For someone who never had a chance to live the basketball life and never will, NBA 2K15 is a very welcome addition to my shelf.
Any question I could have possible asked about being an NBA star is answered here, and not just if I wanted to be a player. I can be a GM and learn how to effectively manage a team while juggling Lebron knows how many things at once. If I decide to have greater delusions of grandeur I can run the entire league, setting rules as I see fit and deciding which trades can go through and which ones can't (sorry again Chris Paul). Best of all, actually playing on the court feels better than ever before. NBA 2K15 may be the most fun I've had with a basketball game in a long time.
Most important to the experience is the gameplay, and performing on the court is fast, fluid, and exciting. There will be a learning curve on offense for those unfamiliar with the game, as each player now has specific timing on his shot indicated by a meter underneath his feet. Players have to get that meter as close to the center as possible before letting go of the ball, and a color-coded scheme lets me know how successful a shot will be before it even goes in. Passing is a bit strange, as I have to indicate which player I want to pass to before doing so, a method quickly forgotten before heaving an errant pass down the court when I wanted to give it to the teammate next to me.
I don't say this often if at all about sports games, but 2K15's defense may actually be more fun to play than offense. The game does a great job of telling me who I should be covering with tiny blue arrows pointing to that player, and sticking with that player is a simple matter of patience just like the real thing. Press a button to steal the ball before I should and I give up a foul, or if I get fooled on a pump fake the opponent is running around me and scoring an easy two. It's on me to dictate how my defenses perform, and that's exactly how the game should be.
Outside of the core basketball gameplay, NBA 2K15 let me customize pretty much anything I wanted, starting with my own player. The FaceScan feature made the NBA version of Jason Fanelli right in my image, then I was able to set my attributes and skills before entering the NBA Draft. In an interesting twist I went undrafted, having to earn my way onto a team from the bottom of the barrel. The cutscenes telling the story are a little wonky, as it's obvious more time was spent with on-court realism than with locker room realism, but they're still entertaining and create a RPG-style story in a sports game. I normally don't pursue a career too long in a sports game, but these scenes make me want to continue on long after this review is written.
MyTeam broadens the focus from a player to an entire team, and the card-based team-builder is reminiscent of similar modes in other sports games. I started with a few cards, built a ragtag team of bench players and journeymen, and took on challenges and other MyTeams in order to gain currency and build my deck even more. It's a fun mode, but it's nothing I haven't seen before in other sports games, and in that sense it's a bit underwhelming.
There's another way to run a NBA team in 2K15, MyGM, and that mode is more in-depth than I ever expected. I figured I'd be dealing with team financials, building and maintaining a roster, and keeping team personnel happy (especially the owner) but I never expected that they would throw something I said back in my face. The game remembered when I told a player he'd get more opportunities to play, and he was awfully angry when I didn't. The team owner held me to every word I said, so when I didn't make the playoffs in year two he was awfully angry. Even the media didn't like when I softballed answers at them, so they got awfully angry and skewered me with tough questions. As much fun as the mode is, all I learned about myself is that I'd make a lot of people awfully angry as a GM.
Unbelievably, 2K15 lets me increase my influence even further with MyLeague, where I can change just about every rule in the book to suit my league needs. I can set my own salary cap, or I can throw the salary cap out the window and bring all of the NBA's top talent to one team. I can completely overhaul the NBA's trade rules, turning the league into a Wild West of wheelin' and dealin'. Heck, I can somehow turn every player in the NBA into superhumans impervious to any injuries. This mode is the basketball equivalent of a garage full of sports cars and a voice saying "pick one": I can do whatever I want, however I want, then play the league and see how it all turned out, and it's easily my favorite part of the entire game.
There are plenty of ways to play NBA 2K15, and every one of them has its merits from the run-of-the-mill MyTeam to the bonanza of creativity that is MyLeague. More importantly, however, the core on-the-court action controls incredibly well, feeling more realistic than every before. The NBA 2K franchise continues its pedigree of excellence with 2K15, as basketball buffs and video game aficionados alike will have plenty to sink their teeth into.
This review is based on a retail copy of NBA 2K15 provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.