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NBA 2K16 Review

  • First Released Sep 25, 2015
  • Reviewed Sep 30, 2015
  • XONE
  • PS4

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.

NBA 2K16 is a tale of substance and style, loaded with a degree of personality not found elsewhere in the series. It proudly displays its Spike Lee-directed “Livin’ Da Dream” narrative, which adds more story, drama, and reasons to come back to MyCareer mode. But that character stretches far beyond the melodramatic cutscenes. Personal interviews, pre- and post-game shows, unique player mannerisms, and even teammate video-bombings give each matchup that big, true-to-life NBA feel. On the court, however, it can be a struggle to find your rhythm.

The controls have been expanded to allow you to direct and feed a ball to the post, pitch a pass behind you, and manage the position and timing of screens. These inclusions find mixed success. NBA 2K16’s layered gameplay systems demand smart and thorough explanation, but there's a lack of training that makes it difficult for newcomers (and even returning players) to grasp everything new that’s happening on the hardwood.

MyCareer wonderfully captures the setting of a high school basketball game.
MyCareer wonderfully captures the setting of a high school basketball game.

It’s a shame, too, since once you begin to time screens correctly and master the jukes and fakes tied to the Pro Stick, NBA 2K16 plays like a dream. The movement feels natural and encourages creative play, since the sharper AI makes it difficult to repeatedly exploit the talents of your best player. The dedicated bounce-pass and lob buttons give you even greater control of the floor, allowing you to fake toward the basket more smoothly and slip a slick pass to a shooter in the corner.

You can win one-on-one matchups by pumping, spinning, and falling away with your shot, and it’s fun to size up the defense to discover what style of play produces an uncontested shot. I became a better player and floor general by rethinking my strategy on both sides of the ball, and it’s rewarding to test out new techniques and score big. It’s just frustrating that you’re given so little help along the way.

Director Spike Lee’s “Livin’ Da Dream” story acts as the first portion of your journey through MyCareer, which is NBA 2K16’s most prominent addition. You still customize your own player, all the way from his weight and height to the crook of his nose. But any prospect you craft steps into the shoes of NBA hopeful and Harlem native “Freq,” short for “Frequency Vibrations.” Yes, that’s his real name.

MyGM plays very differently when managing a title contender versus a rebuilding franchise.
MyGM plays very differently when managing a title contender versus a rebuilding franchise.

From high school to college and eventually to the big leagues, you follow Freq and his circle of family and friends as they deal with all the difficult questions that often come with the life of a professional athlete. What college offers you the richest opportunities? Should you get a degree, or enter the draft early when your stock might be at its peak? Can childhood friends be detrimental once you’re forced into the media’s watchful eye?

The story opens strongly by giving you the freedom to choose your high school and college, but that agency is quickly snatched away once your career begins to take off. There are multiple sequences, such as declaring for the draft, where your friends, family, and potential agent are weighing your options in what seems to be a buildup toward a life-altering decision. But this player freedom is a facade; the story plays out in a linear fashion where the only things you can really control are what team you sign with and how you allocate your stats.

The story opens strongly by giving you the freedom to choose your high school and college, but that agency is quickly snatched away once your career begins to take off.

During your journey, you struggle with a recidivist best friend, and butt heads with your twin sister—who also acts as your manager. The dialogue can get corny—especially when your angry team owner awkwardly throws out street lingo—but the writing and delivery is leaps and bounds ahead of what’s been used in the past. This is the best MyCareer has ever been, and the transition from high school hoops to the professional league is well-paced and much more personal.

“Livin’ Da Dream” itself isn’t all that MyCareer has to offer, though. The main narrative wraps up in about five hours, or after you complete your first year in the NBA. That’s when the training wheels come off. Instead of playing a few key games in a single season while dealing with personal drama, the second act of MyCareer asks you to manage a full year’s schedule. Regular games are supplemented with off-days, when you’re free to speak with interested sponsors, practice drills with your team, or spend time with other NBA stars to improve your image. It’s a nice change of pace from the normal grind of playing 82 regular-season games, and while your remaining years in the league lack the pomp and circumstance of the intro, MyCareer is an alluring journey.

The writing outside of the MyCareer mode can be laughable.
The writing outside of the MyCareer mode can be laughable.

What could have improved MyCareer is a tutorial—even a basic one. It’s a trial by fire for anyone unfamiliar with the standard flow of the game, and even veteran players will find that mastering the tweaked control scheme demands plenty of practice. I dug through each and every menu option looking for a solution, only to find a handful of short, basic videos presented by the cover athletes that don’t even scratch the surface of what you can do in a single position. You can look up all the controls and practice on your own, but it’s just not enough.

As always, there’s so much more to do beyond MyCareer mode. The rewarding MyTeam mode pushes you to invest time and resources into your slapdash team to earn new booster packs and cards to bolster your roster. The temptation to drop real-life cash on better packs and players can be strong, but this collectible card carnival adds enough new challenges—including an online three-on-three Gauntlet mode that pairs you with other players—to remain satisfying without pressuring you to pay a premium.

What could have improved MyCareer is a tutorial—even a basic one. It’s a trial by fire for anyone unfamiliar with the standard flow of the game.

The franchise-focused MyLeague and MyGM modes also make a strong return, giving you the freedom to relocate your team, reconfigure their look, and even test out your rookie prospects in the summer league. If you want to sit in the hot seat of an NBA general manager and balance the morale of the entire organization as you run day-to-day activities, that option is there. If you’d prefer to create an NBA sandbox where you control a franchise for a full 80 seasons and can even invite up to 29 other real people to join your personal NBA fantasy, MyLeague and its new online component is your destination. There are myriad ways to play here. And when you add the online MyPark mode and Play Now options that pit you against either real teams or a group of created characters, it’s easy to see how you could lose yourself in NBA 2K16’s content buffet.

But working against the game’s successes is a steady current of connectivity issues. The nagging frame rate, stability, and connection lapses still persist even after years of online woes. They’re not quite as damning—I found plenty of online matches that hitched and sputtered far less than what’s been seen in the past—but connectivity issues reset my created character’s appearance on multiple occasions and even kicked me out of games. It’s hard to put too much weight on your online record when the timing of your shot can be altered by network errors as you’re fighting down the stretch of the fourth quarter. Instead of allowing you to test skills online and invest time into improving pole position, NBA 2K16 too often pits you against its own technical limitations.

“Don’t drop it!
“Don’t drop it!"

NBA 2K16 draws you in with its welcoming personality and expanded game modes. But it still manages to push you away with unexplained intricacies. A deep tutorial would have gone a long way toward making the new passing and screening maneuvers easier to incorporate into your game, and at this point, it’s inexcusable that this game still struggles online. Still, the fact that NBA 2K16 is a great basketball experience can’t be ignored. Few sports games come close to providing a more authentic and fun virtual representation of the real thing, and even if this is the least user-friendly entry in years, I can’t stop playing it.

Back To Top
The Good
MyCareer mode gets a much-needed dose of personality
A large number of diverse modes and activities
New mechanics have a positive impact on offense and defense
The Bad
Occasional network connectivity issues
It doesn't teach you how to be an effective player
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

For the purposes of this review, Josiah played through a few seasons in MyCareer, brought a championship home in MyGM, and spent hours in each of the additional game modes.
106 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for abhirajgoldy

i first NBA after 11 years (NBA live 2005) & i am enjoying the hell out of it

Avatar image for jamal777777

2K16 is one of the worst ever. They gouge the shit out of you to make you buy VC. What a joke. If anything will make me go to NBA live that will do it. The gameplay is getting worse. They try to make it harder by halfway controlling your player (i.e. the mysterious invisible walls, your player suddenly feeling in like he has cement shoes on, getting somehow dragged away from the basket when driving on a fast break, the stupid animation that are completely unrealistic that you cannot get out of, the seeming inability to get your players to go where you want them to, the passing mistakes where in other 2Ks it would have been completed perfectly but in this one you throw it over a completely open player to pass it to someone covered). I want to play a video game not watch a video game you idiots. When you control our players it makes us feel cheated. Do something else to make it hard just don't control my player. That is my realm.

Avatar image for Derugs

@jamal777777: Agreed

Avatar image for flyleaf5

This is the first 2k i've bought since 2k6 and this one has some problems that he doesn't mention. Its pay to win, stats for small forwards are horrrible, Way to easy to steal the ball and block shots, hall of fame difficulty is broken they really never miss, have a 90 jumpshot rating still missing way to may open shots, this 2k has the worst grind out of all the 2ks to make you buy vc, still has alot of the same bugs from previous 2ks, the dribble glitch, thier is still 7'3 demigods thats all i can remeber. I dont mind the defense being tough but when the ball flys out of my hands when no one touches me then theirs problems.

Avatar image for kiwibrownsfan

One thing that is annoying about 2K16 is that some of the MyTeam Challenges are required to be done online. Enjoyed being able to play all of the challenges offline in previous versions. Also the introduction of both dynamic and current player cards make MyTeam less appealing in my opinion. Too many cards now! Plus the introduction of basketballs as rewards...seems like they just put them in to add more content when it really doesn't add much new.

Am excited to finish up my rookie season on MyCareer though as I'm getting a bit sick of how the storyline seems to be the same regardless of how you actually play...

Overall I love the game though and love the gameplay changes. Much more realistic!

Avatar image for sonypony4eva

I give it a 9/10. I'm having a blast even though I'm playing for the Utah Jazz lol.

Avatar image for Ezioprez9709

@sonypony4eva: They earned their 8 divisions!

Avatar image for grizt00f

I have heard a lot of white guys complaining about the story in the career mode that they can't relate or feel immersed because you are the son of black family and have a black twin sister. How few games out there actually have black characters and families? Very few so how selfish, ignorant and self centered to you have to be to complain about that? Maybe you need a little culture in your life and should stop complaining and enjoy the game. My complaints only have to do with the lack of decision making and the length of the story itself. I actually thought i was going to be able to choose whether or not i stayed in college for another year or go to the NBA but when the time came it just pushed me into the NBA without a choice to be made. Then after my first NBA season was over Spike Lee came on the screen and that was it. I think they should have pushed the story farther and had it last at least a few seasons deep. Besides the length of the story it was pretty generic with a very predictable plot and ending. Would have loved to see the story have a lot more choices with different outcomes and would have loved if Spike took some more risks in the story itself. Besides that the game is awesome with just a few minor gripes from me, one being the difficulty of three point shooting even if your wide open. It's to the point now that i only attempt about 2 or 3 a game and still miss most of them. And yes i'm talking about wide open 3's! I don't play much online but if you like to then be wary because i have read there are a lot of problems with it but you might want to do some research on that to see if things have improved. I know this long comment has been a lot of complaining about the game but really when it comes down to it it's the best basketball game out there and the pure amount of stuff to do is staggering and as far as i'm concerned 2K knocked this one out of the park this year. Not that i feel like i should say this but yes i'm white and i love basketball so who cares....

Avatar image for hcgamingdad

@grizt00f: I agree. I am a white guy and I rolled with it and (for the 1st time) made a 6' 10" black protagonist (player) and I have been having a great time with the mode. Some choice would have been nice, but most games definitely start you as white male character. This has been improving with create a character or customization options, but I agree with you.

Avatar image for theepicman145

@grizt00f: I have no problem with having black characters being the main characters. But I should have the choice too make the family white as well! Or any race! You should have the choice too choose any race for your family in my career

Avatar image for bigballz77

@grizt00f: Ya fo reelz, B. I B down wit dat shizzee too. I wuz specting too much, to think it wud be mi career. An not Spike Leez vershun of Mi Career... Frequency Vibrashons pimpin all day long!

When someone sells the whole game on My Player, and creating a player in your likeness, and carrying him through High school to an NBA Championship, I think we would expect a little more than a linear experience made for the black audience. It should never even be called "My Career". So just stop with the "White Guys in games". It was never marketed, the way it was portrayed.

Avatar image for RageSet

@bigballz77: You must be really out of touch with black culture if you think that's how the majority of black people talk and/or write. Seldom do I even hear anyone of any culture speak that way. However, it seems the inherent aspects of stereotypical perception still litter our consciousness.

Grizt00f is correct. Almost all video games feature a white male protagonist and I personally, would love to see more games feature more minorities in protagonist roles.

Avatar image for hcgamingdad

@RageSet: Agent Locke is a great example (Halo 5) and I would welcome more of it.

Avatar image for cladyclad

And another thing "Frequency Vibrations" is a nickname. Not a real name. Whatever name u choose is your name breh

Avatar image for GSGuy321

Nice review.

I'm on PC and think the game is outstanding. I would give it 9.5/10. One of the best sports sims I have ever played. A phenomenal achievement imo.

Avatar image for Zenwork21

Ordered a copy and the first thing I am going to do is disable the usual heavily focused hip-hop soundtrack

Avatar image for downloadthefile

There's a lot of reasons to actually give the game a lower score than the one given here, but none of them are up here. And saying the writing is good for MyCareer is honestly ridiculous, just because it has production value doesn't mean it's good.

Avatar image for Lionheart377

@downloadthefile: Hello! I won't sit here and say that the writing is sharp or witty, but it is much-improved compared to the last few games. What other issues did you have with the game?

Avatar image for oflow

Remember the days when GS actually had reviewers that were fans of the genres they were reviewing?

This guy is complaining about tutorials in a sports game...part of being good at sports games is learning how to play them by practicing just like real sports. Lowering a score because you don't know how to play seems kind of like bad journalism. BTW I'm not complaining about the score, more about the fact that some basketball game rookie is reviewing it.

At least give the review to someone familiar with the series.

Avatar image for Attitude2000

@oflow: To be fair the reviewer has a point. Anyone can pick up and play, but I would venture to guess that most people use 1/4 of all the moves available to them. The only thing you get is controls and the narrator is like "experiment and see what you can come up with." You can do just about anything if a player's ball control is high enough. But the game doesn't really explain it well enough in my opinion. Full disclosure, I haven't played this year's game but I have played the last 5.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@oflow: You are still making presumptions about reviewers, I see. You don't learn.

Avatar image for Lionheart377

@oflow: Hey! So, I am very familiar with the series--I reviewed the last entry for GameSpot and have been playing 2K for quite some time. What I take issue with is the game failing to introduce you to any of the new mechanics or helping you test out the slick maneuvers stemming from the Pro Stick. Trust me, I know how to play the game! But, it has poor communication.

Avatar image for Zenwork21

@Lionheart377: agree 100% excellent comment

Avatar image for RonnieTeeSmith

I love the game so far, however there are a few bugs/glitches I've noticed that aren't too noticeable but annoy me:

1. Face scanning with the Kinect does not work. All successful scans on youtube are from PS4 users.

- I managed to get 10,000+ reference points & the preview looked great, but my face was not lined up at all. There were shadows of my eyes, brows, nose and lips like on my cheeks. They were positioned like 4 inches lower than they should have been, so I looked like the alien, Sam Cassell with face tattoos. Note: I did have good natural lighting + some assisted lamps for later attempts but all of my attempts gave the same result.

2.Audio bugs/glitches

-I noticed that on occasion, after switching between game modes, the menu music would stop playing. I would go to the 2K Beats playlist and toggle off/on a song and it would play, but as soon as I go back to the main menu it goes quiet again.

-A second audio glitch I noticed was after playing some MyPark, I noticed that the rim/dunking as well as the referee whistle sound effects would carry over to Online Quick Match & MyTeam. I would hope this is a bug/glitch and that the same sound effects from Park are not copied & pasted into the other modes because they were separate in previous games.

Avatar image for MJR006

Ive never seen a game that adds so much every year then gets an 8(8 is still a pretty good score). I will say the Story was average, but think about that. How many Sports games have a story? I refuse to believe this has the same rating as Madden or a lower rating than Fifa, and i enjoy those games too.

Avatar image for Greyfox-101

Does your MyCareer contract get measured in $ value, or is it still those lame points? I hated that I couldn't really tell my NBA value because it would be like a 4 year deal worth X points a year. It's stupid.

Avatar image for Lionheart377

@Greyfox-101: It's measured in points, sadly.

Avatar image for justinc882

It's a good game but the My Career story stuff was god awful. The voice acting was horrid, the motion cap was weird, as the writer said it was way to linear. There was no player agency it was just forced onto you. There were a lot of short cuts that got taken.

I was picked by the Lakers at #2 in the draft, yet they still took Russel with the second pick. So somehow they had 2 number 2 picks in the draft. Lazy things like this bug me and detracted a bit from my enjoyment. The teammate AI still goes through massive bouts of stupidity where they just stand there, or my personal favorite, a center flashes to the paint with NO ONE near him, I throw him the ball and he turns to run to the 3 point line because... reasons. Also the coaches are still idiots. Playing the clippers, I go in build a 7 point lead get pulled, get put back in down 10, build a 7 point lead, get pulled, we lost by 6.

Once the spike lee crap is out of the way (and yes, it's crap) the my career gets better. The idea that the team would cut the number 2 pick because his friends a nut case, and you have NO say in this at all and your character continually defends this idiot is just obnoxious. Add that in to what I believe was a 10minute long monolog at the end trying to make me care about Vic when in all honesty I was so glad he was dead I just sat there laughing, praying I could actually play the game for real.

The spike lee crap made this a 6-7 for me in terms of enjoyment. Once that's done with it jumps to an 8, maybe 8.5 once you get the controls figured out.

Avatar image for lvsolja

Next year their gonna give u tutorials @ loading screens and during games and your as is still gonna complain!...psssshhhhhhhhhh

Avatar image for Lionheart377

@lvsolja: I hope they add tutorials! And not just at loading screens--having detailed videos or sessions would be great. Also: I gave NBA 2K15 a 9 last year, so I'm not much of a complainer!

Avatar image for hippiesanta

Racist Videogame ...

Avatar image for oflow

@hippiesanta: you've had too many spins in that dryer.

Avatar image for jagdedge124


Well lol. I don't believe that at all. Being i'm not buying it, i watched the story on You Tube, and i would probably compare it to say Fight Night Champion (but of course much more in depth).

I mean, how many games are out there that are based on the life of an African American in general? I don't know of ANY (but FN Champion).

I mean, i'm White, and the story don't bother me (in fact, i think it's pretty good, but not worth 60 bucks good, as compared to the older games for much cheaper), but i just want to play lol. Not watch stories, or have my own story built for my character.

I don't want to see anybodies story on a sports game. But "black supremacist" is crazy.

Avatar image for ronan32

@jagdedge124 if you create a white character your parents are still black..clearly made with black people in imagine that scenario reversed..there would be more riots:

Avatar image for jagdedge124


Why would there be riots over a character on a video game? I mean you're right in a way, you're clearly supposed to be Black on the story. However, being White, for me, if it was NHL 16 say (and i like most all sports games), and they went this route, having me play a kid from Sasketchewan Canada, i'd feel the same way. Or on FIFA playing as a Brazilian fella, or from the UK or others.

I have nothing in common or any interest in stories on sports games.

However, i'm not getting into politics on a gaming forum. I deal with all that on Political Forums. Not here. This is for ball players. I disagree with your analogy.

Avatar image for bamster28

@jagdedge124: Give this man a cookie! He actually knows what he's talking about.

Avatar image for jagdedge124

Eh. 8's about right. I mean i haven't played it, but every year 2K comes out with a Basketball game, we get the "it's best the Basketball game i ever played" crowd. Well what others are there? NBA Live has been done for years (i don't know why they even put it out), and this game is the same game, with the same minor tweeks every year.

Now i agree, if you have a perfect or near perfect game (and they have for years since 11), you don't want to change it much. Fine, but what articulates my 60 bucks EVERY year lol? Spike Lee? I don't want to see somebodies story, i just want to play (and really, be my own character, pick my own Hometown, HS and College, etc), even without the whole story.

So i been on One now the past few months, and i bought 15 used for 9 bucks (i should be getting that today). I mean, 9 bucks vs 60 bucks, for nothing but Spike Lee and roster changes, and maybe some minor tweeks.

The day and age for me spending 60 bucks for roughly the same game are over. That's not to say it's a bad game at all. It's a great game i'm sure, but, the older ones are great as well, for alot cheaper a price.

Same goes for Madden, FIFA, and now even NHL evidently. To spend this money every year for roughly the same thing (for me, it would be about 300 dollars in total), is obscene.

Avatar image for lvsolja

@jagdedge124: i beg to differ not just a roster change,gameplay tweaks and advacement in many areas including a.i,animations,reactions that are so many, u have To play to realize all the minute things that bring this iteration closer to reality than before..this is what we strive to achieve yearly.....& it does whats expected....

Avatar image for bamster28

@lvsolja: @jagdedge124 Yes, every sports game gets hit with the "same game with only roster updates" critique, even NBA2K, and I've seen it grow tremendously over the years since I was 8 playing NBA2K on a Sega Dreamcast. But this game is far superior to 15 for me. The defense is much smarter, in MyCareer your teammates are no longer a liability, and the defense is much smarter in adapting to your play style, not just during one game, but over the entirety of a season. New animations, newer and better game modes, the story was alright to me but shows they're putting actual effort into it. It's a much better game than 15 and I am in the crowd that says this is the best game they've ever made.

Avatar image for elessarGObonzo

8/10 is a good score. if there was an earlier part(pre-career) to the career mode that gave you a few games to learn before mistakes started counting against you it would make more sense. but you can easily play some other types of matches and get the controls down before you delve into your actual career. i also encountered multiple server drops and some slow connection times that are not present in other online games.

it's just hilarious how the people on this site go nuts if a review score doesn't meet their own opinion. you all should start your own sites where you can rate whatever you want however you want and not be so concerned what other's opinions are. though you can do the same here if that's beyond your reasoning. so many act like it's someone calling your mom fat. she may be, but to get as defensive about a video game rating is just childish.

Avatar image for Lionheart377

@elessarGObonzo: Thanks for reading and commenting!

Avatar image for bamster28

@elessarGObonzo: Honestly, if it wasn't for servers I'd give it a 10/10. I liked the story, but it wasn't groundbreaking, but I'm not playing 2K for it to be an RPG, although it was a good first try. I admit I didn't try the tutorials I just went in head first into playing and learned along the way, but a tutorial would've been nice like how madden teaches you the controls and different schemes on offense and defense and when to use them. I think this is a step in the right direction and 2K17 will finally put the nail in the coffin of NBA Live

Avatar image for alandave39

This review makes me want to kill my self . Best game play ever In a sports game and all it talks about is no turtotials .

Avatar image for ronan32

@alandave39 who cares it's basketball:

Avatar image for elessarGObonzo

@alandave39: think you got deeper problems

NBA 2K16 More Info

  • First Released Sep 25, 2015
    • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
    • PC
    • + 4 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    NBA 2K16 is the next iteration of the top-rated NBA video game simulation series over the last 15 years.
    Average Rating128 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate NBA 2K16
    Developed by:
    2K Games, 2K Sports, Visual Concepts
    Published by:
    2K Sports, 2K Games
    Sports, Team-Based, Basketball, Simulation
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violent References