NBA 2K20 review: The lights shine bright once again

Visual Concepts
Visual Concepts /

NBA 2K20 continues to exist as the premiere basketball simulation video game, despite some overzealous use of microtransactions.

Title: NBA 2K20
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: September 6, 2019

With little in the way of competition over the past decade (sorry, NBA Live), it would be easy for Visual Concepts and 2K Sports to have rested on their laurels and let the NBA 2K franchise name alone carry itself to sales success. To their credit though, they’ve continued to reiterate and improve upon their NBA 2K franchise year-in and year-out in an effort to create the best and most authentic basketball simulation game on the market.

And they’ve pretty much succeeded as NBA 2K is essentially the go-to game for basketball fans. Improving upon an already stellar basketball experience is no easy feat and NBA 2K20 makes some modest improvements to its gameplay and presentation. You can’t reinvent the wheel every year and to be honest, 2K doesn’t have to. They’ve created a stellar game over the past few years and now it’s about fine-tuning the beast that NBA 2K has become.

Before we get into the specifics of NBA 2K20, I want to first point out that the last NBA 2K game I reviewed was NBA 2K14 back in 2013, so it’s been a while since I last stepped onto the digital hard court. I’m a casual basketball fan whose interest in the sport has increased over the years as the league has become more exciting. I’m not necessarily a die-hard fan, but I’m definitely part of the growing audience that the league has captured during this surge in popularity.

So I approached NBA 2K20 as a relative newcomer to the franchise. After all, a lot has changed in the five-plus years since I last picked up an NBA 2K game. I should also note that much of my experience with the game came after launch after many of the game’s initial glaring issues were patched.

One thing hasn’t changed though; the presentation and gameplay of NBA 2K20 are still top-notch. Hitting up the tutorial mode, I was a bit overwhelmed at just how intricate the level of detailed gameplay mechanics actually went. But it’s all in an effort to create an experience authentic the game we see played on television. NBA 2K20 not only faithfully captures the appearance of the league’s biggest and brightest stars, but mastering the game’s controls – which does come with a bit of a learning curve – means you can also pull off the moves like their real-life counterparts. Watching Kevin Durant glide to the rim in fluid motion is a thing of beauty.

Responsive controls that actually take into account physics and momentum, and signature dribbling styles result in players feeling unique from one another. An excellent ball-handler will look and feel quite different when driving to the basket than, say, a slow center. Movement feels a tad slow, but also methodical, allowing you to plan out your approach with the ball. Successful trips to the basket feel rewarding and well-earned, while turnovers as a result of sloppy ball control are frustrating, but also deserving. Either way, the outcome is satisfying and there really isn’t any confusion as to what unfolded on each possession.

As a team-game, AI decision-making is almost of equal importance to player control and for the improvements put in place for NBA 2K20 largely feel good. Computer behavior seems natural, though at times a bit questionable – particularly with player matchups and game time management. But overall, the computer reacts well-enough in most situations to create a realistic feeling in most games.

In MyCareer, where you’re more reliant on AI teammates, it can get a little frustrating in terms of AI decisions, especially as it’s easy to want to be a ball hog and pad those stats. But you aren’t only rewarded for scoring; the mode takes into account other aspects of your player’s game which makes tolerating the computer a little easier.

Speaking of MyCareer, this is one of the key modes in NBA 2K20 and easily one of my favorites. MyCareer kicks off with an intriguing storyline, titled “When The Lights Are Brightest.” The relatively short cinematic experience (with few breaks for actual gameplay) sets the stage for your player’s career.

Produced by SpringHill Entertainment, the media production company founded in 2015 by LeBron James, the story starts off strong as it delves into the complexities of college athletics, specifically with the treatment of young student athletes. And there’s no shortage of talented actors and media personalities who signed on to help tell this story. The cast includes Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson and Thomas Middleditch along with cameos from Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and more.

But after a drama-fueled start, it soon breaks down into what feels like an attack on the college establishment and an ad for SpringHill, as you’re soon bombarded with the idea of sponsorship deals. I’m not going to pretend I know the behind-the-scenes inner-workings of college basketball, but it seems there’s a deeper conversation to be hard regarding its complexities. NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer story seems to be content with only scratching the surface of the uncomfortable conversation.

As for the gameplay portion of MyCareer, this is where the mode truly shines. You begin with a fairly deep character customization system in which you decide the type of player you want to be. While 2K has taken steps to ease the grind in raising your rating, it still exists and the inclusion of microtransactions for VC (Virtual Currency) in MyCareer leads me to believe that’s intentional by design. Microtransactions are optional, and you will eventually get to a solid rating on your own, but it still feels like a gross inclusion.

Most of my time was spent in MyLeague as I’m a fan of sports franchise modes. In EA’s Madden series, my friends and I would host an online league every year; but, as EA continued to focus on Ultimate Team, they’ve seemed to throw us to the wayside, so I was excited to see what NBA 2K20 had to offer.

Honestly, I was blown away by just how in-depth MyLeague went. From what I’ve read in the past, NBA 2K20 doesn’t make too many enhancements from previous years, but I really don’t think it has too.

As someone who is only just now getting into the NBA, I’d like to see more of the offseason systems explained. NBA 2K20 does a decent job with its brief explanations when entering each phase of the offseason, but there were quite a few phrases and terms that I had to look up when signing contracts. Given how many new fans the NBA has adopted over the past few years, I bet I’m not the only one who has limited knowledge of how the league’s free agency and financial contracts work. A little guidance in that department would be appreciated.

Beyond that, NBA 2K20‘s MyLeague is about all you could hope for with a franchise mode. The league is your playground, and I love how much freedom comes with it. The complicated nature of the NBA’s offseason does make conducting an online league a little annoying and needlessly complex, but I appreciate how in-depth the mode goes.

I spent the least amount of time in MyTeam, and that’s mostly because I hate the nature of it. My disdain for this type of mode is hardly limited to NBA 2K20, as I don’t participate in EA’s equivalent Ultimate Team either.

I like the concept of MyTeam (and Ultimate Team). The idea of putting together a fantasy squad of players sounds like a blast in theory. But microtransactions and the predatory nature of loot boxes have ruined these modes for me. Plus, I don’t have the time these days to compete in limited time events. As a married father with a two-year-old, I don’t have the freedom to play on a developer’s schedule, so I’m already at a disadvantage when competing in this type of game mode. If you aren’t playing consistently or dropping insane amounts of money to improve your team, you’re going to be at a severe competitive disadvantage and that makes the mode unenjoyable, for me at least.

I’m sure there are millions of NBA 2K fans who don’t mind dedicating their life to this mode and that’s probably what MyTeam is catering too. Them, and probably addicts with a fear of missing out on the rarest cards so they drop thousands of dollars.

By sticking with modes like MyPlayer and MyLeague and pretty much avoiding MyTeam, I found NBA 2K20 to be an overall enjoyable experience and a nice change of pace from my typical go-to sports game. Whether your a die-hard basketball fan or a casual just getting into the sport, like myself, it’s hard not to enjoy the authentic NBA experience that 2K20 delivers.

8. From presentation to gameplay, NBA 2K20 does an amazing job at faithfully recreating an authentic basketball experience. If you can look past the microtransactions, you’ll find a really great basketball simulation.. Visual Concepts. . NBA 2K20

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.