NBA 2K24 Review: Microtransactions Threaten to Sink Solid On-Court Action

For better or worse, NBA 2K24 represents the cutting edge of sports games, a glorious mash-up of sleek graphics, authentic gameplay, and unbridled greed. On one hand, it showcases the most true-to-life action on the basketball court that the series has ever produced, while on the other hand it shamelessly crams as many microtransactions as possible throughout the game’s most popular modes. This predictably ensures that the game is at its best when competing against the CPU and that anyone who wants to go head-to-head against others online in nearly any capacity will be enticed at every turn to dump real money into the game or risk being at a competitive disadvantage.

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With the late great Kobe Bryant gracing the cover of NBA 2K24, the game’s Mamba Moments is a wonderful tribute to the Lakers legend and a worthy successor to last year’s Jordan Moments. By refining and adding to the MyEras mode, NBA 2K24 sets a new bar for how to do a franchise mode right, allowing for an overwhelming amount of customization for how you want to play through seasons. Even the instant replays represent the peak of innovation that you’ll find in a sports title, introducing new photo moments that are capable of producing some jaw-dropping visuals. The downside is how those aforementioned microtransactions manage to infest and compromise a couple of the game’s best modes, making it more difficult to enjoy both the create-a-player MyCareer and the card-collecting MyTeam.

Let’s tip this off and go hard in the paint on what parts of NBA 2K24 are hitting nothing but net and where the game is throwing up some ugly bricks and even an occasional air-ball.

NBA 2K24 Review

What I Like

Mamba Moments

After highlighting the career of Michael Jordan in NBA 2K23 with a series of Jordan Moments, it was inevitable that NBA 2K24 would follow up number 23 with number 24 (or 8, depending on the era). Though not quite as comprehensive as the Jordan Moments, with only half as many playable games from Kobe Bryant’s storied career as MJ, the Mamba Moments are still a great way to re-live just a handful of Kobe’s incredible achievements.

For the younger crowd, it may even serve as a unique introduction to one the sport’s rare legends. You could quibble with the omission of some of his biggest moments (no 60-point final game of his career?), but there’s enough attention to detail in the presentation throughout to do justice to his greatness. Pro tip: if you’re struggling to re-create his gaudy stats in any of the moments, slide the difficulty down to rookie and you’ll find Kobe’s shots start falling like rain.

Gameplay

The NBA 2K series has already long had the kind of graphics that could easily pass for a TV broadcast at first glance, and NBA 2K24 manages to ascend to another level of realism. The movement of players and how bodies of various shapes and sizes collide with each other have been further polished. New ProPlay technology that makes it possible to translate action from real NBA games into animations without the use of motion capture succeeds in producing silky smooth action that can sometimes astound in its authenticity.

The way that shooting has been reworked for all difficulty levels makes it easier to find your ideal challenge and creates a decent skill gap for higher difficulties and in online play thanks to smaller windows to hit a perfect green release. On defense, there’s been an emphasis on reducing the amount of sliding that happens when trying to stay in front of your man, rewarding the ability to stay in position and in their hip pocket. The right stick now offers you more control in trying to attack with the correct hand when lunging for steals and keeping your hands active in passing lanes to deflect balls.

It must be said though that there’s still a latency problem plaguing online modes, resulting in input lag that’s been an ongoing problem in the series forever. It’s fairly inexcusable at this point when other sports games don’t have this same kind of problem online.

The intelligence of a CPU opponent is better than it has been in the past, transforming them into a more dynamic and challenging adversary, particularly on higher difficulties (HOF is pretty fun). They tend to stick to their strengths and exploit mismatches more now on offense, refusing to settle quite as often for the kind of contested outside shots and fadeaway prayers they would in the past (though they still inexplicably do sometimes, usually at the end of the shot clock). It’s harder to guard elite scorers, whether they’re bigs capable of bullying smaller defenders in the paint or shifty shooters ready to capitalize on the smallest sliver of separation to drain a three.

There remain a few areas where realism is lacking though, as the CPU is still not aggressive enough to draw fouls at a decent clip and you won’t see nearly as many fast-break points as you do in an actual NBA game.

MyNBA

Since NBA 2K23 already boasted the best franchise mode in any of the major sports titles, there wasn’t really much that had to be done in order to retain that title with NBA 2K24. It’s no big surprise then to find that the updates this year to the mode aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some meaningful changes nonetheless. For instance, the game builds off the MyNBA Eras that were added last year to let you start your franchise in different time periods throughout NBA history by introducing a new Lebron Era. This sees you either taking control of or else taking on the Miami Heat team from the 2000s.

A new simplified version of the franchise mode called MyNBA Lite is the perfect antidote for those who find the overall framework to be too complicated. By condensing your tasks to playing your games and making trades, it’s much easier to get through seasons without needing to concern yourself too much with convoluted things like the salary cap or luxury taxes.

Instant Replay

The instant replay system in NBA 2K24 sets a new standard for other games to match with its amount of depth and customization. The newest addition to what was already an impressive suite is photo moments, which allows you to easily save and share snapshots during the course of a game. Rather than simply freezing an instant replay to collect these shots, you have the opportunity instead to grab pictures from a variety of different cameras positioned throughout the arena, each with its own perspective of what happened.

You can then even add filters to your photos and adjust qualities like color grading and F-Stop if you’re so inclined. It’s as if developers were well aware of how immersive and true-to-life NBA 2K24 played and stayed ahead of the demand by implementing the kind replay technology that could properly translate how good it all looked.

What I Don’t Like

MyCareer

NBA 2K24‘s MyCareer career mode furthers the insidious trend in the series of enticing people into purchasing virtual currency so persistently that it borders on outright coercion. In the past, the main source of microtransactions was through clothes your avatar wears and improving the attributes of your player since you always start out as a 60 overall inept rookie. By keeping the amount of virtual currency that you earn through playing each game to a minimal amount, the game can lead many to understandably decide to speed up the process by buying their way to instant improvements.

NBA 2K24 takes this persuasive method one step further by targeting the badges that you earn throughout the mode to elevate your skills. Where you could previously progress these badges and then eventually upgrade them by playing games, this year is the first time that these badges can actually see regression if you aren’t regularly using the skills associated with them (apparently proving the long-standing theory that if you don’t use it, you lose it). You’re able to set floors to badges though and keep them from regressing too far by ascending to the higher levels (21 for silver badge floor setter and 40 for gold) by the end of the season.

How do you do this? Well, you can try achieving it by playing games online in various parks and gyms around The City’s new beach setting. But you’d better first make sure your overall rating is good enough to compete with others (and remember, that means probably spending $$$) and then be ready to devote nearly all of your time to the process. That’s because you progress so slowly through each level after every game you play that you will be left wishing there was some other way. Guess what? There is. You probably know where I’m going with this. That’s right, you can now purchase level skips that will get you all the way to level 40 where you can add those valuable badge floor setters right away. The synergy involved in bilking money from people’s pockets by preying on their insecurities really is so diabolical that it’s ingenious.

At least there’s a small amount of enjoyment to be found in MyCareer by avoiding online play, where you’re likely to be outmatched without shelling out the big bucks. The storyline doesn’t attempt to re-invent the wheel, sticking closely to a familiar script while shuffling around some of the details. This time around your character (nicknamed “MP” yet again) is from a long line of basketball greats, with both your father and your grandfather having played professionally. Aside from now being able to skip ahead to key matchups in your season, the cycle of playing games, attending postgame press conferences and journeying across the vast city for some silly cutscene with Ronnie 2K will probably get old fast even if you’re someone new to the mode. With how much money the game rakes in through the MyCareer mode, you’d hope for more than just the same old story from both the narrative and the mode’s incessant cash-grabs.

MyTeam

As you might expect, the prevalence of microtransactions is just as present in the card-collecting MyTeam mode as it is within MyCareer. You have the same opportunity to skip levels by purchasing them in order to collect rewards that would otherwise take a lot of time grinding to unlock. This can’t help but taint the idea of participating in any of MyTeam’s online modes, since you will regularly be forced there to go head-to-head against people who possess much better teams that they have chosen to purchase (even if Salary Cap mode is here again).

The removal of the auction house takes away the chance to get the most bang for your buck and coaxes you into spending any currency you earn on card packs that are just as likely to yield nothing of note rather than worthwhile upgrades to your squad. As with MyCareer though, you can squeeze some pleasure out of competing offline against the CPU in Domination, Triple Threat, or Challenges and by attempting to assemble the best squad possible without investing so much as a dime.

Bottom Line

NBA 2K24 delivers an impressively realistic and thrilling game of basketball, even if some of its best and most popular modes are effectively locked behind paywalls if you truly want to get the most enjoyment from them. Mamba Moments is the slam dunk that you would expect from re-living some of the biggest moments of Kobe Bryant’s career. The on-court gameplay itself has been further refined to make it almost indistinguishable at times from the real thing with the new ProPlay technology resulting in fluid movements as bodies of various sizes impact each other.

MyNBA’s franchise mode expands upon the Eras of last year to include Lebron’s Heat dynasty while MyNBA Lite makes running a team easier and more accessible. The introduction of Photo Moments within the instant replay functionality will have you frequently saving and revisiting striking images from games.

As good as the basketball can be when you’re in the thick of the action, the pervasive presence of microtransactions threatens to ruin the entire appeal of the game’s flagship modes. In MyCareer, you’re not only all but required to purchase virtual currency to improve your attributes as in the past but now will need to buy a season pass or else run the risk of having your trusty badges regress to the point where they’re almost useless. MyTeam’s card-collecting mode has a similar pay-to-win framework where you can purchase level rewards or spend what feels like an eternity trying to unlock them instead. Both MyCareer and MyTeam have an offline component to offer some consolation, but taking your skills online will likely have you at a competitive disadvantage against anyone with deep pockets.

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Author
Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott is a writer and video producer who's been contributing to Operation Sports since 2016. He's primarily been focused during this time on any and all video games related to football, baseball, basketball, hockey and golf. He lives in Toronto and still believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that someday the Leafs will finally win the Stanley Cup again.