This is “bigger than basketball” — a phrase often associated with LeBron James and other NBA athletes who have made a commitment to activism and the betterment of their communities. James will be remembered as an athlete of course, but as he rightfully has reminded us, he’s far more than an athlete.
That important fact seeps into NBA 2K20, specifically in the MyCareer story produced by James’ SpringHill Entertainment. The central goal may be to get drafted and make a name for yourself in the league, but this year’s story touches on the impact players can make off the court. From Spike Lee’s terrible “joint” in NBA 2K16 to last year’s hollow tale, I usually just wanted the narrative to end and the day-to-day grind of developing my player to begin. And while there’s certainly room for improvement, it far exceeds the corny and ultimately generic stories from previous games in the series.
Sadly that newfound entry doesn’t carry over into on the court action. Don’t get me wrong. NBA 2K20 is a great basketball sim. The addition of WNBA teams and players is welcome and long overdue. But NBA 2K20 feels pretty similar to last year’s iteration. MyTeam, the card-collecting fantasy mode, does have more features and incentives to keep you playing, but overall it’s not a huge advancement. And once the story fades away, MyCareer is a familiar but fun trip to the neighborhood somewhat ruined by obnoxious load times.
Bigger than basketball
NBA 2K is the only sports sim that has consistently tried to couple engaging storytelling with a robust, role-playing career mode that works as both a solo and multiplayer experience. The problem is that the story has almost always been underwhelming. From the terrible Spike Lee Joint in NBA 2K16 to last year’s hollow tale, I usually just want the narrative to end and the day-to-day grind of developing my player to begin. NBA 2K20 is a different story, though. Dubbed “When the Lights are Brightest,” the MyCareer prologue has heart.
The setup: You’re a college senior who could’ve went to the next level years ago. Controversy ensues in the midst of an NCAA tournament run and you decide to take a stand. There’s a smart balance of gameplay and cutscenes in the roughly two hour story, held together by solid performances from Idris Elba, Thomas Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson. Sprinkle in cameos from a number of NBA stars and a grading system that sees you rocket up the draft board if you play well, and MyCareer gets off to a great start.
MyCareer remains the compelling solo and social experience it has been for years.
It’s awesome to see a story that isn’t just about basketball, but about how those who play the game at the highest level can make a real impact on the world. It doesn’t run with this idea as deeply as it could have. However, it’s still a nice step in a new direction and features far better writing than previous entries.