There’s no question that NBA 2K has become the gold standard when it comes to basketball simulators, raising the bar year-after-year with great modes such as ‘My Career’ and ‘My GM’ that allows fans of not only the sport but also the league experience to fashion their own careers. Where this franchise has made its money, though, is on the hardwood with its almost flawless mechanics. The question on most fans’ minds coming into NBA 2K15, however, is how developer Visual Concepts can possibly improve on last year’s excellent entry? Well, much like the San Antonio Spurs, the association’s most recent champions, you will not be wowed by any of the flashy additions to this instalment – but it’s the fantastic fundamentals that once again score a slam dunk for this consistent series.

On the court, there doesn’t appear to be too many immediate changes. When the ball is in play, everything looks practically the same as last year’s edition – of course, that’s no bad thing considering the quality of the franchise’s next-gen debut. Players in particular are stunningly life like, even possessing the mannerisms of their real world counterparts – an excellent touch which really helps to bring the game to life. The atmosphere of the matches is also astonishingly on point: arenas feel alive, and, like the players, mimic the attributes of the stadia that they’re based upon.

It’s not accurate all of the time, however: after scoring off the glass with Mr. Fundamentals himself, Tim Duncan, we witnessed him celebrate like a mad man for hitting a clutch shot. Of course, anyone that knows anything about this Hall of Famer will be aware that he wears the same expression whether he’s winning a fifth championship or losing a game. Another minor mistake that we spotted was the presence of yellow shirts in the crowd during a Lakers play-off game. As a lifetime fan, there’s no way that that would ever happen.

Still, these are minor missteps in an otherwise gloriously presented game – and the gameplay continues to be just as strong. Your shot bar now exists under your player, and is much easier to spot and keep track of. Player collisions are also more realistic and make much more sense. The same thing can be said about rebounding: players’ bodies contort appropriately when going up to fight for the glass. In truth, the changes are minimal – but it’s not a massive disaster, as the title was already so good to begin with.

Indeed, most of the enhancements stem from the way that things are packaged. New this year is the face scanning technology, and the addition of TNT’s very own Shaq and Ernie as pre-game analysts. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you’ll have heard about one or two face scan horrors, leading to some hideously hilarious adaptations of what is supposed to be your face. It is a bit finicky, but if done correctly, the PlayStation Camera powered results are great, making it a nice use of next-gen technology.

Meanwhile, Shaq and Ernie replace the usual loading screens before the game, and say a few words about a certain situation that a team is in. Sadly, most of the time, it just turns into Shaq making unfunny joke, and it all feels empty without Kenny the Jet Smith and Charles Barkley to balance out the silliness of the superstar.

Other changes include re-worked menus which are much easier to navigate. This doesn’t seem like a particularly noteworthy tweak, but it’s been an area that the game has struggled to get right for some time. There’s also a new addition on the main screen called 2K Television, where you’ll find programmes featuring interviews with players and coaches, as well as tips for the game.

Of course, it’s the well loved modes that remain the real highlights, with ‘My Career’ now combined with ‘My Park’. Here, you’ll create a player at any position you like, and also give him any dimensions. Unlike previous years, however, you won’t begin your career in the rookie combine, but as an undrafted rookie trying to make it into a team one ten-day contract at a time. It actually plays a little like Sony’s old NBA games, where your career is actually a story.

This means that it’s more cinematic than ever before, and includes much more dialogue where you can make choices on what to say. Everyone is also voiced – excellently, for that matter – so you’ll no longer be subject to creepy text-based encounters. When you aren’t off trying to make something out of yourself on the hardwood, you can take it to the black court in ‘My Park’, which allows you to enjoy three-on-three pick-up games with people online.

Another popular mode, ‘My GM’, lets you take over a franchise and either select a fantasy draft or use the current roster as you attempt to win championships. There are no major overhauls present here, apart from the addition of what practices your players are involved in. You can also make a season with ‘My League’ or create teams with collectible digital cards in ‘My Team’.

Sadly, the online components have been a bit shaky since launch, but 2K Sports insists that it’s working on rectifying the server issues. Other than that, the soundtrack is as great as it usually is, and this year tends to feature more basketball appropriate tunes such as Afrika Bambaataa and more recent hits.

Conclusion

Those of you expecting NBA 2K15 to be a revolutionary basketball simulation may be a bit disappointed that this is more of a refinement. Fortunately, the small changes do improve the overall package – and Visual Concepts already had an outstanding basis to work from. Basketball fans will find everything that they want and more here.