I’m not a huge player of Video Games in the Sports genre, so loading up NBA 2K20 was very much a fresh experience for me. I came to learn two things about the current state of AAA sports games. They look and feel amazing to play, with a perfect balance of fun and realism I never thought Video Games would or could achieve and secondly, that micro-transactions seem to have permeated every facet of the genre.
If there is one thing I would want you to take away from my review, it is the fact that I really enjoyed playing NBA 2K20. It is a fun game! As a relative newbie though, being well over 4 years since I played a NBA title, the leap forward in the games back-end technology just blew me away. The animations, the flawless commentary and attention to detail would fool many a person into thinking it was a real NBA game on TV.
A slick, well designed tutorial quickly had me dribbling with style and dunkin on fools. The dribbling mechanics, the freedom of movement and ability (with a lot of practice) to chain animations to gain the advantage on the court all look so real, the gameplay finds the sweet spot between challenge and reward. In particular, the intuitive use of the Sticks to combine player movement and the best shot to make. Made me feel very good at the game, very fast.
Getting out in the wild
The depth of skill gamers have the opportunity to develop is very present, as I learnt when I went to play online. Some of the set pieces and amazing feats of true all-star skill I faced was impressive as Hell. Sending me scurrying back to my offline modes. The games defensive techniques I found harder to master, using the left trigger to enter a defensive stance, then using various buttons to crowd the dribbler or block lanes with hands, even reject shots. It is intuitive, but takes practice as there is a lot going on. One slip; even on Rookie difficulty, is quickly punished by the clever A.I.
After the intro and tutorials and signing up to 2K online. Which is needed to confirm your age for the player card packs ie:Loot Boxes. I had access to My Career, My Team and My League. All self-contained modes which as expected play as they sound. The stand out is the My Career mode, which is a single player campaign for your custom Character to make his way through to a NBA draft pick and begin his Rookie NBA year. All fully voiced, mo-capped and refreshingly offered up a real glimpse at what burgeoning NBA players go through.
The campaigns star-power on offer is impressive, with Idris Alba amongst others having sizeable roles. It’s only about 4-5 hours long, the story and characters are really well written. Like really well, better than I would have ever expected. I am continuing to play as my character in his new NBA career, to see how good I/we can get together. This is where we come off the rails, improving and levelling up my skills need in-game currency. Currency earnt through playing games, but it’s dished out at such a measly rate that progress quickly stalls.
Roll Up! Roll Up!
But luckily, there is a way to get some currency…..micro-transactions! And lots of them. My Career and to a far greater extent My Team and My League, have a deeply entrenched connection to needing in-game currency. Without it, you can’t improve at any pace. To unlock new skills, to buy and unlock the all important player cards, to get better teams perks…in fact to do anything in the game, you need the games currency. The grind placed in front of gamers is so onerous though. At every turn an offer of an extra $15 here and there will take the ‘hassle’ out of the experience. Player card packs (loot boxes) are even dished out with whiz-bang casino like graphics. Slot machines, roulette wheels and endless flashing lights all feature, to fire up those dopamine receptors. It does feel a bit gross to be honest.
The roadblocks to progression that demand either huge amounts of time or some quick cash feel unfair. Especially considering the current gamer culture around “surprise mechanics”, in fact the design choice seems a tad out of touch.
NBA 2K20 is at its core a mechanically beautiful sports game, that is great fun to play. It also boasts enough depth for dedicated gamers to become really skilled. If you can look past the micro-transactions, then there is more than enough to keep you happy for many seasons.