NBA 2K19 marks the 20th anniversary of the NBA 2K series, released annually since 1999, and despite the series' longevity developer Visual Concepts isn't resting on its laurels. NBA 2K has been the cream of the crop when it comes basketball video games for quite some time, putting rival NBA Live from EA Sports to shame historically. NBA 2K19 doesn't change that fact at all.
NBA 2K19 isn't a flawless product. There's a few minor gripes to make about this year's entry and one major flaw when it comes to the game's MyTeam mode. Ultimately though NBA 2K19 is still the basketball video game champ. No basketball game, or sports game in general, has more personality, visual flair, or variety than NBA 2K19.
There's so much that NBA 2K19 does right that its hard to single out just one aspect. Yet the crown jewel of NBA 2K series is the incredible MyCareer mode. A constant of the series, MyCareer is NBA 2K19's RPG-esque story mode where players create a custom character and chart their journey to NBA superstardom alongside a very talented acting cast. NBA 2K19's MyCareer mode is subtitled "The Way Back" and it stars The Avengers' Anthony Mackie, Haley Joel Osment, and many others. "The Way Back" is the gold standard when it comes to sports games story modes with impeccable production value, strong writing, and terrific animation.
One of the core reasons why "The Way Back" succeeds is because the graphical power of NBA 2K19 is insane. This is a gorgeous looking game. As disgusting as it might sound, every sweat drop on a player's brow is a thing of beauty. NBA 2K19 looks so lifelike, especially in the thick of the action, that it's easy to forget you're playing a video game. The players are animated to perfection, moving their faces and bodies just like their real-life counterparts. That fluidity translates rather naturally to gameplay as well since NBA 2K19 controls like a dream as players run up and down the court.
There is a level of complexity to NBA 2K19 in that it's not a simple arcade-like game. Controls are intuitive but skill and thought are required. The game throws players into the deep and expects them to learn as they go with NBA 2K19's many gameplay elements but it's not a very steep learning curve. NBA 2K19 is challenging but at just the right degree. It remains fun while still offering a level of challenge to demand improvement.
The fundamentals of NBA 2K19 are engaging gameplay and terrific visuals. These combine to make one of the most polished sports games out there and provide a strong foundation for the game's offerings. When you add in the presentation and commentary the experience is even better. The visual pizzazz of NBA 2K19 extends out to everything else. Menus are slick and appealing. The music tracks are diverse. There are no repeated lines in the commentary tracks or stilted delivery. Even the most simple of matches offer an audio and visual treat for fans.
Perhaps the greatest highlight of NBA 2K19 is the variety. It has all the standard modes of any sports game. There's a season mode, a franchise mode, and just basic exhibitions, but NBA 2K19 manages to go the extra mile. This is best exemplified by MyGM mode which casts players in the role of a team's General Manager. It comes in two varieties, story or basic. The story mode uses text-based cutscenes to connect all the big decisions and games, while basic mode cuts out all the story stuff.
The story for GM mode is nowhere near as impressive or deep as "The Way Back" but the mere fact that the option exists is emblematic of what NBA 2K19 does so well. Even though NBA 2K19 is an annualized series at the top of its game it doesn't take the lazy route. From gameplay to visuals to game modes, NBA 2K19 puts its best foot forward with a few key exceptions.
Sadly, NBA 2K19's MyTeam is a huge disappointment. It's not a brand new addition to the franchise but that doesn't make it any better. MyTeam is very similar to EA Sport's Ultimate Team modes. It's about creating the best fantasy basketball team using players of all eras. It's also riddled with microtransactions. Players are added to MyTeam through packs that can be purchased with real-life money or by completing challenges in the game. Since the process of getting packs through gameplay can be a bit of a slog, microtransactions are constantly offered and almost appealing. It's manipulative and greedy, a straight up repugnant practice that ruins what should otherwise be a very fun mode.
As it is though MyTeam should just be avoided and players can focus on NBA 2K19's other offerings. It's not even as if MyTeam is the only way to create unbelievable basketball teams that would never exist in real life. Customizable rosters exist. There's also an awesome Blacktop mode that players can use to create 3v3 or 5v5 playground basketball matches that use all-stars from the past and present. The fact that the microtransactions exist and are so heavily emphasized is a scar on NBA 2K19's reputation and the developer/publisher but it doesn't sully the entire game.
Even with its shortcomings NBA 2K19 is the best basketball game available. The changes over the previous year aren't extraordinary but they're sizable enough that the game is well worth a pick-up. For the twentieth anniversary, NBA 2K19 could've done something more like add in a completely new mode or some significant changes to MyCareer but that's not really a failing. It's more of a missed opportunity.
Everything NBA 2K19 does, with one notable exception, it does well. NBA 2K19 easily holds onto its crown as the best basketball video game on the market.
NBA 2K19 is avaiable now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided a Xbox One copy for review.