In late 2009, NBA 2K10‘s MyPlayer mode was a revelation. Though previous sports games allowed you to create a player and take that player through their career in the pros, 2K10 refined the idea out of the gate, first by having a downloadable draft combine for players in the late summer, then by allowing players more variety in their experience by opening up the possibility for players to get demoted to the Developmental League, or cut altogether.
Throughout recent history, Visual Concepts has continually added onto the formula introduced in the first edition of the mode, recently including an involved story, rivals, and, in NBA 2K15, voice acting from actual NBA players.
Sounds exciting, right?
In theory, it is. However, NBA 2K15‘s MyCareer continues a slide both in terms of AI and presentation that lead me to believe that it’s time to seriously rethink and retool the mode for the future.
First up is the presentation. Yes, it’s a unique experience to have James Harden or Terrence Ross try to pick you up after a bad game, but despite the understandably-bad voice acting, the bigger problem happens when your player responds. In short, he’s a gigantic jerk. He’s never presented as someone to root for, instead presenting himself as entitled, standoffish, and slightly sociopathic. This is a problem because 2K Sports wants you to be invested in the plight of this fringe NBA player, and the mode itself is structured as such. As most of you know now, your player doesn’t get drafted and instead picks up a 10-day contract after working out for a team of your choosing. Depending on your position and the team you choose, your performance will have to reach a certain level in order to stick around with the team, whether on a fully-guaranteed contract, or an additional 10-day deal.
Integrating yourself with the team is one of the main focuses during this first section of the mode, and the problems with the script are apparent right away. Have a poor workout, and your player’s response to a coach’s “What was that?” could be “It’s basketball, look it up.” Let me reiterate: you’re an undrafted rookie free agent, working out with a team to try to have a career in basketball. Mouthing off to coaches is not how you build a positive reputation throughout the league, especially after a poor showing. Tonally, the whole thing feels off. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to find these exchanges funny, satirical, or if we’re supposed to take them seriously, but they take up a good portion of the playtime with the mode, and if we’re supposed to be role-playing and rooting for this character (who, with face-scan technology, may look somewhat like us), having some agency over his personality would be welcome.
Sure, there’s a lot of work involved in the above, as introducing more choices for the player requires exponentially more of everything: more voice acting, more storylines, more branches, more variables. It’s probably too much to ask that 2K include a mini Mass Effect in its basketball game, but carefully monitoring the tone of the player character is vital. You want this to be a guy we want to root for, not someone we would actively despise in real life.
On the court, the game has issues with defensive assignments, especially in transition. It’s hard to tell when the game is going to change your assignment, which can cause a man to come wide open, just because your teammates’ defensive AI is lacking. The game also doesn’t really reward you for a sound rotation and will actually sometimes punish you when nobody rotates behind you to cover the man you left.
The on-court gameplay also suffers from a lack of cohesive feedback. Again, yes, the grading system has been refined and is the best of its kind in a sports game, but the grading can swing wildly and doesn’t seem to take into account the competition being faced. If you’re a Small Forward and you get matched up against LeBron James or Kevin Durant, you shouldn’t be graded so harshly when they score. That’s not something you’re going to be able to stop on a regular basis.
Additionally, the game still allows you to roam around on offense without much guidance. You can turn on automatic play calling and put the play overlay on the court like you do in traditional 5-on-5 play, but it feels like these should be on by default instead of the opposite, as not having that sense of team play isolates you from your teammates and disconnects you from the game itself.
None of this is to mention the balance issues in the mode, especially on higher difficulties, as your player misses wide-open layups and easy shots that are largely determined by random chance.
The gameplay issues combine to make playing as a single player in NBA 2K15 feel like an isolated, selfish experience, which isn’t what present-day NBA basketball looks like. Now, teams run intricate, team-based offensive and defensive systems that involve all 5 players on the floor, and this is far more engaging to watch and interact with in regular NBA 2K15 play than in MyCareer. Instead of feeling like a scrappy underdog trying his best to make a team, the narrative and AI issues in MyCareer just make you feel like a selfish jerk, both on the court and off, which disconnects you from your experience playing. There’s very little sense of triumph, making the whole thing feel perfunctory and joyless, which, for a game that gives as much joy as NBA 2K15 otherwise does, makes me want to take an early retirement from MyCareer.
Enjoying MyCareer thus far? Think it’s time for a re-boot? Let us know in the comments below, or in our growing forums!