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NBA 2K15 gets back in the game: A look at the expanded career modes

Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K franchise has set the high water mark for annual sports games. NBA 2K14 was one of the best-received launch titles for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, so 2K15 has big shoes to fill.

Will it live up to those high expectations? We snagged an early look at the October 7, and it looks like status quo for the traditionally excellent sports sim series.

Story/Concept

Durant Durant. Cover athlete Kevin Durant is providing more than just basketball expertise for NBA 2K15—he’s also a huge fan of the franchise, with over 80 hours logged on NBA 2K14’s MyCareer mode. Durant wasn’t the only fan of the last iteration’s solo story mode, since Visual Concepts told us that players logged more hours there than in head-to-head games.

Franchise star. Your journey in MyCareer will begin as an undrafted rookie. Soon after joining a team, a more experienced player will become your mentor. In response to community feedback from NBA 2K14, the story will be follow a less linear path this time around, with decision points branching off in meaningfully different narrative paths. The story’s action will be focused on the court and interactions with your team.

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Running the show. For fans of the higher-level organization, MyGM mode offers another RPG-like story progression. You start as a newly-hired rookie GM and work your way up. Gaining experience will increase your abilities in areas like persuasion and negotiations so you can better manage the inevitable ego clashes that will come up when dealing with players and owners.

As before you will have the choice to simulate or play out each game. This time around you will have a finer degree of control over the simulated games, however, setting strategic goals for the team.

Unlike NBA 2K14, the characters in these story modes will have a memory and actually hold you accountable to your promises. Before, if an upset player complained to you that they weren’t getting enough time on the court, the act of simply promising to give them more minutes was enough to placate. Now characters will keep track of whether or not you deliver on your word, and respond accordingly. A rival GM that you shunned early in your career might just refuse to deal with you when you’re looking to trade.

Bird’s eye view. MyGM and MyCareer are designed to dangle the RPG-progression carrot for players that might not otherwise be inclined to delve into everything NBA 2K15 has to offer. MyLeague, on the other hand, offers a strictly mechanical version of the MyGM perspective to hardcore fans that don’t want a scripted narrative, but rather prefer to tell their own story over the course of a season.

Gameplay

Nothing to fix. Visual Concepts shook up the control scheme in NBA 2K14 with the addition of the Pro Stick for a finer degree of control over the ball. That widely praised feature makes a return, and this is actually the first iteration of the series in awhile that doesn’t substantially overhaul the control scheme. The developers found something good in 2013’s game, and NBA 2K15’s controls are just a refinement.

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Nothing but net. The Shot Meter beneath your player also makes a return, but with a twist. NBA 2K is a simulation game first and foremost, so the success and failure of your actions is determined by skill values, situational modifiers, and virtual dice-rolling, like a closeted Dungeon Master.

In NBA 2K14 this meant that if you set up a shot perfectly, there was still some percentage chance that you would fail from a bad roll. No one likes feeling helpless when the random numbers don’t go their way, so Visual Concepts has a compromise.

The various modifiers to a shot’s success are added up and define the width of the timing window you have to hit it. A more challenging shot will have a less forgiving window, but a skilled player can still pull it off. The difficulty adapts to your skill as play progresses, though, so if you’re one of those elite gamers with perfect twitch control who hits it every time, the windows will shrink down to keep you honest, since even the best ballers don’t always succeed in real life.

Artificial team play. AI has been overhauled to make virtual players more responsive. The developers have added decision points into the virtual players’ tactical scripts so they can better adapt to your actions. No longer will you be able to recognize a play and simply position yourself just right to intercept—they’re on to you.

Teams will also have better defined strategic characters based on their real life analogues. Previously, every team defaulted to the same 3-out, 2-in configuration. Now each moment on the clock will have its own signature strategy, giving them a unique feel to play against.

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Fantasy card collecting. MyTeam is back as NBA 2K15’s card-collecting fantasy mode. Booster packs can be bought or earned, but to mitigate pay-to-win, there will be restrictions in place to ensure fair matches at lower levels. An auction house has been added to sell off duplicate cards for in-game currency. There will also be weekly challenges for further rewards, which will change over time based on community suggestions.

Presentation

Get in the game. When you first boot it up NBA 2K15 presents you with the option to scan your face with the Kinect or PlayStation 4 Eye camera. This will let you give your MyPlayer a true, 3D representation of your face. After scanning, you will be able to modify it further to correct any mistakes that the camera or nature made. Visual Concepts has scanned every player in the NBA using technology like this (give or take a few stragglers), up from the 80-percent or so last year.

Eye candy. NBA 2K14 set the bar for next-gen graphics when it was re-released for PS4 and Xbox One, and 2K15 refines that even further. Close up, the players are still mired in the Uncanny Valley of dead-eyed stares, but you will never get close enough to be unsettled by it in the course of actual gameplay.

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There are over 6,000 animations for on the court action, with a particular emphasis on smoother movement and an impactful sense of contact between players. Better AI for individual players will allow them to more accurately assess distances and respond proportionately, whereas last year they tended to overcompensate and look jittery as a result. The movement is so much smoother looking that at times it almost seems slowed down relative to NBA 2K14.

The studio has also given special attention to accurately recreating the experience of both live and televised games. Cheerleaders, mascots, and dynamic crowds will all help to get your adrenaline pumping like you’re really there.

Takeaway

Visual Concepts has a good thing going with NBA 2K, and shows no sign of losing momentum with NBA 2K15. If NBA 2K14 was the studio’s (successful) initial attempt to retrofit a last-gen game to the new hardware, then NBA 2K15 aims to take those lessons to the next level with a game that’s truly native to the newer platforms. The sixteenth installment of NBA 2K arrives on October 7, 2014 for PlayStation, Windows, and Xbox platforms.