with incredible content. The most marketed and well known is MyCareer, which was completely re-vamped with a new story directed by Spike Lee.

via Operation Sports

via Operation Sports

The story was a little absurd and not realistic, but still plenty of fun.

Next up is MyTeam, my personal favorite game mode. MyTeam is a mode where one creates their own lineup from players they collect from buying packs of player cards. These player packs range from a cheap pack (with a low chance of pulling in a highly ranked player) to the most expensive pack (best chance of pulling in a highly ranked player), each adding the excitement of not knowing what they’re buying and the rush when one gets a superstar.

MyTeam player packs aren’t just limited to the stars of today – in fact, one has a chance of pulling a ’91-92 Michael Jordan or a ’01-’02 Shaquille O’Neal. The allure of MyTeam is building the greatest team possible and having the chance to see how legends like Wilt Chamberlain would’ve played with someone like Stephen Curry.

via Operation Sports

via Operation Sports

MyTeam has been fantastic for years, and the game developers have added in more offline modes and challenges for the user to enjoy.

One wrinkle that permeates throughout the newest 2K title is the ability to customize. From MyLeague to MyCareer, there are almost too many choices for customization (always a good thing). The customization doesn’t stop at “What tattoo should I place on my left bicep.” Now, the customization is so deep that one can take a team and move them to a completely new city (I moved my team to San Diego), build their own arena and customize their own jersey.

via Operation Sports

via Operation Sports

The big complaint with NBA 2K15 was the unreliable servers. As the game has just launched, it’s impossible to gauge how well that issue has been addressed, but if it’s been improved, we could be looking at the best title 2K has ever put out. The defense is challenging in this game and players will still make some head-scratching decisions (I had a teammate run a defender into me as I called for an end-of-the-quarter isolation play), but those are minute problems that don’t detract from the complete product the franchise has pushed out.

With the amount of content (quality content at that) available to the gamer – from brand new game modes to in-game customization – 2K16 has a variety of content to keep the customers busy for a long time. Add in the fact that the game developers are very accessible to the public, listen and address issues as they come up, it’s no wonder why the 2K franchise has long dominated the basketball video game landscape.


All new features headlined by a re-vamped MyCareer collaborate with improved gameplay that users have come to love for years. Improved defense gives veteran 2K players a chance to challenge themselves, and a dedicated group of developers promise to address issues as they arise throughout the NBA season. We’ll have to wait to see how the online servers hold up, but barring any issues, this edition has overtaken NBA 2K11 as the best 2K ever made.


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