Upon hearing that NBA2K16’s MyCareer Mode for this year was going to be a Spike Lee Joint, I found myself getting inexplicably excited. I’ll be honest here; Inside Man is the only Spike Lee movie I’ve seen, and I thought it was pretty damn good. But let’s face it, no one plays the NBA games for their story. However, bringing Spike Lee on board seemed like an interesting decision to me, and I wanted to see what he could bring to the table.
Well… I was disappointed.
Actually, it wouldn’t be fair to say I was 100% disappointed. NBA2K16’s MyCareer Mode did entertain me. I mean, I’m pretty sure it has more cutscenes than Metal Gear Solid V. In fact, its story is one of the most overblown, over dramatic, and over the top piece of terrible writing I’ve ever encountered in any video game.
Spike Lee’s Livin’ Da Dream puts players in control of a young rising basketball star nicknamed Frequency Vibrations, Freq for short. It’s pronounced ‘Freak’. So you’ll go through 90% of the game listening to everyone around you call you ‘Freak’.
Regardless of whichever skin color you pick for your avatar, Freq will still be voiced by the same voice actor. Alright. This is pretty standard NBA2K fare. But the experience gets really jarring when the story unfolds and you find out that your biological parents are black people too, no matter what skin color you choose. If Lee was trying to convey some deeper meaning with his story here, he completely lost me within the first 10 minutes as I couldn’t stop laughing at how silly and out of place my character looked.
But you know what? It’s a video game. It requires suspension of disbelief. So while it’s a little odd that my European character is acting like he’s a biological part of this family that is clearly of a different race, that doesn’t mean Lee can’t still tell a good story, right? Right. Moving on.
NBA2K16 breaks tradition a little as our character progresses through a few high school games and gets a college basketball scholarship before finally entering the NBA draft. I liked the slow progression. I loved how the story tried to depict the off-court struggles of a young basketball player as he makes the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue his degree first, or to strike while the iron is hot and enter the draft. Sure, much of this decision-making process was overshadowed by an insanely drawn out shouting match between Freq’s parents, girlfriend, sister and agent, but still, Lee gets some points for making the effort.
It’s only after Freq gets signed with his first NBA team that this shit show really starts. See, Freq has a childhood buddy called Vic. Now Vic isn’t exactly the kinda guy you want your kids to hang out with. He drinks, he’s reckless, he gets into fights, he’s a loudmouthed punk, and he’s been creating lots of trouble for Freq since he got drafted into the NBA. Naturally, it’s not good for Freq’s public image. But Lee handles this situation with such heavy-handedness it results in an extremely cringe-worthy scene that I can’t even take seriously because of how supremely silly it is.Photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKFL2Im8jSk. I couldn’t take my own screen because I died from laughter.
After a few games in the NBA, all of which Freq’s only had a few minutes in to play by the way, his team manager takes him aside to discuss Vic. What ensues is a five minute long tirade from the manager about how he shouldn’t “be a hero” and “cut that zero”… or something to that effect. When Freq refuses, the manager then screams at him about how this will eventually affect the amount of money he and the team makes. And as if this long scolding session isn’t already awkward enough, the manager stands up and yells, in cheerleader fashion, “V-G-G! VIC’S GOTTA GO!”
Yeah. I can’t make this stuff up. My player only gets like, seven minutes a game tops on the court, and he’s barely a quarter of the way through the season when this cutscene plays. But the manager starts chastising Freq like he’s the star player of the team. The overall silliness of the situation and the cheesiness with which it was handled left me in tears. I don’t recall the last time I laughed this hard at a video game.