NBA 2K20 is free for PlayStation Plus users until August 3. For PlayStation 4 owners, this is a noteworthy inclusion because Xbox owners were the only ones who got the chance to play the game for free last year. For 2K fans, this is the first time that an entry has been free for PS4 owners since it was a free game back in June 2016 for NBA 2K16.
I grew up with my beloved Houston Rockets seemingly always on in the background, but I personally have not purchased and dedicated time to a 2K basketball title since NBA 2K13. As the years went on and my passion grew for baseball, my NBA fandom became something barely a notch above casual. I know most of the players on the Rockets, most of the league’s stars and our “Moreyball” approach to games, but I am clueless when it comes to strategies, other teams’ roster depth and the general power balance of the NBA.
I would play 2K over the years with friends and family members, only to find myself down 30 points by halftime. They all ended with very thoughtful and respectful “we can play something else if you want” mercy rules. In other words, I am a “beginner” by every definition of the word.
For a long time, I looked at the 2K series as a dastardly steep uphill learning curve. That being said, over the course of the last year I’ve been paying more attention to strategies and taking the time to actually learn basketball concepts as opposed to passively watching.
So how is NBA 2K20 for beginners? Is it worth the time investment and roughly 60 GB of hard drive space?
The On-Court Learning Curve
For those who are familiar with the series but have simply just taken off a couple years, I think you will be able to adjust with relative ease. You will find familiar successes and frustrations alongside a smoother on-court game, and it should not take too long for you to rebuild your familiarity with the mechanics.
For newcomers, I strongly advise you play a few games and get a feel for how 2K20 feels on-court before setting up a franchise mode or giving up on the game entirely. If you are coming from NBA Live, Jam, Hangtime, Street, Ballers or even an earlier 2K title, try your favorite team out for multiple games to better understand the pacing, speed and movement. I did this in conjunction with the very helpful and occasionally overwhelming 2KU to address the biggest holes in my game.
I was able to pinpoint how exactly to set up the alley-oop on a fast break, all of my options for on-ball defense and how to trigger each specific shot while driving to the hoop — among other opportunities. In addition to per-move advanced tutorials (something that I wish EA’s NHL series would further implement), there is a single-player shootaround option, as well as a five-on-five scrimmage mode that is completely devoid of a shot clock. Starting at the beginning of 2KU’s training will provide unfamiliar players with a considerable toolset and is one of the best training modes in sports gaming.
After my training period, I came to the conclusion that the key to NBA 2K20 is patience. You need to be patient when picking out your shot, when you miss three shots in a row and see a comfortable lead dwindle, and when you jump into your first game and feel muscle memory kick in. Holding the sprint button and forcing opportunities will just lead to bad shots and turnovers. Putting a stop to these old habits and re-learning to play is crucial to maximizing the NBA 2K20 experience.
2K sets the bar for sports titles when it comes to presentation. We have a digital Ernie Johnson digitally riffing with digital Shaq and digital Kenny Smith at halftime, folks. The loading screens have similar production value to the Inside The NBA broadcasts.
Videos auto-play and let players know about 2K20 community efforts, and during games NBA players’ avatars have digitized interviews that feel like real-life broadcast cutaways. NBA 2K20’s loading screens alone have more production value and create more of an environment than some other AAA sports titles do in their entire presentation package. Oh, and then the game throws you into the same camera angle used in local and national NBA broadcasts. For those who do not play the 2K series with any sort of regularity, it is an incredibly impressive ensemble.
Real-life NBA announcers and reporters look and sound great, and somehow the dialogue has yet to get repetitive or sound too canned. Certain bits of commentary are also completely skippable, which is lovely to see when time is tight. Additionally, it can lead to a hysterical combination of David Aldridge being cut-off mid-word, the arena buzzer sounding, and then Kevin Harlan’s “thanks, David!” feeling like he just dismissed what Aldridge had to say.
Presentation can keep players immersed in their environment, but few things in gaming are worse than unskippable presentation scenes. Thankfully, NBA 2K20 does an excellent job in keeping these optional and preserving the flow of the game.
World-Class Franchise Mode
MyLeague is an absolute triumph and a hallmark for franchise modes. The levels of customization are really remarkable, especially considering the abundance of legends in the game. Over 60 legendary teams over the course of the NBA’s history are playable from the start, but franchise teams can be edited to feature whatever teams you want. So if you want to drop your current favorite team into a mosh pit of classic NBA teams (such as the ’00-’01 Los Angeles Lakers, ’85-’86 Boston Celtics, or the ’97-’98 Chicago Bulls) you can. If you want a league of every franchise’s All-Time teams (comprised of rosters past and present from the team’s entire history), you can build that out as well.
With the “Start Today” option, you can jump into a franchise with the current day’s collection of rosters and standings. It will be interesting to see how this feature functions with the season resuming on July 30. They even have a standalone WNBA season mode for the game’s first-ever licensed WNBA players. Customizable GM tendencies, strong roster customization tools, and seemingly endless creativity really make the mode shine and give players of all skill levels a lot of tools with which to play.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the MyCareer/Road to the Show/Superstar mode single-player career modes, but 2K20 also features its trademark narrative-driven take. Fun celebrity cameos aside, the game has been brutalized in the press for its reliance on microtransactions in recent years. With that in mind, the best course of action is to go into it with caution and try it out because some end up loving MyCareer and doing nothing but that. However, it’s just not really for me.
MyTeam & Microtransactions
There is some fun to be had with MyTeam, but it will look very overwhelming at first. There’s a good amount of currently existing free content to give new players a head start: 22 or so free packs, player’s choice of an evolution legend card that can be upgraded over time (I picked Hakeem Olajuwon over Tracy McGrady), and some random packs handed out for exploring the menus.
When all was said and done, I had a starting five that included rookie Hakeem Olajuwon, Draymond Green and Ricky Rubio. Plenty of offline content and fun modes (such as Triple Threat) made MyTeam more enticing than I thought it would be when I jumped into it, and for a moment I braced myself for another card collecting mode obsession.
However, once I learned about the contracts mechanism, I immediately lost interest in MyTeam. I play Diamond Dynasty in MLB The Show, and once you unlock a card, it is yours to use and play with to your heart’s content. Contracts in NBA 2K20 are separate cards that are required for your MyTeam players to play in a game. If you run out of contracts for a certain player, you cannot play with them until you get more contracts.
Considering the costs of some of these cards and the additional grind to farm for some of them, the idea that I could often find myself stuck without the opportunities to play my best players lead to me writing off MyTeam altogether. Maybe I will revisit it in the future, but MyLeague’s customization depth will be more than enough for me.
Should You Download NBA 2K20?
You don’t need to be a die-hard basketball fan to enjoy this game, so NBA 2K20 is worth checking out on PS Plus for stronger reasons than it just being free. It’s fun, engaging on-court gameplay is stretched out by remarkable customization over a ton of different modes that offer something for every level of player. Download it, play a few warm-up games, hop into 2KU to improve your skills, and then settle in to a long, engrossing season in MyLeague, MyTeam or MyCareer.
Its inclusion for PS Plus comes at an excellent time in quarantine as professional sports ramp up, especially considering that the NBA, NHL and MLB have tangible schedules that promise games in the coming weeks. If anything, NBA 2K20 is a brand-new, 100 percent free new hobby to take up at a time when quarantine still has many of us looking for that next distraction.