NBA 2K19 is the latest entry into ‘THE’ Basketball franchise available to gamers on the market. With stiff opposition from NBA Live 19 this year, can the big dog keep its crown?

I’ll skip the sob story about not liking sports (you can go read my NBA Live 19 review for that) and it probably goes without saying I’m not the sporty one at n3rdabl3. Basketball, however, does ruffle my jimmies enough to hold my interest. After giving ‘the other’ NBA series a shout earlier in the year, I figured it was about time we saw what the supposed GOAT of the genre has to offer.

Much like its rival, the vast majority of what NBA 2K19 has to offer comes from or is linked to, its career mode. Naming itself in a much more reserved manner to its competitor, MyPlayer is the go-to mode for the vast majority of players and is ultimately the biggest draw to the franchise. 2K has been considered the pioneer of the story-based sports career, with their model being adopted by countless other titles across the scope of the sports game genre. Hell even FIFA paid attention. Naturally, MyPlayer becomes a key part of the title.

I’m going to be controversially blunt here. It’s not as what its rival offers.

Do not get me wrong, what NBA 2K19 offers is grand, but the story feels so hard to invest in. First, the forced name. Ai. Why. Why on earth am I, the latest NBA prospect, being referred to as artificial intelligence. It’s not a matter that gets addressed, it’s just sort of, there. It’s menial, but it cheapens the experience. Yes, you have a nickname in NBA Live, but it’s at least in reference to your ability on the court.

NBA 2K19 Character Screenshot

Unlike its rival, NBA 2k19 offers animated cutscenes and generally a very different presentation style to that of its rival, but ultimately, the same end goal. MyPlayer is both a mode and stepping stone. It’s a fully fleshed out career mode and the breeding ground for you to branch out into other areas. Those looking to get to the other stuff in a timely manner will be a little hindered, as ‘The Neighborhood’ isn’t accessible from the get-go. You can skip your way through the prologue, and lose yourself a decent amount of VC in the process. If you’re aware of the NBA 2K series, you can probably guess as to why that’s a bad idea. More on that later.

As mentioned before, the career in NBA 2K19 is lovingly animated, telling the story of Ai, the man who doesn’t get drafted after college and has a breakdown about it. Convinced he’s the best player on the planet, even though it’s clear he’s not, he finds himself in China, before making his way back to America to progress through the developmental G League before an out of the blue chance to hit the court in the NBA. What I dislike most about the story is that you have no choice but to play this self-absorbed ass of a character, and any chance of creating your own personality goes right out of the window. I genuinely hate Ai as a character, and the option to play him as either this bitter POS or a more humble, driven player would be welcomed with open arms.

This goes on to highlight the fact that the choices you make really have little to no impact. Say you don’t want to do something? Guess what. Some random shit is going to happen that means you do that thing anyway. I’m avoiding spoilers but there was one point that genuinely enraged me because it so blatantly told me that my choice doesn’t matter. All that matters is how you handle yourself on the court. That in itself is fine, but don’t give me other ‘impactful’ options if the outcome is so heavily predetermined. Hey, Ai might be the NBA player you want to be. Personally, I prefer the little options that NBA Live offers me. While it might only be text options, the ability to at least reply in my intended manner gives a sense of personalized personality to the player.

Dodgy storytelling aside, MyPlayer is a very solid experience. You’ll be hard pressed to find a title that presents its games as well as this. Playing in the NBA and even the Chinese and G Leagues comes across as an event, with commentary and television production galore. While not having the cable channel name, the 2K live branding holds its own and gives you the sense that you’re really looking at a focused broadcast. Right before you remember you’ve got to play yourself. The gameplay matches this standard.

NBA 2K19 Gameplay

NBA 2K19 makes no mistake of telling you it’s a more complicated beast compared to its rival. Of the bat, you’re going to struggle. There’s more required, and you’re going to get more than a little fucked off with your team for not passing you the ball when you’re breaking into the paint. But once you get the hang of the controls and realize that you need to be a little more tactically inclined than simply diving the paint and wiping your face across the controller, pulling off the move you wanted is incredibly satisfying. There’s less automation, meaning that you’re doing the work to get to the rim, and you’re making the shot yourself. There’s no hand-holding here, but that’s not to say the title isn’t accessible. The basics are easy enough to pick up. It’s the more complicated and flashy moves, such as fakes and the more showboating shots that take the learning.

This is where the superior physics model comes into play. While defending does seem a little too stonewall, the rest of the title is sublime. Ball handling is fluid and allows for both magic and tragedy depending on your talent. There’s none of this floating through the air nonsense either, If it cannot be done in real life, it simply cannot be done. It’s this element that really makes NBA 2K19 a joy to play. It requires thought and precision, while still allowing those with the talent to break their way into the paint.

Unlike its rival, however, progressing your character is a considerably more taxing affair in NBA 2K19. Everything within the game revolves around VC. While it’s not as bad as last year’s title charging you to get your bloody hair cut, it’s still a system that is clearly biased towards the purchase of the currency through microtransactions. Want to have multiple characters? Then NBA 2K19 better be the only game you play for the next year or you’re getting your wallet out. There’s no way around it. You’ll be choosing between some new J’s and 3 pointers before you know it. Sadly, VC really is the backbone of the title, and it transcends the career mode into the rest of the title.

This is where The Neighborhood comes into the limelight. The new look area puts the courts in the center, offering players what is effectively the single most Basketball-focused city center ever constructed. PARK is back with more courts and themes, allowing you to grab some friends or roll free-agent style dunking on some poor innocent fool who’s not got his character up to par. The gameplay out on the streets is silky smooth, and the gameplay offers a nice challenge. You’ll be able to quickly work out other player’s strengths and weaknesses to try and win your games. At the end of the day though, your player rating is coming with you, and that’s where the microtransactions come to bite once again.

NBA 2K19 Neighborhood

Of course, this isn’t all the title has to offer, with a host of other modes for players to get their teeth into ready on the bench.

MyTeam, the franchise’s version of Ultimate Team runs very much on the same vein as all of the previous iterations, although this comes as no real surprise. Generally, the mode is solid with some nice additions. You have the mode staples such as single-player challenges allowing players to gain themselves some tasty rewards, and of course the infamous player packs. Joining the mode, however, is the new 3v3 mode Tripple Treat. Essentially, this mode allows you to put your best 3 against other trios in both online and offline play. Rounding out the mode are weekly challenges offering more incentive to play.

MyLeague and MyGM offer players the chance to take control of a team and bring them to glory. Be it a team at the forefront of the NBA or a team of has-beens, there’s plenty you can play with here, and the improved CAP tool and Player DNA allow for some of the most sophisticated roster creation you’ll find anywhere. Sweetening the pot for fans of the mode, MyLeague now gives access to historic draft classes. In addition to fictional and user-created draft classes, players have access to 1960, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1974 and 1976-2017 draft crops. There are holes here thanks to licensing, but those with full investment into the mode could effectively recreate basketball history.

A major downside for NBA 2K19 and a big win that NBA Live 19 is the absence of female players. With how seamlessly the latter has managed to fit the WNBA into its formula, it really is a shame to not see it here. It could simply be another career arc, allowing players to roll their way into the WNBA or the NBA, and while I’m sure they’re fearing for the balance of the PARK, there’s really no excuse for not at least having them here as a league option.

Lastly, NBA 2K19 is a great looking title. It does suffer a bit in the crowd department, but you’ll also be hard pressed to find a sports game that doesn’t. Character models are fantastic, and player builds really do vary. While the overall presentation does leave little to be desired, with the dark, clunky menus really looking cheap; the game is glorious once you get out onto the court. Cameras move fluidly around some lovely looking arenas, and each court feels a little different as it should. The clear difference between the players is extremely welcome and helps to convey the diversity of the NBA roster.

NBA 2K19 is another brilliant entry into the franchise. It’s nice to see the team step back from the controversy of last year’s microtransaction infested release, but to say that they’re not still an issue would be untrue. There’s a clear emphasis on VC that’s not going anywhere soon. If you can look past this, or are perhaps more interested in the stellar management modes, then NBA 2K19 is a fantastic Basketball experience.

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