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Lifewire / Eric Watson
Story mode is engaging and fun
Smooth online gameplay
Tight and responsive controls
Expanded defensive maneuvers
Long load times between games and menus
Microtransactions invade every game mode
MyGM’s story is laughably bad and boring
NBA 2K19 is a fantastic, if highly technical, basketball simulator provided you can stomach the ever-present microtransactions.
It’s the 20th anniversary of 2K sports’ long-running basketball franchise with NBA 2K19. The 2K series has earned its place among top tier sports games thanks to tight controls and advanced ball-handling techniques, as well as robust modes for a story-based career, a card-based fantasy team, and leading an entire franchise to legendary stardom. NBA 2K has weathered past complaints of focusing too much on the ever-prevalent virtual currency microtransactions, which continue to mar an otherwise solid basketball game.
Getting things ready is just a matter of putting in the disc and waiting for updates to install or doing a digital download. Nothing more to it.
Basketball is a relatively simple sport to grasp, and the same can be applied to the video game adaptation. Shooting can either be done by holding a button or holding the right stick while a shot meter begins to fill up. The goal is to let go the second the meter is full, which is surprisingly challenging. The speed of the bar can change depending on where on the court you’re shooting from, and how good your shooting stats are.
It’s possible (though improbable) to make the shot even if your timing is off, affording a fun bit of luck to any risky shot. Dunks are performed by simply holding down the shot button while sprinting toward the basket, with several different dunk styles available, including many signature styles from stars.
The controls are easy to learn but tricky to master, resulting in a satisfying balance if you have the patience.
Defense feels especially rewarding, with high-speed steals and ever-present blocks forcing nearly every offensive engagement into a tactical matchup. The controls are easy to learn but tricky to master, resulting in a satisfying balance if you have the patience. Completely new players may be in for a bit of a hill to climb, however, as the practice mode tutorial is a hot mess of laborious tooltips.
NBA 2k19 features the usual quick play modes where you can take your favorite team on a full season-long journey, or simply grab a few players for some casual blacktop basketball. Numbers range from one-on-one to five-on-five and everything in between.
The primary game modes of NBA 2K19 are MyPlayer, MyTeam, and MyLeague. Each mode features an opportunity to customize your own player, play a fantasy team of past and current stars, or become the play caller and general manager.
MyLeague is perfect for number junkies who enjoy working trades and negotiating contracts. We enjoyed the new mentor system, where older veterans could pass on desirable traits to budding young stars. SimCast provides the perfect balance between managing and playing the game, letting you call out strategies and make substitutions, as well as speeding up the game up to 6x. At any point, you can instantly jump in and play the game yourself. Skip the MyGM story mode however, the stilted, horribly verbose text dialogue and numerous awkward talky cutscenes are a laughably pathetic attempt to create a career mode with zero substance.
The MyTeam mode is all about earning (or purchasing) random booster packs filled with players, jerseys, coaches, arenas, and contracts. How much you enjoy this mode relies heavily on how feel about getting everything you need through random card packs. Packs can be earned by winning games, while Virtual Currency, 2K’s much maligned money system, can be earned through completing challenges. It’s fun to unlock star players but when it comes to microtransactions and the prevalent cost of using VC and cards, 2K ranks among the worst of mobile game offenders—and this for a $60 console game.
We were impressed with NBA 2K19’s career mode, which follows the story of a talented but undrafted young player named A.I., in a story called The Way Back. A.I. is fully customizable as we select his primary skill sets, attributes, and physical stature.
The Prelude begins when A.I. goes undrafted, and finds himself playing in the Chinese league for the Shanghai Bears. He’s a selfish hothead and frustrated with the cards he’s been dealt, but by making key choices between games, bonding with teammates, and learning from others, he can grow into a better player (and person). We found ourselves rooting for A.I. and the heart-warming moments with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants as we climbed our way up through the G League.
We were delighted with the earnest presentation and legitimately solid voice acting.
If you’ve seen any sports movie you can probably guess most of the plot beats and character stereotypes, but we were delighted with the earnest presentation and legitimately solid voice acting and motion capture from big name stars like Aldis Hodge (Underground) and Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Endgame).
By completing games we can earn virtual currency, in order to boost our stats. It’s a major shame that VC is at all tied to a single player story campaign, as boosting A.I.’s stats by purchasing VC is a quick way to get ahead. We would have vastly preferred a normal XP system that was divorced from the more competitive modes.
With a small number of on-screen players and little in the way of padding or helmets, an NBA sports game demands some of the best and most realistic player models and physics. Fortunately, NBA 2K19 delivers. Animations are fluid, with exciting dunks and realistic player collisions. Players are modeled well, even in close-ups. The only cringey moments occur when players are interviewed.
On the flip side, the story campaign in MyPlayer looks like it includes actual motion captured actors and proper facial animations. It wouldn’t fare well against actual RPGs or cinematic action-adventure games, but it’s more than good enough to immerse us into the silly, but enjoyable, sports drama story.
Kevin Harlan and Greg Anthony continue to be fantastic commentators for NBA 2K19. In NBA 2K19 they’re also joined by Bill Simmons, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett. NBA 2K19 features some of the best commentaries for any sports game, with insightful breakdowns, fun player anecdotes, and up tempo play-by-plays. The on-action commentary lags a bit behind when playing online, however, as Harlan shouts excitedly about a dunk after the other team is already at half court.
NBA 2K19 features some of the best commentaries for any sports game, with insightful breakdowns, fun player anecdotes, and up tempo play-by-plays.
The soundtrack is also solid, featuring over 50 hip-hop and rock-pop tracks mixed and curated by rapper Travis Scott (who also provides five of the tracks). Other artists include Alison Wonderland, Migos, Bruno Mars, Brockhampton, and Angel the God.
Like all major sports game franchises, NBA 2K19 always launches with a full $60 price tag, and like most games, that price will drop and get discounted throughout the year. NBA 2K19 enjoys deeper discounts and sale prices than most sports games, however, often at prices of $20 or less depending on how long you’re willing to wait. Even at full price NBA 2K19 is an easy recommendation for sports fans.
NBA 2K19 20th Anniversary Edition is a much steeper asking price of $99, including a substantial head start with 100,000 Virtual Currency, 50,000 MyTeam points, 30 MyTeam card packs and more. If you have money to burn and want to catch up with friends and other players online, the 20th anniversary edition can provide a big boost, and like the standard edition, is also heavily discounted throughout the year.
Basketball is one of the few major sports games to have two major competitors between NBA 2K19 and EA’s NBA Live. Ultimately both games have more similarities than differences. Live looks a bit more realistic in its color palette and superior-looking courts but 2K19 features more defined player models. NBA Live’s controls and gameplay are a bit more new player friendly and arcade-like, while 2K19 is more technical and advanced, and ultimately a better basketball simulator. One point we’ll definitely give to NBA Live: no microtransactions in its single player story mode.
Difficult to get into, but good if you can master it.
Given the large number of dunks, passes, throws, and technical maneuvers you can perform, all while facing a shot clock, a stingy defense, and a boringly lame tutorial, NBA 2K19 may be one of the most difficult sports games to jump into. Your patience will be rewarded, however, as it’s a tight, deeply strategic and satisfying basketball simulator, with some fun extra modes and a surprisingly enjoyable career story. That said, we wish 2K would ease up on the virtual currency.