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NBA 2K16 draws you in with its welcoming personality and expanded game modes

The release of the NBA 2K franchise's latest installment is always highly anticipated. It's been the best selling basketball video game for years and it's a huge part of the NBA culture. Players in real life are dedicated to using their down time to try the digital world of the NBA. With 2K Sports' ever-expanding MyCareer mode, anybody has had a chance to scan their likeness into the game and try to build up their MyPlayer to becoming an NBA legend. In NBA 2K16, things were taken a step further with the introduction of "Livin' Da Dream," a storyline attached to MyCareer mode courtesy of Spike Lee. If you're familiar with Spike's many films during his incredible directing career, then you may be able to anticipate a lot of the stories and plot points thrown your way. If you haven't familiarized yourself with what Spike does with his stories, the early parts of MyCareer may blow your mind.
 
This year’s version of MyCareer marks a major step away from the loose narratives and scattered cutscenes of games past. Lee wrote, produced, and directed Livin’ Da Dream, the framing device for the first half-dozen hours of NBA 2K16’s career mode, like it was a feature film; you’re invited to rewatch it in full on your player’s private practice court after you’re led through the conclusion by enough gameplay. You play Frequency Vibrations, "Freq" for short — that’s your nickname, everyone will call you that no matter what name you actually choose, and it carries over into your post-narrative career, so you might as well get used to it. (You can change it in the options if you’re really desperate, but the game doesn’t point that out.)

 
You can relocate and completely rebrand your team with a mind-boggling amount of options. There are a staggering amount of ways you can play NBA 2K16. All the game modes I expect of the series make their triumphant return, some with interesting new wrinkles. The new Play Now Online mode makes head-to-head matches matter a bit more, since it features a promotion and relegation system. MyGM and MyLeague modes are now both fully featured management sims, allowing you to go so far as to relocate and completely rebrand your team with a mind-boggling amount of options. That same team editor can also be used in MyTeam, the card-collecting game, which has new challenges and ways to earn virtual currency.
 
More serious online ballers can try out the new 2K Pro-Am, which pits teams of five against each other. You can jump right into a pickup game, or create your own team (complete with customized logos, jerseys, and court). I generally had good luck connecting, though some have had problems getting into games. As fun as these modes are, my favorite way to play NBA 2K16 is MyGM, which gives you say in all the organization’s day-to-day operations. From tweaking ticket prices and building the roster to managing staff personalities and training regiments, this is the deepest franchise mode in sports games. The many systems at play rival those of dedicated sim games; you can even relocate you team to another city, build a new arena, and design new jerseys. Doing so will require patience; you need to earn resources from the team owner to fund the move, and you need 16 of the 30 team owners to back your move as well. 
 
It’s not all great, though. Although the Superstar difficulty on Simulation settings was hailed by gameplay designers as the ideal out-of-the-box mode for experienced players, I found Superstar a bit less fair than All-Star, and Simulation settings don’t offer nearly enough fouls or 3 point attempts by the CPU, and a few too many offensive rebounds by the CPU. It’s not as well-balanced as they’d believe, but dropping down to All-Star and pushing fouls and 3 point attempts by the CPU way up helped, even if it’s not quite there yet. It’s probably something that will require a patch to really get where it needs to be, especially for CPU 3 pointers, because there are AI reasons why those don’t happen as much as they should.
 
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.