Every year, I have the same criticism of NBA2K‘s training mode: it teaches you to play 2K, not how to play basketball. Now, prior to this year, that was a criticism that extended to every sports game, as none of the other big sports titles offered anything more than a tutorial of controls. It’s something I’ve written about in the past: as the games become more sim-heavy, they need to give users proper teaching tools on how to succeed in these new, more-realistic environments.
Finally, someone listened. Madden NFL 15 has an excellent training mode that goes through just about every offensive scheme and concept available to users in the game. Through the tutorials, you learn when to call certain concepts, how they work, where to look to “read” the play and where on the field these concepts can beat various defenses you may face, as well as which defenses are particularly vulnerable to any given concept. You get multiple opportunities to experiment with the concept, in controlled and uncontrolled environments, and, after going through the tutorials, you get a chance to use the concept in a live environment with a pass rush and sections of the field highlighted for easy reference. The tutorial has a rudimentary scoring system, but it feels like it’s difficult to cheat it. In order to pass with the highest grades, you need to understand what’s going on.
EA even built all of these tutorials into a larger, skill and score based mode, titled “The Gauntlet.” It packages the concepts of control, scheme and concept into a larger mode that challenges your reflexes and understanding of football in equal parts.
So, with this new, industry-leading training mode available, 2K’s announcement of “2KU” was something that caught my attention. NBA2K is, arguably, the most demanding sports game on the market. Being authentic to the sport is something to be applauded, but 2K has previously failed in giving their users the tools to understand the game of basketball.
Unfortunately, NBA 2K15‘s 2KU doesn’t really rectify this problem. If anything, the execution here is worse than in the past, as the training is offered via pre-recorded, uninteractive videos that then require you to enter a separate mode (broken up by a load) in order to practice what the videos told you. In addition, some aspects of the game (particularly on defense and in the post) require at least 2 players on the court, so having you go out on a practice court alone doesn’t give you the opportunity to practice these two aspects of the game at all.
Besides that, for being the deepest sports game around, where’s the beef here? Where’s the strategy? Sure, the game tells me how to call a pick and how to execute a slip, roll, or fade, but it doesn’t tell me what any of those are, and it doesn’t tell me when to use any of the options. It teaches you about calling double teams, but doesn’t teach you how to rotate around a double team, or how defensive rotations even work. The game has a host of options for game-planning and coaching in the form of Points of Emphasis and individual defensive assignments, but it doesn’t explain what these options are or when they should be deployed. If I was a person who has been casually playing 2K for a couple of years, how am I supposed to know what a “soft hedge” does? Or what “going over” a screen does? Furthermore, when should I use these options?
The unfortunate thing is that I have to learn basketball strategy for NBA 2K15 outside of NBA 2K15. I know already that corner 3s are the most efficient shot in basketball, but it look studying actual film to figure out how teams generate those shots, and I have people message me on Twitter all of the time looking for tips for how to play with their team of choice. Sure, there are certain team-specific quirks that you’ll only know by knowing the league or using one team and sticking with it for a long-enough time, but there are strategies that carry over from team to team. Some teams may run very specific offenses, but these offenses still mostly comprise of the same basic action, just in different places. In Madden, the trainer teaches me how to attack Cover 4 no matter which team I’m using, and it smartly labels the concept behind a play as a helpful guide for users to easily find concepts to use, even in unfamiliar playbooks.
Instead of teaching the user how to control the game and leaving the strategy for random discovery and/or off-game research, NBA 2K should be interested in being the one-stop shop for basketball information that goes above and beyond just controlling the game and dips into actual basketball strategy. It would help to shift their community away from arcade-style run-and-gun and toward running plays and executing strategy, and it would make sure that those super-hardcore features they put into the game are recognized by more than just basketball diehards like me.
There is so much unexplored depth in NBA 2K15 that could really enhance users’ enjoyment with the game. If only 2K gave them the tools to experience it.