Hoops fans, rejoice! Another installment in the annual basketball simulation has arrived with the release of NBA 2K20. From single-player modes to competitive online play, there is something for everyone here and anticipation has been at a fever pitch. Does NBA 2K20 live up to the rabid expectations of virtual hardwood fans or does it take a step back like a Harden three pointer?
What I Like
Dribbling has always been separated by animation tiers in past NBA 2Ks. It didn’t matter if you were a freight train like LeBron James or a fancy dribbler like Kyrie Irving, once they met an arbitrary threshold, dribblers became essentially the same. In NBA 2K20, there are now 27 distinct dribbling styles.
The different dribbling styles add variety to how players move and set up. LeBron now power dribbles through and past defenders on his way to the hoop. A speedy guard like De’Aaron Fox uses crossovers and sudden changes of direction to get himself open. It all adds to a more immersive and varied experience to ball handling.
In NBA 2K20 players finally feel like they are playing on their feet rather than on skates. Much of the gliding that plagued past NBA 2K games is gone. Players cut, stutter-step, and jump in a much more natural way than before. It’s still not perfect and there are animations that will still suck two players together, but it’s an improvement.
Where the player motion really shines is with off-ball cutting. It adds an extra layer to playing defense and the AI is good at using back cuts and cuts off screens to free up a player to score. It takes some getting used to as a user has to determine which way to break, but it makes for a beautiful flow to offense.
A controversial opinion: shooting has finally been fixed. Yes, it’s slower and requires badges to truly be an excellent Curry-like shooter in MyCareer. The online community has already voiced its displeasure with badges like quick draw and much harder shooting, but this is the most balanced and realistic representation of shooting in some time.
Curry finally feels like Curry, and some of the instances of glass cleaners shooting lights out from 3-point range have been addressed. One of the things that helps balance the shooting in NBA 2K20 is that there is now a sliding scale that determines penalties for bad shot timing based on distance. The further out a player is, the harsher the penalty for bad timing.
However, it is another aspect of the game that isn’t perfect. With the badges taking so long to get and being so important this year, there are a bit too many misses on wide open shots. Layups remain a legacy issue, as well. There are way too many misses on layups leading to missed layup-offensive rebound-missed layup loops. With that in mind, jump shooting is a plus in NBA 2K20.
The ladies are finally represented in NBA 2K20 in both Play Now and Season mode. Every team from the WNBA from the Las Vegas Aces to Washington Mystics is included and the player models are spot on. Particularly good are the hair styles for the WNBA players. While there are a few longer hairstyles for the men, the options for the women are extremely true to life and will flow and bounce realistically during game action.
There is an entire set of animations for the WNBA stars that have been added to NBA 2K20. Sue Bird’s signature jumper is in as well as Elena Delle Donne’s historically accurate free throw motion. The WNBA players don’t need to soar above the rim to make an impact (though there are some that can dunk) as being smaller on average than the men, means better spacing overall.
If there is one area in which the WNBA experience falls short, it’s that the countless female players of NBA 2K20 can’t create an avatar of their own for MyCareer. While it would understandably be odd from a story perspective, not being able to make a female MyPlayer once the story is complete is a missed opportunity. Here is hoping that this lack of story and MyCareer inclusion is addressed for next year.
Game Modes – Single Player
The same is true for NBA 2K20 as had been true for the past number of years: NBA 2K is the most varied and impressive sports game in the genre for sheer amount of content. Between single-player modes and online play, no other game can touch 2K. There is literally something for everyone.
The new MyPlayer Builder is particularly impressive this year. There may not have been as much customization as the developers let on, and the pie chart system is another way to present archetypes (so it’s still limited), but it is a step in the right direction in terms of player agency. Players can increase any attribute in any order and badges can be chosen or adjusted whenever a badge upgrade is acquired. It’s not quite the level of agency as there was before archetypes, but it’s close.
Pairing with the MyPlayer Builder is the all new MyCareer story. Heavy production went into this story and it shows. Actors like Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson look great and play their parts brilliantly. The story, while heavy handed and sort of unrealistic at the same time, is still one of the better storylines that has been in NBA 2K. The theme of being more than an athlete resonates along with the current atmosphere of the NBA in 2019, and it is interesting to try and become a mogul and legend on and off the court.
MyLeague remains largely the same, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it is easily the deepest franchise mode in all of sports games. Relocation, team finances, full support staffs and more are all included. Menus can be a bit confusing but there is a ton of content here for rabid basketball fans. There are a couple significant bugs that pop up as you progress through seasons (certain tendency sliders go haywire, and progression is odd for G League players) but I’m hopeful stuff like that can be patched soon enough.
MyGM gets a tweak for those who enjoy a more narrative franchise experience. Dubbed MyGM 2.0, this year’s version now has daily action points and a new skill tree. This makes every decision and action more critical since players are limited to the amounts of things they can accomplish on any given day because now there is a leaderboard. Having to use an action point to play a game is a drag leading to many auto sims, but it’s still a good representation of the busy lifestyle of an NBA GM. This change will be controversial for some, but I don’t know how popular the mode is among those here at OS or overall, so the change could help bring some more people into the fold or scare off those who stuck around.
Another big win for NBA 2K20’s MyGM is that, unlike last year, it takes less than a minute of cutscenes to get into the meat of the mode. There are no Sandersons or Tex cutscenes to slog through, instead it’s a quick meeting with the team governor and into the heart of MyGM. Saving the best for last, throughout my playthrough of MyGM, I found no microtransactions. Instead of buying skill points with VC, actions earn XP at a regular clip and the skill tree makes it easier to get the skills each player prefers.
This is another area where NBA 2K20 outshines the competition. Kevin Harlan and crew (including a rotating cast of color commentators depending on location) flow together seamlessly and help keep players in the action. Likewise, the best pre and postgame show in sports is back with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaq providing a TV-style atmosphere to the game that really provides immersion each game.
New splash screens and a brighter color palette really make visuals pop. Skin tones have been further refined and made to look more realistic. Overall, the polish of the graphics is enough that one wonders how close 2K is in maxing out what they can do on current hardware. Overall, this is a beautiful game.
What I Don’t Like
Buckle up, because this is where NBA 2K20 really struggles. The number one trend on video game Twitter was the hashtag #fix2K20 and it’s easy to see why that’s the case. It seems like every year NBA 2K launches with bugs and glitches, but this year it’s even worse than usual. Players have reported not getting online rep or badge progression while other players, like Operation Sports’ own Joel Smith, had their MyPlayer glitch out and become unplayable.
I experienced my own legacy glitch with tattoos disappearing from MyPlayer. It’s one thing for a game to launch with glitches — that happens all the time. The real issue is that this is a game steeped with microtransactions and these glitches are potentially causing people to lose out on in-game items that cost real money.
It’s a widespread problem that goes far beyond MyCareer. As of this writing, I have been unable to play any part of MyTeam because the game disconnects me every time that I try to open any card packs. Those who have been able to play have discovered game breaking bugs that allow for unlimited tokens. This completely skews the market and affects the entire mode.
That brings us to the servers. Once again, 2K launches a game with servers that are woefully unprepared to handle the amount of people who want to play the game. Even before the launch for the general public, there were reports of people being disconnected and that delays were crashing games.
Park games still take far too long to get into and half the time courts are bugged to the point that games won’t initiate. Pro-Am teams have been completely deleted and matchmaking is still sketchy at best. At this point, the server issues are expected to be an inevitability. With events and seasonal cycles in the Neighborhood looking to be more graphics-intensive than ever, it’s curious to see if the servers will be able to be addressed or if events will remain broken as they have been in the past.
Beyond that, there are various frame hiccups throughout each mode. During games, if the camera is too close or if you are in a fast break situation, there is noticeable frame drops and stuttering (at least on the PS4). The same is true for MyCareer cutscenes and transitions between menus. Lastly, these are some of the longest loading times I’ve ever seen in an NBA 2K game, with some loading screens taking upwards of 90 seconds to complete.
Passing And Rebounding
This is the biggest hiccup in the core gameplay. Passing and rebounding retain many of the legacy issues that have plagued the game in the past. Fast breaks don’t work right as passes often cause the receiver to lose momentum and allow the defense to catch up.
Lob passes into the post are too flat and will be intercepted, especially with a fronting defender. Alley-oops are very inconsistent in terms of the pass tracking the lob catcher. Sometimes it will go high above the player’s head and at other times it will track to the hand on a line drive. It is unrealistic and quite ugly looking.
Bounce pass physics are very inconsistent. Sometimes the ball is kicked, other times it goes right through a defender. They also lack context, with a 60-foot bounce pass often at the same bounce height as a 6-foot bounce pass. As someone who loves assists, this is very disappointing.
Rebounding is also something that feels unpolished. The ball will too often bounce on the ground even when a player is jumping for the rebound. This is especially true for those who have a lower rebounding rating, like guards. There are also times when the ball bounces weirdly on the rim or gets stuck on the back of the rim until the game decides to roll it weakly to one side or the other. I would also argue rebounding still favors the offense in terms of collecting their own shots, especially around the hoop.
While the CPU runs a brilliant offense and can quickly jump out to a big lead, it’s a shame that the defense isn’t quite as good. The AI makes odd decisions on the fast break like covering wing players while leaving the lane wide open to the ball handler. In 5-on-5 gameplay it is easy enough to switch over, but in MyCareer games it leads to teammates giving up easy buckets.
Double team AI is also not working as intended. I know there is a hot fix coming that may or may not be released at this point, but the CPU will often double team a ball handler in the backcourt based on a few made baskets. This has the unintended consequence of leaving a free runner to the hoop. This is a very exploitable part of the AI and handcuffs the defense. Even in halfcourt sets, the rotations for doubles are off and often a post player is left all alone for easy layups. It’s an odd misstep that mars such good gameplay. To expand even further, 2K has done an amazing job adding tons of different defensive styles, that should be the focus of the AI rather than going more for so many double teams, a tactic that in the NBA is used more as a change of pace or a surprise than a game plan for stopping a player.
NBA 2K20 plays a remarkably realistic game of basketball. There is more jam packed in this game than anyone could have asked for and that ends up being part of the problem. NBA 2K20 can’t get out of its own way and it’s in part due to their own ambition. They were so focused on creating as much content as possible that they once again failed to make sure that what was there already worked. In addition, it’s easy to argue they are trying to be the master of everything, and therefore it makes all their modes the master of none.
The core gameplay is so good, but the game is bogged down by so many technical issues that it’s hard to truly dive in and lose yourself in your mode of choice. On top of that, players are encountering bugs that are costing them real world dollars. The inevitable patches will sort out many of the online issues and glitches, but the sour taste is already there with the consumers.
In the end, it’s a shame that the game launched in its current state but it’s hardly unexpected. It’s now a standard that the first month is essentially a retail beta when it comes to NBA 2K. From no progression and disappearing names to a completely broken MyTeam, this is the buggiest launch since NBA 2K18 was deleting entire MyCareer saves.
As someone who loves basketball and NBA 2K, it hurts me to have such a negative opinion on the current state of the game. I want to be able to recommend this game to everyone and I hope the devs fix everything soon. When it works, NBA 2K20 is one of the best in the entire series, but those moments are too few and far between.