NBA 2K19 (Xbox One) review

2K Sports / Visual Concepts
Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC (Xbox One version reviewed)

This review is available in both written and video format. Naturally, the video shows the game in action while I read the review as a voiceover. If you watch the video, then, you don’t need to read the written review that follows since it’s the same ‘script’.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the NBA 2K series, which started in 1999 with the fittingly named NBA 2K on the Dreamcast.

For two decades now developer Visual Concepts has been tweaking and improving its take on America’s third-favourite sport, and by this point it’s got everything down to a fine art: on the court, at least.

At this stage NBA 2K is as close to a perfect representation of basketball as you can get, so it’s probably unsurprising that things don’t feel massively different this year compared to 2K18.

Dribbling past opponents has been made a little trickier, so you may need to adjust if you’re the sort who drives to the basket a lot. That aside though, other than some new animations and the like it all feels largely familiar to last year’s game (which is to say it’s still brilliant).

The presentation side of things is still immaculate too: its attempt to recreate a real-life TV broadcast is so ridiculously detailed that it really blows everything EA has to offer right out of the water.

The studio team of Ernie Johnson Jr, Shaq and Kenny Smith recorded hours of pre-game banter, all of which feels natural and unscripted. This authenticity extends to the on-court commentary and courtside reporting: all of it feels real and all of it is a treat to watch and listen to.

Essentially, if you’ve never played an NBA 2K game before and you think FIFA does a great job of recreating a TV broadcast, watch the video review above for an example of how it should really be done.

It’s more or less business as usual in terms of the actual basketball action, then, but fans of the series know there’s an aspect of 2K that changes wildly every year: MyCareer, the game’s story mode (which is incidentally celebrating its own milestone, marking 10 years since it was first included in the game).

Last year’s MyCareer was a low point in the series’ history in my opinion. Focusing far too much on tone-deaf silliness and cringeworthy attempts to appear hip and edgy, jamming product placement everywhere it could and offering the most infuriatingly irritating ‘best friend’ character you could ever hope to meet, the 2K18 story was a real exercise in patience for me: a real shame, because it’s usually my favourite mode.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be a valid created character if it wasn’t my legendary creation Jake McPake

It also completely shat on the whole concept of working your way up from the bottom, instead putting you in the shoes of a DJ who takes part in a street tournament right at the start of the story and suddenly ends up playing in the NBA with very little effort. It was a shambles all round.

This year 2K redeems itself, because MyCareer is so, so much better. This time you’re playing as A.I., a young buck who fails to get picked up at the NBA Draft and finds himself in China slogging away at a Shanghai team instead (these matches have Chinese commentary, too: a nice touch).

After that, A.I. finally makes his way to the NBA… but it’s the G-League, its minor league equivalent, where he’s playing alongside a bunch of other underachievers desperate for their big break.

This story is written infinitely better than last year’s dumpster fire, and while it’s initially a bit irritating how often your character whines about how his NBA stardom isn’t being handed to him on a silver platter, it all comes together in the end. Oh, and Hayley Joel Osment is in it too, for reasons.

The only problem here – and it’s a big one – is the heavy focus on microtransactions. The NBA 2K games have included virtual currency (imaginatively named VC) for a number of years now, and every year 2K has tried to push the limits of how intrusive they can be before there’s backlash.

This experiment came to a head last year when NBA 2K18 was rightly panned for properly taking the piss. Players had to spend VC to upgrade their stats in MyCareer, but it took literally hundreds and hundreds of games before you could earn enough to make your player even half decent.

Naturally, the alternative was to spend real money on a big bundle of VC, essentially skipping the grind. Because nothing says “we know this isn’t fun” more than giving players the option to pay money so they don’t have to play your game a lot.

Despite the backlash, I didn’t have high hopes that 2K19 would be much better after 2K’s senior producer Rob Jones said in an interview that microtransactions are “an unfortunate reality of modern gaming”, a bit like a chef dropping laxatives into your soup then claiming that shitting yourself is an unfortunate reality of modern cuisine.

Sure enough, they’re rife here yet again, and you’re going to need to embark on another enormous grind if you want your stats to eventually measure up with those of the LeBrons of this world. Either that or pay up, of course.

Incidentally, you may want to get round this by lowering the difficulty (as long as you can live with yourself for doing it). Your stats won’t build any quicker, but at least the slightly easier opposition will alleviate the frustration of playing as a guy who initially feels like he’s never even seen a basketball before.

NBA 2K19 builds on its predecessor’s fantastic gameplay and offers a story mode that’s so much more engaging and features far more compelling writing that feels more like a proper basketball drama and less like a dad trying to be cool.

As long as you’re strong enough to ignore its constant insistence on thrusting a begging bowl under your nose and asking for more than the £40+ you’ve already spent on it, you’re left with the best basketball game ever made.

NBA 2K19 is available now on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Steam. You can buy physical versions from Amazon UK (Xbox One, PS4, Switch)

In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from 2K Games. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.

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