A 1985 study from scholars at Cornell and Stanford refuted the notion of shooting streaks in professional basketball. The researchers asserted that people mistakenly attribute successions of successful shots as ‘hot hands’, when every attempt is really just another instance of good, old probability. To that effect, the latest effort from the Visual Concepts seem to both substantiate and refute the nature of rhythms.
Let’s face it, even after a lavish number of patches and tweaks were applied, last year’s outing was rather lackluster. NBA 2K18 exhibited a number of fundamental issues, with game debilitating bugs, tedious cutscenes, and presence of nagging micro-transactions bringing the title down. Undoubtedly, many assumed that this year’s iteration would follow suit. But agreeably, NBA 2K19 fixes many key issues. It’ll be interesting to see if any post-release amendments can turn the game’s fate around any further, reversing last season’s loss.
In the offseason, 2K19 perceptibly improved its defensive game. Last year, the AI had a number of exploitable weaknesses, and a defender who got caught in traffic could give you enough space for an easy bucket. This time out, CPU-controlled players are a little smarter, making improvisation necessary. Last season, lay-ups could earn an easy two, but now the game forces you to work for every point. As such, you’ll need to constantly read the entire court, calling for a screen or dishing for a two or three-pointer instead of relying on a few quarter-circles to slink your way through the key.
Adjustments were made to shooting, and now, you’ll see the shot meter every time, even for layups. The timing of your release has troubled some players in the past. But with 2K19, you’re given coaching each time you put the ball up, which is advantageous because different types of shots fill the meter at different speeds. Jumpers have been tweaked, and now if you’re uncontested you’ll throw up fewer bricks. The refs seem to have visited the optometrist during the summer, and now they’ll see and more importantly, call players who blatantly lay on the steal button. And while players collision detection isn’t quite where it should be, 2K19 acknowledges size and strength when contact is made.
The game’s most remarkable change stems from the integration of the Takeover meter, which tracks streaks during games. Hit a couple of consecutive shots and you’ll might have the option to activate a mode that temporary increases your chance of sinking the next one. And if you have enough chemistry, Team Takeovers can bolster all five players. But unlike the signature ‘on fire’ mechanic of say, NBA Jam, takeover is lot more nuanced. 2K19 tracks rhythms in nine different ways, offensively and defensively, with cool perks like revealing where a missed shot will bounce. Cleverly, cold streaks are also integrated, factoring in a loss of morale after a few bricks. Sure, streaks might be disproven in real life, but 2K19’s Takeovers amplify the excitement of match-ups.
Last year’s MyCareer mode was held back by storytelling that was cringe-inducing at times. This year’s role-playing-like component is significantly improved. Venturing into the create-a-player suite reveals an upgraded, yet still not yet spotless component where you’ll build the appearance of your virtual athlete. After that, you’ll witness your eager young athlete fail to get picked up during the NBA draft, instigating a trip to China to play for the Shanghai Bears.
With nuanced writing and capable voice works from actors like Haley Joel Osment, Anthony Mackie, Ricky Whittle, and Aldis Hodge, it’s clear that a lot of care when into the narrative, entitled “The Way Back”. Your player’s journey to China is skillfully realized, as he struggles with both the language barrier and some of the cultural subtleties. Pleasingly, there’s both sensitivity and authenticity present, with characterization that shirks stereotype as well as dialog and play-by-play in Mandarin. While your player is destined to move back to the United States, there’s was a tinge of melancholy when I left Asia.
The game’s Indiana-based G-Leagues aren’t handled with as much sensitivity, with some tropey takes on the mid-west. But it’s here that the MyCareer substantiates your character’s transition from arrogant upstart to polished professional. And while the narrative’s conclusion tugs at the limits of believability, it’s obvious that Visual Concepts is listening to its audience. One of the biggest complains last year was that the cinematic elements were uninterruptable. Now, a button hold let’s you bypass any of them.
2K18’s incorporation of VC, a form of in-game currency, that goaded gamers into opening their wallets have been scaled back a bit. Many of the most brazen requests have been toned down, and technically, players can just pay money to augment their athlete. Instead, there are a succession of objectives that must be met before you can bypass stat limits as well as badges and XP that must be earned through play at the virtual gym. The amount of VC you earn has been improved, but you’ll probably have to decide between stat boosts and clothing if your disinclined to spend real-world money.
Understandably, VC is a contentious subject for many players. For their perspective, 2K was still forcefully asserting for additional money, even after they had seemingly stopped patching 2K18’s multitude of issues. If you were completely disgusted by the practice, the ubiquitous branding and ability to wager VC on games is certain to solidify your stance.
2K19’s MyGM builds on last season’s component with “The Saga Continues”. Compared to MyCareer’s storytelling, the mode feels like it was scripted by Visual Concept’s own D-League, with the team’s owner character, a Stetson-wearing gentleman named Tex Towers, espousing venerable southern stereotypes. And given the amount of detail here, with everything from financials, drafting, staffing, expansion, to fret over, the characterization and writing can feel shallow. But with the ability to take complete control of an expansion team and adjust everything from team logos, courts, as well as the responsibility of day to day tasks should please sports strategists. Mercifully, you can opt for the General Manager experience that removes such of the long-winded, all too frequently tangential banter, and focus on the essentials.
Last year’s Neighborhood element floundered in an attempt to create a social hub for 2K players. All too often, it channeled the lack of focus and obvious marketing ambitions of Sony’s failed Home project. Players wandered around a region filled with fellow white shirt-clad athletes, until they spent VC to endow their digital denizen with distinction. This year, the cash grab is cloaked a bit more discretely while other advancements are distinguishable.
Now, it’s much more centralized, removing the need to run or take a subway to reach different parts of the map. Under Armour-branded Cages bring spirited trampolining and wall-passing into 2K’s metropolis, which are a lot of fun. Contributions like dodgeball, red ball-blue ball, and trivia usher in a carnival-like feeling, with the prospect of winning perks like t-shirts and VC. And yes, you can now run like Naruto, famed Hero of the Hidden Leaf.
Presentation-wise, the franchise has always excelled, and 2K19 upholds dominance in the sport’s game arena. Four-fifth’s on TNT’s Inside the NBA are on hand, and if 2K could add Charles Barkley into the jovial jousting between Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ernie Johnson, it could be easily become a highlight for franchise with a multitude of praiseworthy elements. Once a match begins, the virtual broadcast booth of Kevin Harlan, Bill Simmons, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant is remarkably fluid, and could be mistaken for an actual televised game. Visually, 2K19’s stars have been given an upgrade, with cover star LeBron James, as well as Harden, Durant, Anthony, and bordering on photorealism at times. During replays, you can occasionally spot the labor lavished on the luminaries as they walk past the other teammates, making you wish the level of detail was universal. Sonically, the Travis Scott curated soundtrack shines, with modern hip-hop complemented by a bit of rock or EDM. A few more throw-back tracks would have been welcome, through.
Sure, there’s some still some significant problems, like the ubiquity of cheating on the PC platform and to a lesser extent, the push of VC. As such, potential purchasers should be well aware of these issues before stepping onto NBA 2K19’s courts. But at its core, this year’s iteration is a rousing success. Like a player who contemplated their deficiencies in the off-season, 2K19 improved its fundamental, making for an experience that embodies the physical prowess, speed, and skill of the game. Like many players, the game has one fixated on finesse, and the other, all too frequently on its bank account.
NBA 2K19 was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.