2K and Visual Concepts are entering their fourth release on the current generation of consoles with NBA 2K24. Much like the first release, 2K has included Kobe Bryant as its cover athlete, and there’s a bit of a running theme between these two titles. While the series has continued to progress since appearing on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, NBA 2K24 hits a road block with the progression of the game. There are a few things that have been added this year with ProPLAY and some supposed gameplay tweaks, but there are gameplay elements that remain hindering and aspects that take a step back. Kobe Bryant is the standout with his Mamba Moments, but the ultimate end is the same grind mixed with repurchasing assets for online modes that really only cater to the hardcore community of the series.
Last year, Jordan Moments were introduced to the franchise where a series of games could be played featuring Jordan’s best games. This ranged from college to the pros and the game offered different filters and broadcasts for each era. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Mamba Moments featuring Kobe Bryant. This isn’t his fault, however, but the mode stands out in NBA 2K24 with goals to replicate certain aspects of each game. It blew my mind to hear the NBA on NBC theme, and see the retro ESPN graphics and other graphical overlays. 2K is still the best in this department and it begs the question as to why other sports titles can’t incorporate different presentations.
Kobe did not go to college as he was drafted straight to the NBA, so the college games seen in the Jordan Moments aren’t here. Some of these goals are especially difficult to achieve partly due to the gameplay in the game. Want to achieve the twelve threes seen against the Sacramento Kings in 2003? Better hope you get hot with Kobe or turn down the difficulty. There’s a video recap of the game that’s extremely stretched out to fit the screen prior to each game in Mamba Moments. This would have been better left in 4:3 rather than trying to stretch out as it is difficult to see the video. Once momentum is built with Kobe and he gets hot, that’s the starting point to getting the goals in each game. Mamba Moments fall short of the Jordan Moments mainly due to the lack of variety that was showcased during Jordan’s career, but not by much.
2K and Visual Concepts introduced MyERAS where players could select different eras of basketball to start a franchise with. This was revolutionary and the team has added the LeBron Era to this. Players will start off with the Heat and the Celtics at the height of their rivalry and Kobe in the twilight of his career. The presentation is even taken from previous 2K titles, so it feels like a remake or a remaster of a previous NBA 2K title. The only problem is that I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best era of basketball and a lot of teams weren’t all that good as super teams had become a thing. While that presentation returned, this was one of the bigger knocks on the franchise at the time.
Players have the option for a lot of customization with teams in MyNBA along with more behind-the-scenes tools that received changes. For the business gurus, the 2023 Collective Bargaining Agreement has been added to coincide with the league. Visual Concepts has also streamlined the Franchise experience without all the business aspects with MyNBA Lite, which allows focus on the more major aspects of running a team — an underrated addition. Fans of the mode will appreciate this, but again this only comes down to the hardcore community for the MyNBA.
The WNBA and The W return for this year to help offer a change of pace. Players can choose to become either a college player or an international star as the goal is to become the best player in the league. The game will pit the player against rival star players and based on the performance, players can work their way up. Why this wasn’t available across the board is questionable, though. This is something new that’s limited to one mode. The results boil down to achieve rewards, which continues to be the end game for the series. Grinding for rewards across the board that goes towards the two main microtransaction modes continues to be an issue.
Outside of design and direction changes, the rest of the available modes are unchanged. The City in MyCAREER no longer has a drawn out and repetitive narrative. This has instead been replaced with more quests as players have the choice to focus on either street ball or growing their career in the NBA. The entire experience has been more simplified and better organized and this version of The City is the best and most vibrant version to date. Playing basketball on the beach with neon lights in the background is awesome. It feels like the team took the best aspects of Los Angeles and put them in a compact community. Running around takes forever and having some wheels does help, but there are new aspects such as races and doing tricks, aspects outside of basketball, that require more time invested in the mode.
Gameplay in The City remains slow and delayed and playing defense is out the window. Online players invest all their capital in maxing out their player, but this comes down for opting into the Deluxe Edition of the game. The base game leaves players at a disadvantage to the point where others won’t play with you since you’re so far behind in ratings. Grinding, again, is the key but the investment remains totally in this mode if you want to compete. This does truly feel like an RPG that it could be renamed Basketball Life. The flow of the city can also be frustrating as there are only specific roads that are used to get around. It’s difficult to take shortcuts to limit your time running around. The gameplay still comes down to perfectly timing jump shots to score. It’s difficult to properly matchup with the amount of input lag mixed with the general weight distribution of the players in the game.
When opting for the Deluxe Edition, players have a choice to make. While they may get cards for MyTEAM, if they want to stick to that mode they need to choose between MyCAREER development of MyTEAM cards unless they’re in the market to spend real money. 2K has tacked on an additional Season Pass option for both modes, which amounts to spending more money. There are new Pro and Hall of Fame levels that are achievable in MyTEAM, but the ultimate goal is to continue to grind or spend money to keep up with the competition throughout the year.
The most frustrating portion remains with the gameplay, specifically the shooting. The development team has stated that shooting and dribbling is more accessible, which is clearly not the case. The AI locks on to you and no matter the dribbling that’s done, whether it be crossovers or advanced moves, nine times out of ten it isn’t going to work. The new ProPLAY animations are noticeable and extremely fluid, but it feels the game has become even more animation dependent. The AI tends to slip by a lot easier against man-to-man defense, and this also means it’s much more difficult to defend. Down in the paint, however, is where the gameplay shines the best. Blocks are more abundant, the physicality is apparent and the overall feel of what happens under the net feels more natural than it ever has. I had Shaq literally one-hand a block and steal the ball at the same time. It was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen in a sports game; so natural and lifelike.
The complete and utter frustration of the shooting meter remain. There are sliders to help adjust this, but the number of aspects that go into each individual shot means that consistency just isn’t there. While this has mainly been an issue on the perimeter, recently it seems to have returned even when directly around the net or with layups. It’s called a layup for a reason. Kobe can hit a layup. Turning off the meter just means the meter isn’t visibly there. Some players have the meter surge at the last possible second, others take forever to reach the point. It feels like NBA 2K21 and it isn’t more accessible for players this year. Playing on the lowest difficulty just because the shooting is easier isn’t the solution when the rest of the game is mostly fine. Again, this caters to the hardcore fanbase and the only way to get good is to play a ton of games to learn it. Obviously, there are a substantial amount of people that do this, but some of us don’t want to play a game and wonder why this shot went in and why this shot didn’t.
Visually, NBA 2K24 remains in the upper echelon of sports games with the most realistic current player faces there are. The distinct difference between non-scanned player models and scanned player models are still apparent. Some of the legendary players look like caricatures. The ProPLAY does make the game look even more realistic in action. The City looks wonderful, but some of the assets are lacking as there’s a big difference in the arenas. Crowds are lively and individualistic and the sideline is diverse with action. A lot of this was introduced at the beginning of this generation, though. What does make the game feel fresh is the overhaul to the in-game presentation. The updated ticker looks professional and like a modern television broadcast and the cutscenes remain the best there are. The updates are welcome as this is the closest to a television broadcast in a sports game that you’ll find.
While there are multiple commentating teams returning this year, the only real one that stands out is Kevin Harlan. He’s the best in the business, hands down. The rest remain forgettable, even though Grant Hill is one of the commentators. Again, why can’t other sports games offer these options? Players can expect the best sounds in the Hip-Hop community to be heard throughout the year as it will get updated with each season. The crowds remain loud and dynamic, and I don’t know if I have realized in the past, but I had an arena completely empty before the end of the game. Like, the arena was noticeably bare with only a fraction of the away team left after I got blown out at home. The sound also varies with how full the arena is. It’s these little things that help the franchise to stand out, but a drop in progression has hindered this year.
After the large strides last year, the minimal announcements for updates to this year’s game raised a red flag. Adding the LeBron Era makes sense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s game will add LeBron Moments. Mamba Moments are once again great, as 2K and Visual Concepts once again perfectly hit the target with these types of modes, whether it be NBA or WWE. The rest of the game feels largely unchanged outside of a simplified City for MyCAREER (outside of the additional non-basketball quests). The shooting and gameplay have added more frustration this year, but the paint play is the best the series has seen. There are some positives and some negatives to the new ProPLAY implementation, but a variety of presentation changes truly help to make the NBA games feel fresh. The biggest knocks remain with both the shooting frustration and the even bigger focus on microtransactions. After the strides made last year, NBA 2K24 is the first regression the series has seen on this generation of consoles. Plus, the PC version is still running on the previous generation version of the game, and even Madden had rectified that this year.