Review – NBA 2K20
To call NBA 2K20‘s last weeks before its launch “rocky” is a mammoth-sized understatement. In a world where governments are punishing loot boxes and consumers are outright denouncing shady monetization schemes in games, 2K’s brand new sports title debuted with a trailer blatantly showcasing casino-themed gambling mechanics was a move as tone-deaf as playing The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” on a documentary about the Amazon Rainforest. The main question was: would 2K try to remedy things up after the scandal and would these mechanics influence the game negatively? Let’s find out.
I think that I should start off by saying that, as a basketball game, NBA 2K20 is pretty good. That’s not really a surprise, as the franchise wouldn’t outsell NBA Live year after year if it wasn’t good in the first place. The gameplay is a bit more complicated and simulation-heavy than its EA counterpart, but it’s nothing you can’t get used to by practicing a bit and playing a few quick matches. It’s not very different from previous iterations, so if you’re one of those who buy this game on a yearly basis, you’re more than covered.
When it comes to its presentation, NBA 2K20 knocks it out of the (ball) park. It’s a visually stunning game that manages to retain a high level of visual quality and detail with a high framerate at the same time. The animations are, as always, pretty good. The sound department is also great, with good in-game narration (even though I could live without the commentators talking about how good Gatorade is) and crowd noises.
The music collection in this game is divisive at best. It’s not entirely bad, but I feel like they could have added a bigger variety of songs, as a huge chunk of the set list is comprised of trap tunes, with only one rock song (“Live Wire” by Motley Crue) being present. They should have added more rock and traditional hip-hop songs. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt.
As always, the MyCareer mode is NBA 2K20‘s flagship mode. You can create your character, put your face onto your avatar with the help of the NBA 2K20 mobile companion app, and then partake on your typical underdog story. It does have a lot more cutscenes than I could have ever imagined from a game like this. First of all, I’d like to point out that, for some reason, my faces always ended up looking like DJ Khaled a day after he got his wisdom teeth removed.
Second of all, the story mode. Yes, we’ve seen in previous trailers that NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer mode would feature celebrities like Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, Ernie Hudson, Scottie Pippen and, for some reason, Mark Cuban, among its roster. Considering how plot-heavy that mode ended up being at first, that felt like a great addition, but there are a few problems with its implementation.
Those celebrities never show up for more than five minutes and the mode itself will only be story-heavy up until the end of the NBA Summer League. After this, it’ll revert back to the good old grindy MyCareer with an average-at-best and celebrity-free cutscene every now and then. It’s a shame, because the story was actually pretty good, all things considered. The only thing that annoyed me was the forced cameos by some NBA players. I can safely say that they don’t have a bright future in the movie industry.
See that little word at the previous paragraph? “Grindy”? Well, that good old despicable progression system is still here, with you earning small chunks of virtual currency (worst microtransaction name ever by the way) at the end of every game, depending on your salary and status within the team. I have to give them credit for making the progression system a little bit less annoying than in previous years though. Each match would give me enough money to spend on two to three stat points per week on average. It’s a little bit less obnoxious than in previous years, but it’s still here. It makes what could have been a story of someone naturally becoming a better player through his skill into a tale of “if you can afford it, you can get yourself some upgrades”. It almost feels like virtual doping at points, considering you can even buy game-enhancing boosters. By the way, the Neighborhood controls are as slow and cumbersome as ever.
That’s what annoyed me the most. NBA 2K20 hasn’t learned from the current gaming spectrum. Most modes are littered with microtransactions and expensive ones at that. At one point in the MyCareer mode, I was criticized by the press because of the clothes I was wearing. I then rushed to the Neighborhood’s suit store (yes, there is one) to look for a better outfit for my player. The cost for a simple combination of a suit, pants, and shoes? Seven thousand VC, which can be translated to around seven games worth of in-game salary (six you managed to get an A ranking on all of them), ten games on quick play mode, or around $3.00. It felt like the game was psychologically pressuring me to spend some VC on menial features at some points. Don’t even get me started on MyTeam. It’s just like any EA Sports Ultimate Team mode, complete with all the gambling features and microtransactions you could expect from a mode like this.
I’d also like to point out the inclusion of all players and teams from the WNBA, but just like the women’s teams in FIFA, there’s not a lot you can do with them. You have the chance of playing with them on a quick match mode or a subpar season mode that’s clearly lacking features. I understand that the WNBA isn’t very popular, but I also think that they could have done more with the license.
NBA 2K20 is the perfect definition of “it’s good, but”. It’s fun to play a quick match, but you’re forced to endure long loading times. It’s cool to have WNBA teams at your disposal, but there are few modes available for them. It’s awesome to see people like Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson in the story mode, but they probably have half a dozen lines of dialogue each. It’s still great to play as yourself in the MyCareer mode, but the mode is hindered by progression issues and an abysmal focus on monetization. All in all, NBA 2K20 is a good game, but its terrible monetization schemes and unpopular AAA mechanics hinder it from becoming a truly excellent game.
NBA 2K20 is as graphically realistic as ever, with even better animations and lighting effects. The framerate is still high and rock-solid.
Fluid controls that are a bit unfriendly for newcomers, as usual, but become intuitive enough after spending some time practicing them. The controls in the Neighborhood section of the game as as slow and unresponsive as ever.
Questionable music selection aside, the sound department is pretty good. Most celebrities deliver good voice performance, and the in-game sound effects are excellent.
Everything that’s fun and engaging in NBA 2K20 is always hindered by a lack of depth or an annoying monetization scheme.
Final Verdict: 7.5
NBA 2K20 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of NBA 2K20 was provided by the publisher.