Typically when the NBA season comes around, players have the choice of picking between either NBA 2K or NBA Live for their digital basketball fix. However, this year sees Electronic Arts’ title releasing later in the year after a recent delay, so NBA 2K20 is the only game on the market if you want a new title. Thankfully for fans, the up-and-down series has largely been a slam dunk this year as its consistently great gameplay is aided by a fantastic story mode and less invasive microtransactions.
There’s not a huge gameplay addition this year, but rather a polishing of a lot of rough edges. The past couple iterations have had some animation issues, but NBA 2K20 seems to be as close as perfect as possible when it comes to player movement. This is thanks to better foot planting and a wider range of ball handling styles. Pulling off pick and rolls and cutting through defenders has never been easier nor felt more natural.
The addition of WNBA teams is the major feature this year and it is a much overdo feature as NBA Live beat Visual Concepts to the punch by several years. In this case, it was worth the wait, as all of the league’s teams have been fully implemented and all their stars have been faithfully recreated in-game. What’s interesting is just how different WNBA games can feel from their male counterparts, as there is less of an emphasis on explosive plays and fast breaks. Instead, players have to keep the fundamentals in mind and come up with the best strategies. It’s a slightly slower paced affair, but it’s one that is just as rewarding as the main game.
NBA 2K20 Review | A career that has the player doing the right thing
Like many other sports titles, NBA 2K20 has dabbled with cinematic story modes for quite some time. However, many of their attempts have been rather disastrous like the so-bad-it’s-good story of Frequency Vibrations that Spike Lee did for NBA 2K16 called “Livin’ Da Dream.” This time around, Visual Concepts has teamed up with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment to craft a story about athletes standing up for what they believe in no matter what backlash may occur.
It’s definitely a very fitting story as we’ve seen Colin Kaepernick ostracized from the National Football League for taking a knee during the national anthem over the treatment of minorities in the country. Likewise, James hasn’t been afraid to say what he stands for and has always been on the pulse of social issues since coming into his own as not just a player, but as a role model. With a President that is more than willing to critique athletes — especially athletes of color — that don’t toe the line, this stand for individualism is more important than ever.
NBA 2K20 focuses on a college player nicknamed Che (which is how the game gets around the created player’s name in voiceovers), who sits out of a pivotal college basketball game after one of his teammates gets his scholarship revoked after tearing ligaments in his knee. It’s a rough way to end a collegiate career, and his stock in the upcoming NBA draft drops as a result. He’s seen as a selfish troublemaker, even though his act was selfless in nature. With this controversy comes some fame, as the player is interviewed on Desus and Mero and potentially gets a small film role, but the player has to focus on balancing their stardom with getting into the league. There’s a great line early on where Che is asked whether he sat out the game and he tells the reporter that he actually was standing up.
This is a recurring theme throughout the story, which goes through Che getting drafted and eventually competing in the NBA’s summer league. There’s not a ton of player choice, as it mostly focuses on how they perform on the court, thus showing that skill typically wins out in these situations. In a way it spotlights an unfair reality, that a player like James can be outspoken due to his value to his team, while a good, yet not great, player like Kaepernick is ultimately disposable despite being unafraid to speak up. These type of double-standards are explored within the short story, but it makes a statement that people need to do the right thing even when it won’t always make a difference. An individual might not be able to do something significant but millions coming together can.
NBA 2K20 Review | Some old problems are still present
The story produced by James and Maverick is fantastic, but it just leads into the standard MyCareer mode that fans are all too familiar with. There’s the occasional cutscene and interaction with other players, but it mostly exists to funnel players into buying virtual currency so they can improve their baller quickly. Thankfully, the game doesn’t have quite as predatory microtransactions as past titles in the sense that the progression isn’t as slow as Shaquille O’Neal in 2011.
Likewise, there are some disappointing modes and limitations in NBA 2K20. For one, the inclusion of WNBA stars feels half-done considering you can’t do a MyCareer with them or a franchise mode. They’re limited to a seasonal offering. Hopefully, it is expanded on in the future but both FIFA and NBA Live have been equally as limiting to how they treat women’s sports. On top of that, MyTeam is still the boring Ultimate Team rip-off it has always been, and you can play as the classic characters elsewhere so there really is no appeal, and if you didn’t like it then, you still won’t like it now.
NBA 2K20‘s fantastic feel on the courts and how its main modes work as advertised are the most important parts. Some of the secondary additions might be lacking when compared to the polish seen in the new cinematic story mode, but they still serve their purpose to flesh out the package. Not only is this the first time that NBA 2K20 has done a story mode the right way, it has focused on important subject matter that is worth celebrating. In an industry that seems to shy away from being the slightest bit political in nature, even in games about war and international conflict, NBA 2K20‘s commitment to saying something is admirable. It is happy to stand on the side of social justice and the importance of making a stand when it matters, showing that there is more to life than basketball, even if that basketball part is really damn good.
GameRevolution reviewed NBA 2K20 on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.