NBA 2K19 Review – Another Year, Another Baller. Every year, NBA 2K comes around to hype up basketball fans for the upcoming season and provide an avenue for living out dreams of dominating the court; this year’s iteration is no different in that regard. NBA 2K19 dishes out what you’d expect from the franchise: accessible yet deep core mechanics that often work just right and occasionally falter. Beyond that, there’s a full roster of ways to enjoy the sport thanks to a robust package of game modes. Unfortunately, microtransactions loom over everything, much like last year’s game, with a problematic system of virtual currency. Still, 2K19 remains an admirable representation of basketball itself.
NBA 2K19 is a basketball simulation at its heart. As with previous games, you’re given nearly full control of footwork, ball handling, and defensive maneuvers with the Pro Stick scheme that puts both analog sticks to use. If there’s a fundamental move in the sport of basketball, chances are you can pull it off in the game. Moreover, it’s advantageous to understand when these fundamentals are most effective. For example, driving to the basket from the post with a quick quarter-circle on the right stick in the proper direction could help you blow by an inside defender; if a big stands in your way in the paint, knowing how to put up a floater gives you a better chance for a bucket than a simple layup. Pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops are simple to draw up and an important tool for executing plays, but they don’t guarantee success on every possession; the best players have to adapt to how the field develops.
Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively. Momentum is also manifested in the new Takeover mechanic; if a player catches fire, a few extra moves become available and slight stat boosts are applied for a short time, depending on the player’s archetype/position.
While it’s good to know that you have so much control considering the potential for challenge, it’s disappointing when things break down. Of course, you should be punished for mistakes, like over-committing on defense while the opponent exploits an opening with a quick pivot or cut towards the basket. But frustration starts to settle in when there’s a lack of responsiveness. Cutting across to lead the defender into a crowd is smart basketball, and if you’re the defender, getting stuck on other players without controls appropriately responding to a change in direction highlights some inconsistencies and overall sluggishness in player movement. There are more hits than misses in how NBA 2K19 functions, but the times when it falls apart hold it back from true greatness.
NBA 2K19 has the advantage of including top personalities from professional sports media; this includes renowned sideline reporter David Aldridge and the iconic voice of sportscaster Kevin Harlan. It’s unfortunate, however, that while 2K has TNT’s charismatic crew of knuckleheads from Inside The NBA–Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ernie Johnson–their part in the game’s presentation fails to capture what makes them great broadcasters (it’s also missing Charles Barkley). Generally, commentary gets redundant even with specific anecdotes and callouts to players’ history. The soundtrack curated by hip-hop artist Travis Scott includes a few of his own songs along with other artists/groups like SOB x RBE, Migos, P-Lo, and Toro y Moi make for a fun vibe throughout the game.
As for game modes, MyCareer takes the spotlight again, combining a personal narrative and an RPG-like progression system around a player you create. Not only do you have to choose your position wisely, but you’ll pick out a primary and secondary skillset that carves out specific strengths for your player, much like character classes in an RPG. This new story, dubbed The Way Back, tries for a more heartfelt tone this time around. Your created player goes undrafted after college, and you have to prove yourself in China and in the NBA G-League–it’s worth noting that the chapters in China feature authentic Mandarin dialogue and commentary. An old college teammate acts as a throughline, drama follows you everywhere, and betrayal is just around the corner. While it’s more gripping than last year’s journey at times, it often falls flat due to nonsensical story beats with superficial drama permeating pivotal moments. Despite this, the performances and voice acting from the likes of Haley Joel Osment and Anthony Mackie are top-notch and frequently strike a natural conversational tone; it’s a good execution of a bad script. At the very least, it breathes life into your player, providing a backstory that’s carried on throughout your time in MyCareer.
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The story mode is just an appetizer in MyCareer, and if you want to get straight to the main course, you can skip cutscenes and simulate outcomes for games. After signing to an NBA team and getting a house to call your own, you’re dropped into a slick MMO-like social hub known as The Neighborhood with random players online. From here you have access to several ways to build your player and ball up. Continuing the journey through the NBA will put you through full NBA seasons that sprinkle in a bit of personality by incorporating events from The Way Back–this includes sideline interviews and faux-taped conversations that look true-to-life. You’ll work your way to the starting lineup over time after riding the bench for limited minutes on the floor, and it feels pretty good to see my player work up the ranks of the Lakers roster and drop dimes to LeBron James for clutch baskets in close games. Between each game, there are also team practices where you run drills to fine-tune your ability to execute in certain in-game situations, driving home that sense of being part of the team.