NBA 2K16 Review

Richard Walker

NBA 2K16 is 'A Spike Lee Joint' this year, meaning the famed director has lent his name to the basketball game's MyCareer mode. It's the big banner feature in yet another expansive instalment that comes with all of the stuff you'd normally expect to find in a NBA 2K title. Yet again, it's massive, but perhaps best of all, the 2K servers seem to actually work properly this year (mostly), which in itself is a big step forward.

MyCareer is once again the beating heart of the NBA 2K experience, with Spike Lee's 'Livin' Da Dream' essentially a narrative-driven experience that precedes the usual, conventional MyCareer shenanigans. You fulfil the role of the stupidly named 'Frequency Vibrations', a basketball prodigy rising out of the Harlem projects, from high school basketball to college ball and into the NBA draft. As you carve out a career for 'Freq', you'll get to enjoy all of the bickering from friends and relatives over the fortune you've amassed, making each of them unlikeable in their own unique way.

Alright, Tony?

Once the story runs its course, you'll be glad to see the back of Vic and Cee-Cee, free to sink your teeth into MyCareer proper, without the interminable cut-scenes and ham-fisted, shouty emotional scenes. Here you'll make connections with fellow players, win fans, sift through social media tripe and win lucrative endorsements from various brands. It's every bit as meaty and involving as its always been, and as you progress, you'll improve your MyPlayer from game to game. The usual fare. You can scan your face again too, which still results in some abominable freaks unless you happen to live in a well-lit studio.

Despite a take it or leave it tacked-on narrative prelude, MyCareer is still compelling, as you strive to keep your coach happy and put in a consistent performance on the court. How you spend your off days will also determine how your player's reputation and on-court attributes pan out, ultimately shaping the kind of player you'll become, whether it be a corporate shill or a dedicated NBA star. And you're also able to practice on your customised MyCourt, perfecting your shooting, dunking, dribbling and movement.

Outside of MyCareer, it seems that a greater effort has seemingly been poured into providing a more robust online offering this year, following last year's comparative shambles. MyPark is largely lag free and getting into a game is remarkably smooth, while the game's 2K Pro-Am mode essentially steps in for Crews, with customisable teams, courts, kits, logos and such. At least that's the idea. In its current state, I found Pro-Am mode to be borked somewhat. In the rare instances that it does work, it's great.

On the off-chance that you do manage to get into a Pro-Am game, you can show off your bespoke team and arena to the rest of the world. But for now, you're probably better off sticking with Play Now Online or MyPark where you're far more likely to get a multiplayer match off the ground. The former is a standard competitive bout against another player, while MyPark is much the same as before, with you once again choosing an affiliation with one of three teams, before hitting the courts for a game of 2v2 or 3v3 street ball. Join a squad and you're well away.

If the quality of NBA 2K16's online component has slightly improved, so too has the overall presentation and the minute-to-minute gameplay that unfolds on the hardwood. Visual Concepts and 2K have once again turned out an impressive game of basketball, the Pro-Stick still at the centre of the experience, with slick animations to match. Where player movements once looked occasionally stilted and unnatural, NBA 2K16's ballers move in a relatively realistic manner, although it's still not quite attained perfection.

The main issue comes with the questionable decisions occasionally made by your team's AI. I've seen ridiculous turnovers, stupid fouls, shoddy passes and a whole litany of other dumb errors, like woefully squandered scoring opportunities from simple layups that a blindfolded child could finish. It's not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see in the NBA, unless I've missed something and the standard of play has slipped drastically.

Yet, NBA 2K16 is still as deep or as shallow as you want it to be, loaded with options enabling you to coach and run a team in MyGM or MyLeague modes, with the ability to now make coaching decisions and strategical changes in simulated games with the SimCast Live feature. There are even more sliders to mess around with this time too, allowing you to tailor the gameplay experience to your exact specifications.

In Pro-Am, you can design your own kits with uploaded images.

Beyond MyCareer, MyTeam also offers innumerable hours of gameplay yet again, with its take on Ultimate Team returning once more with packs of trading cards to purchase in order to build your own dream team. Collecting cards can be absorbing, but whether you'll dig in and commit to it over sinking time into MyCareer and MyPark (arguably the crux of NBA 2K16) is debatable. Still, along with MyGM and MyLeague, MyTeam remains an integral mode that you'll find yourself going back to again and again.

All of NBA 2K16's modes are taken into account in what feels like a more balanced achievement list with a good spread. Most of the list is weighted towards the career mode, with a fair few unlocked for simply playing through the Livin' Da Dream portion of the game, before completing the standard MyCareer tasks. MyTeam, MyPark and the rest all have their own objectives to complete too, some of which can be a grind, but none seem overly demanding. As NBA 2K lists go, this is an improvement over years gone by.

Another strong and eminently playable basketball game, NBA 2K16 beats last year's effort on the court and in its slightly more fleshed out MyCareer mode. Spike Lee's contribution is a bit of a mixed bag, and not exactly up there with his best work. In fact, it's often exasperating. Despite all that, NBA 2K16 remains an essential basketball experience, chock-full of features, modes and options that will keep you playing well into next year. Not quite a swish, but remarkably close.

NBA 2K16

Not exactly a massive Air Jordan-style leap over NBA 2K15, this year's game is nonetheless a substantial enough evolution to warrant a closer look. MyCareer's Spike Lee Joint isn't as groundbreaking as it thinks it is, but proves engaging enough for a few hours. As ever though, NBA 2K16's vast number of modes and options, as well as its unparalleled and authentic on-court experience makes it a basketball game that continues to stand tall.

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Another excellent soundtrack, even if subjectively I think some of the tunes suck. NBA 2K16's commentary also remains exemplary and the atmosphere is authentic.


Superb player likenesses rub shoulders with authentic arenas and pitch-perfect broadcast-style presentation. Some of the cut-scenes in MyCareer are a bit shonky though.


Far smoother and more responsive on-court, NBA 2K16 really feels like basketball this year, although it's not without its issues. AI can often be quite poor, leading to some truly frustrating moments, while certain players - *cough* Steph Curry – never seem to miss a shot or mess up a play. Ever.


A wealth of modes and features will keep you more than happy until NBA 2K17, while the improvements to the game's suite of online bits and bobs make for a less infuriating ordeal. It's not all perfect, but it's getting better.


A less time-consuming achievement list than last year that covers all of the ground it needs to without demanding too much grinding. There's a nice chunk of Gamerscore for completing Livin' Da Dream too, which is good, I guess.

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