Sports video games face a unique challenge. A solid first-person shooter or RPG can rest on its laurels for some time, but a sports franchise has to bring fans back year in, year out. Roster updates simply aren’t enough; games must raise the bar each and every year.
NBA 2K15, the latest release from 2K Sports, doesn’t disappoint. A gorgeous product, 2K15 offers the most immersive and wide-ranging basketball experience around. As we’ve come to expect with the 2K series, the gameplay is superb, but the real strength of the game lies in the detailed and varied modes of play.
Association Mode has been a 2K fan favorite for years. The new mode, My League, takes the concept to another level. The level of customization is what really sets it apart from its predecessor. You can control a single team or 30 teams (playing as many or as few games as you’d like) for a single season or up to 80 years. And you aren’t limited to the current league. Want to see how Maccabi Tel Aviv would fare if they replaced the 76ers for a season? You can do it here, and you also have access to classic teams. Other options include the ability to determine the quality of the draft class each year (past versions just gave you the option to upload or auto generate); the frequency of blockbuster trades among CPU teams; the difficulty of trade and contract negotiations; and more. It’s the best year-to-year franchise mode I’ve ever played.
For those seeking a more personal experience, there’s the MyCareer mode, which tasks you with taking a customized undrafted free agent and making him into an NBA Hall of Famer. 2K Sports introduced this story-based mode in 2K14, but it takes a huge leap in 2K15. Because you’re an undrafted free agent, you get your choice of team when you start (an option not afforded in 2K14). Perform well enough in your tryout, and that team will sign you to a 10-day contract. Disappoint, and it’s on to the next team tryout. Once signed to a team, it’s on you to make a game-to-game impact, earning points to better your created player.
The presentation overall in MyCareer mode is impressive (the much talked about facial scanning option aside). Your custom-designed player doesn’t just hit the court; he talks to other players and coaches, who react to your player’s performances. When you first start out, a teammate will tell you the silver lining in your rocky debut is that it “couldn’t get any worse.” Better yet, real stars and coaches lend their voice to the game, adding to the overall realism. While I wish you could skip through some of the cut scenes (especially early), if you’re a fan of story-based modes in sports games, this won’t disappoint.
The gameplay, as we’ve come to expect, is great, with the much-needed addition of the shot feedback meter. In past versions, you’ve been expected to determine the correct release point by looking at a player’s jump shot in real-time, a tough endeavor given the wide range of shots on a team. In 2K15, a meter hovers beneath the shooter indicating the correct release point. Wide open? You’ll have a much bigger sweet spot for your shot. Shooting threes with Dwight Howard? Good luck. Either way, you’ll know what you’re aiming for.
2K15 offers something for everyone, and is well worth the $60 price tag, even if you own 2K14. The biggest drawback? 2K Sports is going to have a helluva time topping this one.
Which other games are worth your time? We round up the best of the rest below.
Full disclosure: This is the first version of FIFA I've ever played. Embarrassing, I know, but it gave me an interest vantage point as a reviewer.
Among all the sports games on the market today, FIFA may be the most beginner friendly. Are you going to pick up the controller and blow out a vet who has been playing the franchise since FIFA 95? No, but the basics are a breeze to pick up, and you'll be working from one end of the pitch to the other with ease by the end of the first half (corners and PKs take a bit longer, however). It's hard to say that about basketball, football and hockey games.
I've seen some complain about the frantic pace of play in FIFA 15, but I didn't find issue with it. Methodical is not a virtue I look for in video games, and the breakneck gameplay is enthralling, especially against the gorgeous backdrops. Everything in the arena is thought out, from the turf to the fans, who are programmed with team specific chants. Even if crowd atmosphere is not your thing (is it anyone's thing?), you can't help but appreciate the realism it brings to the game.
FIFA 15 is a must-have for beginners and veterans alike.
NHL 15 perfectly captures the fast, chaotic game we all love, but it has some serious limitations.
It starts with the physics, specifically those surrounding the puck. The biscuit bounces, slides and rolls in unpredictable ways we've never before seen in a video game. Add in crushing hits and pinpoint skating, and you have one of the most authentic hockey games around.
But what the game boasts in terms of gameplay, it lacks in overall features. Gone are standbys like EA Sports Hockey League mode and, less importantly, GM mode. EA said it didn't include certain modes because it couldn't ensure the upmost quality, which is an entirely defensible position. It also promised updates to the game that will include new modes (the latest update included Be a Pro, Playoff Mode, 3 Stars and Hockey Ultimate Team).
Fans now expect their sports game to include a multitude of features; they want it to be part sports game, part RPG. NHL 15's gameplay is stellar, but it seems incomplete without the normal bells and whistles we've come to expect as gamers.
The latest game in the revered football franchise is all about defense. No doubt inspired by one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history (the game does after all boast Richard Sherman on the cover), Madden features improved pass-rush controls and a new tackling engine. It brings a new spark to a game many have been playing for over a decade (even if it does make the passing game more frustrating than in previous years).
The graphics are gorgeous, and the new wrinkles to the play-calling menu are a huge upgrade. Being able to change the play on the fly in the no-huddle makes that technique usable for the first time in Madden history.
The biggest downside: The cut scenes, however pretty, slow down the game, and you're not able to skip many of them.
Overall, one of the biggest year-to-year improvements we've seen from Madden. A must-have for all football fans.