NBA 2K24 is like a frustratingly talented superstar who falls short of delivering championships, season after season. The excellent on-court gameplay bolsters significant depth with its dedication to looking, sounding, and feeling like a genuine NBA experience, but it’s sidelined by heinous microtransactions that plague many of the most popular game modes. These in-game purchases aren’t just present and optional – they are essential to compete with other players online. It’s especially frustrating because MyCareer, the focal point of many changes to this year’s iteration, has so much potential. But if it truly aimed to emulate the beauty of pro basketball, it would reward skill and effort more than open-wallet shortcuts.
Despite being a little short on flashy new mechanics to boast about on the back of the box, NBA 2K24 still looks fantastic and its on-court gameplay is incrementally stronger than ever. Topping the list of additions is the new ProPLAY feature, which allowed 2K to take NBA footage and translate it to in-game animations in real timeIn other words, NBA 2K24 is a lot smoother than its predecessors when it comes to movement on the court, including dribbling, shooting, and pass animations. There are fewer immersion-breaking interactions and things feel generally more authentic.
This is particularly evident when playing teams with superstar talent. Players like LeBron James look and play almost exactly like their real-life counterparts, and the continued improvement in AI allows the CPU opponent to take advantage of this. I regularly felt challenged, even as a veteran of the NBA 2K series, without feeling cheated. The ball reliably goes into the hands of the best players on the court, and the improved animation makes the resulting action a lot more fun to watch.
This challenge extends itself to the offensive side of the ball, where tried-and-true classics like the pick-and-roll aren’t as easy to exploit. Also, off-ball defenders do a better job of understanding their opponent; an example of this would be a drive-heavy forward who can’t shoot, and now opponent players will smartly back off and force a jump shot or to go elsewhere with the ball. Similarly, the adrenaline boost feature, which helps prevent players from dribbling around aimlessly and being rewarded for it, returns with a more interactive twist: Instead of losing a boost for dribbling around, boosts are now lost when a defensive player bumps or interrupts the offensive player’s movement. My experience with this was that it really made defense, especially in online play, more engaging.
Not all of the on-court gameplay has taken a significant step forward, however. Fast-break gameplay is still almost entirely nonexistent, which is an issue that has plagued the NBA 2K series for over a decade now. It’s also one of the most fun elements of real-life basketball, so its absence just generally makes good defense less exciting because it rarely turns into points. There are also occasional mind-boggling decisions from the AI, such as calling erroneous timeouts late in games.
You’d think the commentary would call out things like that, but it’s otherwise regularly very good (especially when playing games in the various eras of the NBA), and the ever-present halftime crew of Shaq, Ernie, and Kenny deliver stellar performances. Naturally it’s missing Charles Barkley, who insists he will never be in an NBA 2K game, but the chemistry is still very strong nonetheless.
There are some disappointments in the details, however. For instance, players rarely celebrate big moments such as game-winning shots in a convincing way. In fact, they often go from being excited one moment to deadpan the next – something that only really comes across because of how realistic the players look. NBA 2K24 excels at creating tense in-game moments but rarely delivers a reward for them. Having the arena, including the fans, players, and coaches, properly react to big plays would go a long way in matching the NBA’s famous ability to create historic moments.
The steps NBA 2K24 takes forward are largely overshadowed by its most popular game mode, MyCareer, and the painstaking lengths it goes through to prod us into in-game purchases. Let me set the table: despite having access to 100,000 virtual currency (VC) that you only get with the Black Mamba or 25th Anniversary editions, my created player rested at a 75 overall after I dumped everything I had into attribute upgrades. I then played MyCareer for about 10 hours, and slowly crawled my way up to an 81 overall. All the while, I’m completely disregarding most of the customizable aspects of MyCareer that make it so fun – including dresswear, better animations, and other personalized elements.
In spite of that, I was almost always the lowest-rated player on the court. Even without competing against others online, MyCareer placed me in the NBA as an up-and-coming starter on a team of my choice. As a result, I was thrust into an environment where I was regularly guarding players with a major attribute difference, making playing good defense or offense virtually impossible. When I did step on a court with other players online, no amount of skill or precision allowed me to compete with players who had dumped money (likely hundreds of dollars) into their created character. Within just a day or two of release, I was so far behind the curve that the idea of grinding out more VC felt sickening. Effectively, the only way to play here is to pay, and that’s just offensive.
That’s especially absurd when you consider that most people will likely purchase the regular edition of NBA 2K24, and they will be rewarded with a created player that starts with a paltry 60 overall rating. And because of the systems at play, losing regularly nets you next to no VC. It establishes a maddening cycle of not having a player good enough to compete without hope of ever being able to improve them. NBA 2K24 wants you to open up your wallet, and punishes you if you don’t.
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There is even further evidence of this being an intentional cycle, too. Badge progression, a mechanic that helps differentiate players from one another within specific contexts (such as the “Spot Finder” badge, which gives a small speed boost when off-ball and trying to get into open space), can now move both ways. This meant that when I wasn’t actively focusing on improving a specific badge, it would begin to regress to a worse version. For example, if I am working on a badge that improves my long-range shooting ability but come across a matchup that dictates less three-point shooting and more driving to the basket, I now risk that badge progression by altering my gameplan. Not only does this dampen the enjoyment of being creative, it encourages maxing out my stats as quickly as possible so I don’t have to deal with bad matchups in the first place.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t have to be this much of a drag, either. MyCareer comes with a location change this year: an open-world, Miami-inspired beachfront to roam around in. It’s more dense than the previous city, with just about every turn having a storefront, a court to play on, or something to interact with. The variety of court and game types, such as five-on-five or three-on-threes, would be a lot more fun if the matchups weren’t so frequently lopsided. Similarly, there are a ton of fun fashion items to purchase, but they are locked behind massive VC paywalls. Especially in the early stages of NBA 2K24, I regularly had to choose if I wanted my player to look cool or if I wanted him to play well – so once again, it’s impossible to get the most out of MyCareer without forking over additional cash.
NBA 2K24 lacks a significant story mode, but there are a handful of loosely connected storylines going on all at once involving the created player, who is nicknamed MP. None of these are very compelling, especially because MP is so lowly rated when the mode begins and yet everyone surrounding him is comparing him to the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. As with almost everything else in the mode, it just adds fuel to the frustration of MyCareer being such a grindfest.
Following up on NBA 2K23’s Jordan Challenge, NBA 2K24 introduces Mamba Moments to celebrate Kobe Bryant’s historic career. It’s not as impressive as the Jordan Challenges, but it still does a decent job of getting into the tone and atmosphere of some of Kobe’s marquee games. Returning to an era where guys like Vlade Divac and Hedo Turkoglue were key players in the NBA is a treat, especially for those of us who were first exposed to basketball around that time.
Similarly, MyNBA has also added a LeBron era to play in, which puts you in control of the 2011 “Big Three” Miami Heat. As I put more time into NBA 2K24, I’ll seek out the microtransaction-free haven of MyNBA and all of the flexibility it provides. I was able to customize league options, like which teams are able to get the number one pick in the NBA draft, as well as a variety of nuances related to the salary cap. While there aren’t major changes to MyNBA, it remains the best place to sink time if you just want basketball in its purest form.
There is also the more streamlined MyNBA Lite mode that served as a nice place for me to set up shop for a less intense franchise mode. It doesn’t include most of the more in-depth features from MyNBA, and instead focuses on drafting, player acquisition, and getting on the court. It’s another nice escape from in-game purchases, and much more welcoming for beginners.