This may or may not matter to some of you, as I do not know who here plays games like NHL, NBA2K or Madden outside of their MMO and RPG habits. But recently, after years away from sports games, I picked up both this year’s Madden and NBA 2K15. I have a history with both games, but what I found in this years’ versions hit me right in the nerdy bone. It’s like the funny bone, but instead of jokes it’s RPGs, Star Wars references, and comics that tickle this one.
You see, in both Madden and NBA 2K this year, there’s a fully developed game mode that lets you focus all of your efforts on creating your own player and taking him from no-name rookie to Hall of Fame athlete. I’ve only dabbled in Madden’s version of this, but I want to focus this column on the My Career mode of NBA 2K15.
Quite simply, it’s the ultimate pro basketball RPG.
You start, as you’d guess by making your own player (character). In NBA2K, this goes one step further by letting you actually scan your own face into the game using the camera on your console or PC to actually put yourself in the game. And while some don’t come out quite right (see below), when it works as intended the effect is better than you’d expect (also below). I’ll be posting my own face later after I get my PS4 camera operational.
Once you do that, you begin the game with acted cinematics and your player is the star. He goes undrafted, and your agent (who’s also not doing so hot in his career) promises that he’s got some teams lined up who might want you on a 10-day contract deal. In the NBA, this is basically the trial for unproven talent to see if there’s a place on the team for you. Between halves, after games, and other important milestones, there are more cinematics helping to tell your story. You even get to make minor dialog choices that might affect how you fit in with the team and its players.
Each game you play you earn points to spend on your attributes and on further customizing your player as well. You get bonus points based on how you perform in the game too. Though honestly since you start off in the low 60s out of 99 overall player rating, it’s probably best to forget about snazzy shot animations and Air Jordans and instead focus on improving your skills. And, unlike other game modes, you only play your players. You can’t control anyone else, so setting up picks, passing, and playing decent defense all help in keeping you on the team.
So far I haven’t landed a spot on the Hornets (the only team I could convince to take me), but I have managed to convince them to sign me for a second 10-day contract. Maybe if my player wouldn’t show up to a meeting with the GM wearing a ratty T-shirt and sweats I’d have a better chance. But I digress. I’m earning more playing time, I’m in the 9th slot on the roster, and my rating has gone from 60 to 65. I’m no Brian Scalabrine, but I’m still alive. Given that I thought this would be a cake walk, I probably shouldn’t have made myself a 6’4” Power Forward.
And if the down and out life of a struggling player isn’t for you? You can always try your hand at RP-ing the role of GM of your favorite team. You’ll manage everything from Players’ Egos to the salary, trades, and take Press Conferences. Basketball was always my sport growing up, and I’m seriously enjoying the lengths that 2K has gone to make this game more than just a great basketball sim. It is that, but they’ve clearly taken a page from the WWE games and injected personality and story into the mix.
Which brings me to the point of this little Columbus Day (or Canadian Thanksgiving) column: does the idea of sports games injecting hallmarks of a true RPG make you more or less interested in playing? For me personally, I’m finding the My Career mode a really great quick way to get my basketball fix (since I can quick sim parts of the game where I’m not playing), while really sinking into my own little NBA underdog story.
It’s funny, but much in the same way we’re hoping the MMO changes to bring something new nd interesting to the table, it seems 2K has gone and done the same for their NBA franchise. I have been writing off sports games for almost a decade now, but both Madden’s new Franchise mode and mostly NBA 2K15’s My Career mode have turned a stale genre into something fresh. The story’s not Shakespeare, and the cinematics aren’t top notch, but they add a much needed layer of personal ownership to a game that’s always been about the biggest star on the court. Hopefully before too long I’ll be a 6th man or a starter (this is the Hornets we’re talking about), but until then I’ll just keep putting all my “XP” into my post moves and defense.