Freq Killed a Man

Spike Lee put together a short story to round out your "my career" character for this year's NBA 2k16. It's the 17th year of Visual Concepts' still mighty franchise that has no equal. Each year the game seemingly tries to top itself and each year I've found myself playing it more and more. Specifically; the "My Player" feature.

"My Player" is exactly what it sounds like - a robust create-a-player with RPG type progression. This iteration of the game took a radical approach to the popular feature by choosing a well-known film director to whip up a background story for your fake basketball guy.

I was more intrigued than interested in this approach because I felt they could have filled out what they were already working on in year's past instead of giving the player a specific type of "origin story."

The first thing you notice when starting out is that you are decidedly not in control of the story even though it sort of seems like there are places where it appears you can make choices, you can't. It was a little frustrating because my expectation going in was that I could make decisions a la Telltale Games type stuff. Instead, it's an on the rails story with some regular 2K basketball gameplay in there.

The ideas behind what Visual Concepts did here are immense and remarkably ambitious. They start you in high school (NYC, of course), shuffle you through college (I picked Georgetown because the story felt close to Jeff Pollack's "Above the Rim") and started you on your way as a pro.

In between those moments is a story of you, somewhat hilariously nicknamed "Frequency Vibrations." It only takes a few minutes to get a handle on what sort of story Spike Lee is going to tell, but that isn't a bad thing as Lee practically invented this type of basketball story (see: his early movie catalog, every basketball movie in the 1990s).

It's relatively short story that hits all the normal rags to riches notes, but there are a couple moments and, in particular, themes that stand out.

Life lessons here are bold, in the modern sense. Lee didn't sugarcoat his message about the importance of growing up in a loving, two-parent household. In fact, it's so heavy-handed by the end of the game that it's almost controversial.

Also standing out are a two moments of writing. First was when you ("Freq") are in the car with your flawed best friend from childhood. Your agent, sister and girlfriend are telling you to drop him because of the baggage he brings, but you are trying to stay loyal. The ride in the car is long, not just for a game, but for a movie. "Vic" (your flawed ghetto buddy) runs through a rollercoaster of dialog about friendship and loyalty. It's unrelenting and just keeps going to the point where I wasn't sure if it was just purposeful or just filler. By the end of it I felt like I had just sat through something completely unique, though. Different. In there you find out that you (Freq) accidentally (?) killed someone. I had bought into the story by that point and, needless to say, it added gravity to it all.

The other moment that sticks out is the letter Vic reads at the end. Again, it just goes and goes. Lee doesn't cut it off to give you a break. Just like the car ride, I'm not sure if he's exploring the medium or what. I'm not even sure what I was suppose to feel. Ultimately, it works.

After finishing the Lee storyline the game shuffles you off to go it on your own. I'm halfway through my second season now and every once in a while there will be a reference to characters in the opening act. I like it. It rounds it out.

Sadly, there is no shortage of vitriol to Spike Lee's involvement. The ambition Visual Concepts shows here is not being rewarded by the regular video game writing and reviewing crowd. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of racially charged undertones to so of the reviews, which is disappointing. No need to point them out, just search it if you want. It's not recommended. Every cliché about "gamers" will spring to life in front of you. It's unfortunate.

Spike Lee's "Livin' da Dream" is truly a first of it's kind in sports gaming. There were moments where I felt the mechanics were pulled out last minute that sort of set me off course, but taken as a complete work? It's bold, creative and different.

More, please.