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‘NBA 2K19’ review: A polished game with a strong, cinematic career mode

Microtransactions remain too critical to certain modes’ enjoyment, but everything else is undeniably excellent.

"NBA 2K19" is one of the best-looking sports games on the market. Photo Credit: 2K Sports

The “NBA 2K” series may always hold the edge over its competition in gamers’ minds. For years, it has churned out sterling pro hoops titles that earned trust and goodwill. It’s even the crux of the NBA’s official esports league.

“NBA 2K19” continues the franchise’s run of digital basketball dominance, but a continued reliance on microtransactions in career mode threatens to erode some of its rep as the go-to game.

That’s too bad, because that mode is much better thanks to a cinematic career prelude story called “The Way Back.” The narrative follows A.I. — not Allen Iverson — a cocksure former prospect who must work his way from China’s pro league to the NBA, with the bulk of the journey taking place in the G League.

Featuring notable actors Anthony Mackie (the Marvel films) and Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”), production values are high and the writing is above par for sports games. A.I. can be whiny, but he does have a solid arc that none of the previous “2K” story modes presented.

The whole thing doesn’t take too long before getting into the nitty-gritty of career mode, which still relies too heavily on microtransactions as a shortcut to improve a custom player. It’s better than last year, which almost forced gamers to cough up extra cash on top of the $60 cost of “NBA 2K18,” but only marginally. An in-game mea culpa about how this year’s entry no longer charges for haircuts isn’t really enough.

Those who don’t really care about MyCareer need not worry, though. The rest of “2K19” is top notch among sports games.

Its simulation gameplay is close to perfect — close, but not without hiccups — and the in-game presentation makes each game feel like the real deal. Most players look eerily close to their physical counterparts. Casual players, beware: “NBA 2K19” can be very skill dependent, even against the CPU.

MyGM and MyLeague are sterling presentations of running a team or completely controlling all aspects of the NBA. MyGM includes a narrative, albeit more stripped down than “The Way Back,” but like last year’s installment it makes the experience stand out from similar modes in other sports games.

Card collecting mode MyTeam also focuses on Virtual Currency (VC), like MyCareer, but that’s expected. The problem is these microtransactions are part of basically half of the available game types. In a post-“Fortnite” world, which showed how willing people are to fork over extra cash for a strong game — even a free one — it looks dirty for “2K” to expect players to hemorrhage real money to get the most out of a game that already isn’t cheap.

Publisher 2K Sports is playing a dangerous game here, but for now the positives continue to outweigh the negatives in “NBA 2K19,” one of the most polished sports titles on the market.

AVAILABLE NOW

“NBA 2K19,” published by 2K Sports and developed by Visual Concepts, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC, $59.99

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