The last few years of NBA 2K releases have seen a vast improvement in the storytelling feature of the game. On top of those developments, the graphics and the various packages and modes you can unlock off the court have combined to turn the yearly release into the most popular and immersive basketball video game of all time. It’s all anyone is talking about a couple months before the real season tips off, except this year’s release was a little different.
Rather than focus more energy on the peripheral nuance that goes into providing context and realistic narratives around the game, the 2K developers spent more time on how it feels to play a game of basketball with a standard XBOX or PlayStation controller. Lucky for us, we got a chance to try out NBA 2K17 during a demonstration of the game in New York last week with senior developer Rob Jones.
The emphasis on gameplay this year is not to say previous iterations of NBA 2K didn’t already feature impressive achievements on the court, especially last year’s introductions of “freelance offense” for certain big-name teams who play a certain style: high picks involving Steph Curry and Draymond Green, low-post isolations for LeBron James, “Hammer” sets with the Spurs, etc. all included the various off-the-ball movements of a player’s teammates during those plays. The realism was real, but while these on-court improvements have given basketball junkies one more thing to nerd out about when they’re playing the game, there’s always room for improvement. For NBA 2K17, those ad hoc movements now borrow plays and actions from every NBA team, not just the most popular ones. There’s a lot more than that in the new release, too.
Steph Curry’s streak to begin the 2015-16 season — when the Warriors started 24-0 and Steph had locked up his second consecutive MVP in February — had been a problem. The simple version of what happened: his scorching shooting broke the game. Multiple times throughout our demo, when both Rob and myself were playing with the Knicks, the computer would have Steph pull up from 30-plus feet after a high screen and rip twine. Sure, there were a couple of misses, but with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant drawing attention, you couldn’t do anything about it. This was a video game that felt like a video game, but mirrored real life. That might sound like a metaphysical head-scratcher, but that’s what happens when you’re attempting verisimilitude in the epoch of Steph.