As an Englishman, basketball is far from my national sport. In England, rich, slim people enjoy cricket, rich, muscular people enjoy rugby, and everyone else enjoys (or pretends to enjoy) football. Outside of the most dedicated clubs and fans, quintessentially American sports like basketball and baseball barely skim the surface of our great sporting nation. I played basketball fairly regularly in school (I’m tall and fairly weak, so rugby was out of the question), and though I’m far from an expert, I’m familiar the basic rules and principles of the game. I am, however, something of a connoisseur of simulation/management games: I’m big on resource management sims like Prison Architect, and I played the hell out of the criminally axed general manager mode in pre-2009 Smackdown vs. Raw games. As such, though I might not be what you would call a “sports fan”, I can see an engaging and addictive simulation/management game from a mile away, even if it looks like an interactive spreadsheet to some.
Unfortunately, Basketball Pro Management 2015 bears a rather striking resemblance to the aforementioned, infamous Excel spreadsheet; its user interface is bland, lifeless and regularly misspelled, and it suffers unforgivably from a lack of licensed teams, players, kits, logos etc. All of this makes for a rather tedious experience which feels unpolished and a mite unprofessional.
As with the ever popular Football Manager series, BPM 2015 lets you take charge of a team of your choice. Impressively, you can choose from a huge range of teams from all around the world, including women’s teams and US universities. Naturally, I decided to play as “Sheffield”, this being the closest place to my home town to actually own a basketball team. My choice was instantly problematic, given that Sheffield’s basketball team is actually known as the “Sheffield Sharks”. Rather like old non-FIFA football games, none of the teams present in BPM 2015 are named correctly, and are instead simply named after their respective cities, e.g. “Miami” or “Salt Lake City”. Even worse is the game’s tendency to misspell almost every player name, and, unforgivably, the names of several large American teams. Unlicensed teams I can overlook, but I cannot overlook a basketball game wherein “Kobe Bryent” [sic] plays for Lob Angeles [sic].
Transfers, formations, plays, tactics and finances can all be manipulated and tweaked for optimal performance; true to its genre, there’s an awful lot to be done in BPM 2015, it’s just that none of it is particularly fun. Tweaking tactics and formations never appears to have a great impact on games, financial management is there, but it feels more basic than the rudimentary financial aspects of FIFA’s manager mode, and there’s a general sense that everything you’re doing is accomplishing very little. Even swapping tactics and changing up proceedings during matches doesn’t come with much perceivable pay-off as in other management games/modes.
During my manager’s time at “Sheffield”, he was subjected to several slow, clunky 3-D renderings of what was apparently supposed to be basketball, a sport known for its rigorous pace and swift changes of possession. In BPM 2015, watching a game play out in “3-D” equated to watching near-identical, janky 3-D models glitching and jerking across the court, occasionally pausing to throw the ball towards the hoop, only for it to remain suspended in the air for a good four seconds. Unless basketball officials recently introduced a zero gravity element to the sport (which they really should), basketball this most certainly is not. So slow are these real time matches, they only resemble the standard pace of an actual game of basketball when you speed them up to 4x normal speed, a luxury I exercised regularly before giving up and simulating the entire match.
The game’s drab interface also winds up being a bit of a chore to navigate, particularly when it comes to transfers. Trying to sign and sell players is far more taxing than it needs to be, particularly when the game’s manual gives brief and embarrassingly poor explanations of how to complete such basic tasks. It’s unreasonable to expect explosions and fireworks from a game about the day to day chores of managing a sports team, but I should at least by sucked in by the depth and complexity of the choices at my disposal, rather than be bored by a series of obsolete menus.
In addition to just being generally wonky and dull, BPM 2015 is also pretty darn buggy, not just when attempting to render 3-D basketball players. The game even manages to cock up its glorified spreadsheet menus – on several occasions during Danny DeVito’s stint as “Lob Angeles” manager (I had to create my own fun), I was shocked to learn that I had sold zero tickets to my first game of the season. Whereas with my Sheffield Sharks team I was presented with a fairly basic financial chart explaining my shop, bar and ticket earnings, no such report was filed for an unrealistically empty Lakers stadium.
Perhaps most frustratingly, BPM 2015 lacks the surprise and intrigue such a game should offer. The apparent appeal of sport as a long term form of entertainment is its inherent unpredictability, but BPM 2015 feels far too formulaic and perfunctory in its execution. There aren’t enough shocking transfers or wildcard events to pique your interest; conversations about Football Manager are always accompanied by stories and anecdotes like: “I took CSK Minsk into the Champions League”, or “I signed Ronaldo to Grimsby United after I won the Premier League with them”, but it never feels like BPM 2015 could produce such stories. You play as the faceless manager of a generic team of carbon copy players wearing unremarkable (and inaccurate – the Lakers don’t wear anything close to a red strip) kits, all of which takes place in a generic stadium plastered with “BASKETBALL NEWS” billboards, because the devs couldn’t be bothered to design a few more fake adverts.
To put it simply, Basketball Pro Management 2015 lacks the inherent polish a management game needs. For hardcore basketball fans, there might be something to salvage from BPM 2015, but for everyone else, it’ll just remind you why you quit sports and took up videogames instead.