Play NBA 2K20 for long enough, and you just may forget it’s a video game. The players look that good and realistic, the animations are that smooth, and the commentary from Chris Webber and Doris Burke and Co. is that fluid and entertaining.
Every so often, though, you’ll get a reminder that this is, indeed, a video game. A player will run out of bounds. The frame rate, especially on the PlayStation 4, will hitch just a bit. Or you’ll see that mysterious dead-eye look that still happens in this game on rare occasions.
It’s all so close to real-life basketball, though, that you can live with any shortcomings. The latest basketball video game from Visual Concepts, as usual, sets a new bar for greatest, delivering fantastic on-court action and so much off-court fun that you won’t know what hit you. There are missteps, yes, but the good is so good that you can live with the errors.
The good is tremendous starting with that on-court game, which is as fantastic as ever. Somehow, NBA 2K20 levels up a terrific standard of basketball, making each player feel even more distinct. That’s partly because of how badges now play: They’ve always had an effect on gameplay, but in 2K20, they seem more powerful. As they should be, too: They make stars feel like stars.
The on-court game rewards the skill of the gamer more than ever, thanks to new defensive sets. Defenses are more apt to wall off slashers now, and A.I. is improved overall, although more creativity from the computer in how it plays would be welcome. The computer will always go to the double-team (and leave a shooter wide open) when you have a scorer heat up. Fouls seem to be called more often in the paint, too, rewarding you for attacking the hole.
The on-court action continues to set a terrific standard, and 2K20 gives you more and more ways to enjoy that, too. The MyCareer story mode is the best it’s been, heavily narrative-driven but with a narrative that’s enjoyable and includes a pretty impressive cast (start with Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson). Playground games are terrific fun, too, yielding a ton of variety.
And then there’s the big new addition to this year’s game, the WNBA. You can play exhibition games with the WNBA and work through a full WNBA season. That’s a wealth of fun content, because the game does play subtly differently in terms of spacing and pacing. It’s a fun changeup, although it would have been nice if NBA 2K20 had dared to mix this league’s players in with the NBA.
Previous additions to the game, like all-time teams and historic teams, could be mixed into leagues with standard NBA teams. You don’t get to do this with the WNBA, though. While this is understandable in some ways, it’s still disappointing that you can’t even use WNBA players in, say, playground 5-on-5.
MyTeam mode is also disappointing, a giant timesink that also plays the microtransactions game way too often. It’s a mode designed to take your cash, and there’s not much return or fun.
The fun is reserved for the MyLeague mode, which remains the absolute best in the sports game business. From player mentorship to tons of depth trading draft picks and trade exceptions to hiring former players to coach your team, there’s so much sheer depth to this experience that it’s ridiculously addictive.
2K20 doesn’t mess with its formula much, making only minor (but useful) adjustments. Homecourt advantage plays a bigger role in gameplay now, and the draft scouting system’s been overhauled. Other than that, the formula stays much the same as it’s always been.
Not that you’ll ever mind with this game, because that tried-and-true NBA 2K formula is just as good as ever. Yes, MyTeam is awful, and yes, further WNBA integration would be great.
But you can’t argue with a hoops game this deep and this fun.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One X
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC