Visual Concepts came to an important but necessary conclusion with NBA 2K24: it needed to dial back the superfluous aspects of the series back. For the past two years, on PS5 specifically, the release’s popular MyCAREER mode has wanted to touch upon all aspects of basketball – including the cultural stuff, like fashion and music. This year’s game, however, is focused fully on the court, and as a solo experience it’s all the better for it.
Your singular goal is to become the GOAT, and you’ll be playing through your avatar’s personal highlight reel to get there. While there is a story – involving your father and grandfather who were both NBA legends in their own right – there’s less faffing around, allowing you to focus on the good stuff, which is playing for your chosen team. You can simulate through to key match-ups, further accelerating the pace of your campaign.
Of course, all the old criticisms remain. While you’ll earn a small denomination of currency for completing in-game tasks, you’ll need a serious amount of VC in order to max out your player’s ratings. This can, as always, be purchased with real-money – and it’s borderline essential if you have any hopes of competing in the online social hub, The City. This is an NBA 2K tradition at this point, and while we do feel the overall cost of maxing out your attributes may be a little lower overall this year, it’s still horrific for a full-price game.
To make matters worse, NBA 2K24 revises the way Badges work, which are effectively perks for your player which buff certain attributes. In the past, you’d have to work your way through an arduous grind to max them out, and it was tedious. That aspect has been accelerated this year, but it comes with a caveat: your Badges can also regress. This means if you eventually unlock a Hall of Fame Badge, you need to keep taking advantage of it, or it will gradually trickle back down to a Gold.
There are some systems in the game designed to help you to hold onto your Badges for longer, but it all feels so unnecessarily ugly, and is clearly a mechanic that exists to increase gameplay retention. Visual Concepts evidently recognised that the game had an issue with grinding, but in addressing the problem it’s cooked up a system that feels outright unfair – and it borderline punishes anyone not committed to no-lifing the game.
As bad as it all may sound, though, there’s no question there’s a lot to like here. The City, for example, has been given a complete facelift, and now sports a summery Miami-style sandbox, which you can explore in your own time. The number of affiliations has been decreased to just two, and new street basketball options have been included on the single player side to add some variety to your career. There’s still a hearty helping of cosmetics and animations to unlock as well – all of which unsurprisingly cost VC.
On the court, this year’s game is surprisingly light on headline features, although ProPLAY claims to incorporate real-world NBA data, which has supposedly influenced the animations in the game. Personally, we couldn’t feel much of a difference, and while there’s no doubt this series is among the best presented sports games on the PS5, there’s still an occasional unevenness to the trajectory of shots and passes where you feel like you’re playing a video game.
It’d be all too easy to go hard on these oversights, but ultimately this is an outstanding looking game, with some of the best commentary in the genre – and even the faux half-time shows featuring favourites like Shaquille O’Neal return. The pace of the game can suffer sometimes from all of the superfluous fluff Visual Concepts packs in, but it really does match the presentation of a real-world sports broadcast better than any other franchise out there.
And the Mamba Moments campaign is a great addition for fans of basketball, highlighting some of the most iconic moments from Kobe Bryant’s storied career. It doesn’t quite hit the same highs as last year’s Jordan Challenge, but it’s still a really fun addition, and has more than enough content to keep you occupied for a dozen or so hours alone. Factor in the impressive Franchise mode, which now also features a LeBron James era to play through, and there’s a lot to enjoy here beyond the microtransactions.
Of course, on that note, the card collecting MyTEAM mode also returns, although is generally less aggressive than FIFA’s Ultimate Team. In our experience, you can build a pretty good roster using Locker Codes and free packs, and a new mode named Salary Cap even encourages you to be much smarter with your selections, as you can’t just rely on a God squad to get your dubs. A unified Battle Pass system rewards your progress across MyCAREER and MyTEAM, although of course 2K Sports has added in a paid tier this year.
There’s no doubt NBA 2K24 is the best presented sports game on the market, and it’s also arguably the most complete, with a dizzying selection of modes and features to accommodate all playstyles and tastes. But an insidious overreliance on microtransactions and player retention yet again detracts from the MyCAREER mode, which to its credit feels much more focused this year. There’s still a lot to like about this game, and depending on which modes you enjoy, you may never have to interact with the nefarious aspects at all. But it does sour what is otherwise an enjoyable effort.