While I appreciate each yearly NBA 2K iteration, it’s usually for something different each and every time. Be it a new and exclusive mode, deeper customisation and progression or new and enhanced gameplay mechanics, there’s generally something that keeps me around for the year to come. NBA 2K24 certainly provides enough in terms of variety but takes smaller steps forward in terms of both gameplay enhancements and newer modes, which unfortunately highlight some of the shortcomings that have been biting at the ankles of the franchise for quite some time.
NBA 2K24 feels as good in the hands as it ever has. Handling feels tight with a refined range of dribble moves while shooting feels responsive and consistent. The new ProPLAY feature feels like the biggest step forward in terms of outright gameplay, which allows 2K to dive into real NBA game footage in order to translate player movements and attributes over to the game. It certainly helps the overall pacing of each possession, which now feels smoother and more natural, free of any weird clipping animations and jarring interactions that, as hilarious as they were, really broke that sense of realism and immersion.
We’ll touch on the new Mamba Moments mode later in this review, but it’s also admittedly impressive to see just how well they’ve accurately they’ve recreated some of Kobe’s signature looks and iconic celebrations in-game.
AI also feels better in general, responding quicker to offensive strategies like pick-and-rolls and double teams. While I feel like the offensive side of the game has taken a side-step in terms of difficulty, defensive interactions feel much better in terms of how they add a sense of weight and physicality to each encounter. It’s also surprising to see not only how accurate most player recreations are, but also how they react to major moments and crucial baskets.
NBA 2K24’s smaller steps forward are felt more so within the modes than within the overall gameplay mechanics. The new Mamba Moments mode lets you play out some of Kobe Bryant’s most memorable outings across seven iconic games. Each game also comes with a specific amount of objectives to complete, each of which can earn you up to three stars, which can be used to unlock exclusive MyTeam and MyCareer rewards.
These games managed to recreate some of his biggest moments, but I can’t help but wish the games were bookended with something more substantial, like player interviews or exclusive Kobe footage. While we do get some dated scoreboards and courts that are accurate to the era of each game, these games still feel like a missed opportunity, given the WWE 2K Showcase mode attempts a similar structure, while adding in wrestler interviews from opponents and friends alike for some added context.
Everything beyond this point feels familiar, for better or worse. The MyCareer mode now allows players to traverse a refreshed version of The City in an open-world version of Miami, but the loose story and familiar approach to treating you like the next great Kobe, Jordan or LeBron-type player is getting old. While I’m not expecting the deepest and most engaging stories from this mode, its reliance on a familiar structure also brings out some of the frustrations I had previously felt in past iterations.
Put simply, it’s too hard to grind things out unless you’ve got a hefty amount of VC (Virtual Currency) behind you. While the special editions of the game like the Mamba Edition come with 100,000 VC ready to go, it’s a little tricky to progress your player in ways that aren’t predicated on shortcuts of some kind. Even then, after spending all that VC on player development, I still found myself struggling online in parks and matches against others online. It’s not a new criticism, but it’s something that lingers nonetheless.
While I respect the versatility and scope of NBA 2K24’s Badge progression, it also falls flat in places. Badges allow you to outfit players with certain perks and tendencies that aid particular moves and situations. For example, finishing badges makes it easier to pull off layups under pressure, while shooting badges makes the act of shooting a little easier from a distance and when pulling up from the dribble. While you can progress these badges to further differentiate yourself within a team of online players, any badge not attended to will regress to a worse form, making choices feel important at first in terms of determining a play style, but also frustrating given anything you work towards will be stripped away unless you intentionally choose to keep at it.
The Love of the Game
All the remaining modes like MyTeam, MyNBA and WNBA for example, return for yet another round in NBA 2K24. While WNBA and MyTeam modes have remained largely untouched, the latter benefits from newer seasonal progression and content help with overall longevity, even if the need to whip out your wallet down the track feels inevitable. The Salary Cap mode within MyTeam feels like a solid attempt at mixing strategic management with competitive play but also feels heavily reliant on having the best cards.
I admittedly had more fun diving into pre-existing and offline modes in NBA 2K24. The MyNBA mode, allows you to partake in anything from complete seasons to specific playoff runs, all of which can be played within specific eras of the game. The newer Era mode, which was featured in NBA 2K23, now allows you to choose from a specific time period within the NBA to live out all of your basketball fantasies and what-ifs. While I’m a sucker for the earlier Bird vs. Magic era, you can also choose from Jordan’s 90s to Kobe’s 2000s, Lebron’s dominant 2010s run and the most recent modern era of the NBA. It’s just as fun to jump in to mess with the league and its players on different teams, or simply to recreate your favourite and most nostalgic moments.
To cap it all off, NBA 2K24 runs great on next-gen consoles, while the overall presentation of pre-game commentary from Shaq, Ernie and Kenny (we still miss Charles Barkley), to the various scoreboards and court designs, all of which are ripped straight from their era, add to the overall immersion and polish of the experience.
NBA 2K24 is undoubtedly a solid basketball sim. But not necessarily in the ways we might have hoped. Thankfully, the newer ProPLAY motion capture helps with more grounded and natural gameplay. While the Mamba Moments mode could have benefited from some extra content in the way of pre and post-game interviews from some of the game’s greats in order to add context, it’s still a bunch of fun to dominate with Kobe across some of the most iconic games that even I remember watching in real life.
But the returning online modes like MyTeam and MyCareer do little to shake things up, and in turn, highlight the heavy impact they have on opening your wallet, should you wish to avoid the punishing grind that occurs if you don’t. Even so, the returning breadth of modes and ways to interact with the beautiful game of basketball in NBA 2K24 are still worth the price of admission.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Improved gameplay; Impressive and accurate presentation; Mamba Moments mode is still entertaining; MyNBA Eras mode rules
Lowlights: Punishing MyCareer and MyTeam modes; MyCareer mode could use a refresh
Developer: Visual Concepts
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.