In something that is not meant to be a compliment or insult, but merely an observation about something every single basketball fan knows, NBA 2K20 is exactly what you expect it to be. The game is the game, as it has always been the game, meaning that, obviously, the latest edition of the game would be, well, the game.
That’s a lot of typing the same thing over and over, but let’s face it: Talking about the latest 2K release is going to have an air of repetition to it. For all the changes you’ll see in gameplay, for how realistic developers try to make it feel, for how noticeable the improvements in the act of actually playing basketball in the best basketball sim out there, it’s still familiar. It is exceedingly rare that 2K will ever make some gigantic, sweeping changes to the game, instead opting to make little tweaks — they may make a number of them, but it’s hard to make a basketball game into much more.
First, the good. The game is fun, and you can feel the various gameplay changes (which you can read about in depth here). I was a big fan of the new Signature Dribbling Styles, particularly when I am using a lightning-quick point guard. Having to stay in front of De’Aaron Fox is awfully tough, and it’s good that the game recognized that ball handlers are vastly different in what makes them tough to check. There’s also the game’s new Motion Engine, which does feel different in a good way. This is, admittedly, a vague description, but it’s one that makes sense to anyone who has felt the subtle ways a 2K game changes from year to year.
Regardless, playing basketball in the game is fun. It’s a simple thing, but it is awfully easy for the folks behind sports games — the ones tasked with the thankless job of building out a virtual world in which you participate in all of this — to drop the proverbial ball in major ways. But at the end of the day, it’s an enjoyable video game experience, which is all you can ask for if you turn to these sorts of games as a way to kill time and turn your brain off for a while.
The MyPlayer mode features a new story, one that’s pretty solid as well. It just makes more sense than what 2K rolled out there last year — your path is one that takes you from a college player to the NBA. There are bumps in the road, but it makes so much more sense to do this (college –> pre-draft process, including the combine –> NBA Draft –> Summer League) than last year’s story that involved going to China and a strange portrayal of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The story flows, your play improves as you go through the story, and at a tidy three hours or so, you can get through it in a day before embarking on an NBA career. Plus it makes fun of the NCAA! What’s not to like?
There’s also more customization of your player in terms of what they are and what they can become as a basketball player. There are still archetypes of players, but there’s more flexibility in what your player will end up being, which is nice. Still, it can be a bit much. For example, while they all do a good job with their roles, every time Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, or Thomas Middleditch pop up on screen (which is a lot), all I can ever think is why? How could the projected return on investment that came from getting these three folks in the story mode been more worthwhile than investing in other elements of the game?
The cut scenes can also be a lot — I vividly remember one stretch where you spend so much time watching the various scenes that my TV got a little dim because I had not touched my controller in a while. Because I did not need to. Because I resigned myself to watching all the scenes for the purpose of this review. Brands also continue to have a major hand in the mode; there is one conversation about Gatorade my player had with Karl-Anthony Towns that made me laugh out loud. And while I did not run into any of these, a quick Twitter search will show you that the game has its glitchy moments as well.
This is about the point where we should get into the microtransactions. Candidly, I probably should have led off with this, but seeing as how I am not a 13 year old who stole my parents’ credit card out of one of their wallets while they weren’t paying attention, I am not the target audience for the whole microtransaction thing. The concept of buying Virtual Currency (VC) is the driving force behind large swaths of MyCareer and MyTeam modes and it has a role in MyGM. It is nothing short of baffling. You are asked to pay $60, $80, or $100 to purchase the game, then the best way to get ahead in these modes is to pour more money into VC.
You do not need me to lecture you about this, because you know exactly what I am talking about if you have ever played a 2K game before — it’s a way to improve your player, or purchase apparel, or get new animation packages, or more packs in MyTeam. It is obviously something that works for 2K Sports as a source of extra revenue, but still, it would have been nice to see the game start to get away from this instead of, say, adding a casino and a daily spin wheel where you can win, among other things, more VC.
— NBA 2K20 (@NBA2K) September 19, 2019
In the end, if you can get past the microtransaction stuff and don’t get bored with the repetition that is inherent in any sports game, you’ll like NBA 2K20. There’s so much to like in the game: the tweaks to gameplay, the concise story, etc. Outside of the inclusion of squads from the WNBA, a welcomed addition and something the game should have done a long time ago, it’s basically what you expect out of the latest release in the NBA 2K series. This is a slight against it if you’re not a big fan, but if you’re the type who loves 2K, this as positive of an endorsement as you can get.