I’m still very much enjoying NBA 2K15, but as the holiday season has heated up, I must admit I’ve found myself drifting away from it and towards other things. It’s not that I’ve soured on it, by any means, but it’s gotten to the point where the game is so close to greatness that its two major flaws have become impossible to ignore, and frustrating to experience.
One I noticed right away during my launch day livestream way back in October: the CPU simply doesn’t shoot enough 3 point shots. I have the 3-point attempt tendency slider turned all the way up, which helps (especially if you sag off a ball-handler), but there are some key AI problems that all come together to derail this crucial part of NBA basketball (teams are averaging 22 3s per game on average in the NBA this season, up from last year’s 21.5, which itself was up from the prior year’s 19.6). In my testing, the highest number of 3-point attempts I’ve been able to elicit from the CPU was about 14 in a 12-minute quarter game, with most games settling in around 10 or 11. Again, this is with the 3-point tendency slider for the CPU turned up to 100, while other tendency sliders (take close shots, drive to the basket, etc) all down to 0.
So, what gives?
Well, as I said above, there are a couple of different issues plaguing the AI in NBA 2K15. First and foremost is that the “smart feet” that the AI used in past years is either gone or not tuned properly. Prior to NBA 2K15, the AI would automatically step behind the 3-point line when passed the ball near the line, provided the player receiving the pass could actually hit the shot. This was a neat sleight of hand that helped with positioning and resulted in a healthy number of 3s for both the human player and the AI. Precise, minute movement is still hit and miss in NBA 2K15, especially in the heat of a game, so this was a great way to keep players from throwing themselves out of position and rhythm when passing to the perimeter.
Without this feature working as intended (it only seems to happen about a third of the time), both the AI and human shoot way too many long 2s that are a result of having their foot on the line. It’s frustrating, especially when seeking out those nice corner 3s, since trying to adjust at all results in either the shot being contested or going out of bounds completely. There’s no clean pump-fake-dribble-reset-shoot motion in the game, either, so the only option is to shoot the long 2 or try to reset your offense. Often, the play is happening so quickly (and a longtime user such as myself is trained to expect the shooter to step behind the line) that the frustrating long 2 is tossed up as a result. These points matter, especially considering how much more difficult the game is this year.
The other basic AI issue is that the CPU doesn’t aggressively seek out the 3-point shot. They don’t push the ball up the court for a 3 in transition or semi-transition the way a user would, instead preferring to run just outside of the paint near the baseline and shoot a contested jumper (seriously, pay attention to how often this happens). They don’t run the pick and roll trying to generate a weakside 3 point opportunity, and even the most eager chuckers in the league often hesitate when given a wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunity. On default simulation settings, the AI shoots about 6-8 3s per game, and this is just unacceptable for a simulation that is otherwise so good at replicating NBA basketball.
Well, except for fouls. In past iterations of NBA 2K, fouls could be generated in a variety of ways. Often, jumping forward and trying to block a layup near the paint would result in a foul as the defender brought his arm down to swat at the ball. It used to be possible to keep the stick in a neutral position and jump straight up ala Roy Hibbert in an effort to contest the shot without fouling. The game punished overaggressive play as running and jumping at shooters could also cause a 3-shot-foul or, worse, a 4-point-play. Again, there was a risk-reward there in terms of trying to keep your player under control while also closing out on a shooter. It replicated the closeout quite well and served the game nicely for many years.
Recently, the team behind NBA 2K decided to start implementing contextual animations for fouls, and those have slowly taken over the game until, in NBA 2K15, it seems most fouls in the game are contextual animations that trigger at seemingly random moments. You’ll see drivers get to the rim and seemingly get fouled (again, with all fouls at 100) without a specific foul animation trigger, or you’ll see situations where a defender is seemingly sucked into a foul animation with very little input from the user. Other games have gone to the contextual foul/penalty animation system (Madden NFL Football being a notable example) and across the board using pure contextual animations results in less realistic foul and penalty numbers, even as the gameplay itself looks more authentic.
Also, because the fouls are mostly contextual, the most common foul in the game is the shooting foul. In the real NBA, teams are averaging about 22 fouls per game and 25 opponent free throws per game, since there are plenty of blocking, over the back, loose ball, and reach in fouls to go along with shooting fouls. In NBA 2K15, the ratio is closer to 2:1 in favor of opponent free throws, so teams will often attempt something like 16 free throws in a game where their opponent has 8 or 9 fouls. Teams rarely get into the penality, and a preponderance of shooting fouls close to the basket means that centers and forwards hoard fouls while the rest of the team barely commits any. On its face this isn’t unreasonable, as most fouls happen near the the basket, but when you look at actual foul distribution on NBA teams, the guards still average about half as many fouls as the big men. In fact, as of this writing, Miami Heat Point Guard Mario Chalmers is tied for 3rd in the league with 43 personal fouls.
All of this throws the balance of the game off. A lot of those missed layups that people are complaining about? Those are uncalled fouls. If people were shooting 2 instead of watching the opposition run back the other way while their player gets up off the ground, there wouldn’t be so many complaints. Also, the lack of fouls depresses scores, since free throws aren’t as easy to come by. On average, teams score about 1.5 points per possession when shooting free throws but only 1.05 points per possession on all possessions, which means non free-throw possessions are far less fruitful. In NBA 2K15, high scoring CPU games often mean very few turnovers and an unreasonably-high percentage of 2-point makes. So, you either have a game where the CPU scores reasonably well but continually makes bad shots, or you have a game where the CPU is off on its shooting and can’t manufacture points any other way. The base simulation settings lean towards the former, and this gets tiring.
There is supposed to be a gameplay patch coming soon that should address, in part, some of these issues. I hope so, because this game is too good otherwise to be undone by things NBA 2K used to get so right.