Looking back on NBA 2K: The best sports game of the last generation
Over the course of the last console generation, 2K Sports’ NBA 2K franchise became the top simulation sports game on the market. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so delightful to see NBA 2K14 contort itself to bring to life the basketball cataclysm that is the NBA Y2K series from SB Nation’s Jon Bois. In essence, it’s the NBA 2K version of his celebrated Breaking Madden series. Jon did it out of love, to pay homage to the last few years of 2K’s basketball franchise — that’s what he’ll tell you, anyway.
Owen: NBA 2K14‘s biggest disappointments are plainly tied to the decision to make Virtual Currency a feature across all modes of play. 2K Sports has never said why the PS4 and Xbox One games had to have two save files — one online, and a different one offline — but it’s a good bet this virtual economy figures into it somehow. So when Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Sports, boasts to investors about the growth in online revenue, it’s fair to assume corporate leadership imposed these requirements, not developers. It’s also reasonable to assume it’s not going away next year when Take-Two nearly doubles its revenue over the past fiscal year and cites online transactions from NBA 2K14 as a key contributor to that.
So, like it or not, VC is here to stay, Sports fans’ best hope is that this can all fund something that does appeal to them, like another historical mode or, frankly, the return of NBA’s Greatest or The Jordan Challenge to this game under the current engine. 2K Sports has continued to offer the historical teams from NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12, so we know it has the licensing. My only guess as to why 2K hasn’t put them on current editions of the game, or offered them as downloadable content, is because holding back makes past editions of a sports video game worth buying, a total rarity in the modern marketplace. “Yes, once upon a time, we had back-catalog sales,” Peter Moore, then the president of EA Sports, told me ruefully a few years ago. That said, online support for NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12 has long since expired.
Still, you can buy an old copy of NBA 2K and play nothing but its offline modes and still have a hell of a good time with it. I still have copies of NBA 2K11, 2K12 and 2K13 on my shelf where my only editions of Madden, FIFA and MLB The Show are the current year’s. Once the installation base moves solidly to the PS4 and Xbox One, then we’ll likely see the return of these nostalgic modes, likely as downloadable extensions (or pre-order incentives). Until then, I’d look more for NBA 2K to explore the role-playing and story-telling that MyPlayer uniquely offers over other sports titles.
Samit: You’re right; Virtual Currency isn’t going anywhere. I’ll begrudgingly tip my cap to 2K — they figured out how to take EA’s lucrative Ultimate Team model and expand the microtransactions throughout the entire game. This puts NBA 2K in a precarious position as 2K Sports fully transitions the series to the new consoles this year: I think die-hard fans of the franchise have some reason to worry about its future. At the very least, if online connectivity is to basically be a requirement going forward, the servers need to be much more reliable than they were for NBA 2K14 on PS4/Xbox One.
For more, check out Owen’s regular sports column, Roster File
Having said that, you can’t throw NBA 2K’s stellar recent history completely out the window. As bad a taste as the pervasive VC in new-gen NBA 2K14 left in my mouth, I’ve put more time into that version of the game than any other entry in the franchise. Microtransactions aside, I fully expect Visual Concepts to continue pushing the pace on the virtual hardwood, whether it’s by revisiting the terrific historical modes of NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12; deepening the storylines and interactions in the engrossing MyCareer mode; or (hopefully) bringing something we haven’t yet seen to the series.
And if the worst-case scenario comes to pass, remember that the Star Wars prequels didn’t retroactively make the original trilogy bad. Even if NBA 2K drops off a cliff from here — “highly unlikely” would be overstating the probability of that outcome — we’ll always have the golden years of the franchise on the PS3 and Xbox 360 to remember.