Charming is the one word I kept coming back to while trying to gather my thoughts on this year’s NBA 2K17 release from 2K Sports. It’s one thing to make a good basketball game, it needs to feel good, and look good, and closely resemble the product basketball fans watch on a nightly basis, and while that isn’t an easy target to hit, I’d imagine that trying to nail the ‘vibe’ of your subject matter is far more difficult.
To 2K Sports’ credit, they definitely performed that part of their NBA 2K package this year. NBA 2K17 is charming as hell. It’s a very good basketball game made by people who love basketball, and despite any criticisms of the game that I may have, that charm, that ‘love’ for basketball culture is plastered all over NBA 2K17, and from someone who loves basketball just as much as the creators of NBA 2K17, I really appreciate the kind of care and nuance Visual Concepts sprinkled all over this year’s’ release.
From a graphical standpoint, I can’t say that this year’s’ release looks appreciably different from previous releases on this generation of hardware. I played NBA 2K17 on an Xbox One, and I’d say the game looks a very-generic-and-wholly-unhelpful “fine,” but of far more importance to me, personally, is the game runs great. It’s unfortunate that we have to toss that caveat in here, but this is a generation of broken video games releasing on underpowered consoles, so, it’s worth noting that none of that is present here.
Where NBA 2K17 really flexes its artistic muscles is in its revamped MyCareer mode. My fundamental problem with every rendition of NBA 2K’s ‘MyCareer’ mode is the gameplay. I just don’t want to grind through practices, and drills, and even the live games to a certain extent, because that isn’t how I want to play NBA 2K. I don’t want to control one player, I want to control the entire team, and manage substitutions, and utilize matchups, and all of those other elements that make basketball what it is. That is inherently more difficult when you only have control over one player, while the other nine players on the court are left to however the A.I. is feeling in that particular moment.
Despite my criticisms of the MyCareer gameplay that are still valid in this year’s’ release, the story and charm is well worth your time. I lost count of how many moments in MyCareer mode that figuratively dropped my jaw in terms of how well a story beat was executed. I kept thinking to myself “this scene has no business being this good.” I was genuinely surprised.
At one point you find yourself texting back and forth with Mike Krzyzewski, which already makes this sentence absurd, but it gets even better! During the exchange, Coach K says something resembling “good luck this season, blah blah blah” to which you have the option to respond with “flex emoji, flex emoji, fire emoji fire emoji, 100 emoji 100 emoji,” and I literally smiled at how dumb that was. I mean dumb as a compliment, in case my excitement wasn’t clear. Charming!
Those little moments that nail NBA culture in 2016 were my favorite elements of MyCareer mode.
Michael B. Jordan’s inclusion in the narrative as your NBA teammate, Justice Young, is a welcomed addition. I don’t want to spoil too much of the narrative, but his storyline takes some unexpected turns. My fear is that players will bail on MyCareer mode due to the at-times monotonous grind and aforementioned preference to the full NBA 2K17 gameplay experience, which is a shame, because 2K Sports put a lot of time and care into the mode this year, and I found some of that charm-bordering-on-cheesiness in nearly every cut scene. I really think NBA fans will appreciate seeing that stuff, if they can tolerate playing through it.
We wrote an extensive preview of 2K17’s new stick-based control scheme last month, and after playing hours upon hours of NBA 2K17, I can safely say that it lived up to the hype.
2K Sports took a page out of EA Sports’ NHL franchise handbook and essentially moved every offensive movement to the right stick. Every dribble move and every shot type is right there, and the ability to string multiple moves and counters on the fly is a kind of precision we’ve never seen in a 2K basketball game before.
One of the major problems with trying to build on an existing franchise year after year is the apparent need to tinker with certain systems that don’t necessarily need fixing. A good example of this would be NBA 2K17’s new radial menu that you’re supposed to use for on-the-fly substitutions. While I can certainly appreciate the desire to innovate, the most important element of any quick substitution menu is speed. You’re moving through this menu while the gameplay is still happening, and a system that should be as easy as two button presses has been turned into a tedious radial nightmare. It’s a small critique, but one that bothered me throughout my time with NBA 2K17 enough to at least mention it here.
NBA 2K’s latest also features an impressive update on its pregame, in-game, and halftime presentation. The star-studded cast includes David Aldridge, Greg Anthony, Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg, Brent Barry, Doris Burke, Steve Smith, Chris Webber, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Charles Barkley is a noteworthy absence only because NBA 2K17 features literally everyone else.
The sheer amount of familiar NBA voices you’ll hear throughout your hours and hours of NBA 2K17 is refreshing, but the sad truth about any of these pregame or halftime shows is that after a certain point you’re going to start skipping past them so you can get back to the on-court action.
This is best NBA 2K basketball has ever felt. Yes, that should be true every year, as 2K Sports has the luxury of being able to build on an already-successful foundation instead of trying to create something from the ground up. But, that statement is true again this year.
My biggest critique of 2K basketball, really since the franchise’s inception, has been the tendency to lean on long, unbreakable animations that leave the user feeling like they just don’t have enough control to truly do what they are trying to do.
I’m not going to claim that the days of getting stuck in bad animations are over, but moving all ball handling and shot variations to the right stick has improved this problem immensely. In NBA 2K17, you have more control over the millisecond-to-millisecond movement of your player than ever before, and this results in a game that is both more challenging and more rewarding than ever before. I want to keep playing NBA 2K17 at least partly because I want to get better at this element of the game. That is exactly how you want the user to feel about a newly-introduced mechanic.
Now, when my player take an ill-advised shot at the rim, I’m more inclined to get upset at myself for doing something dumb rather than blame the game’s’ clunky animations for screwing up my perfectly good drive attempt. I’m far from good at this system, mind you, but it’s challenging in a way that feels fun as opposed to frustrating.
NBA 2K17’s unexpected complexity found in its new control scheme will undoubtedly keep you interesting in the on-court product.
Outside of the on-court improvements, NBA 2K17 features the return of MyTeam, 2K Sports’ answer to Madden’s immensely popular “Ultimate Team” mode that I cannot stop playing despite its lean on annoying virtual currency-based systems.
You open card packs, play NBA 2K17 so you can afford more card packs, you can play the auction house like the stock market, etc. If you’ve played literally any other ‘card-collecting’ mode of this ilk, you know what to expect here, and to 2K Sports’ credit, you absolutely do not need to spend any real money in order to have a good time playing MyTeam. I’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours fooling around with MyTeam every year, and I’ve yet to spend a single dollar. It’s nice to see that this approach is still viable in 2K17.
You could waste an infinite amount of time in both MyGM and MyLEAGUE. They provide different takes on what inexperienced NBA 2K players might recognize as ‘franchise modes’ and the various options NBA 2K17 gives users this year are astounding.
In an effort to totally break the experience, I created an expansion team from Honolulu, Hawaii called the Honolulu Hawaiian Pizzas that played in the most ugly customized arena NBA 2K17 customization tools would allow. Thanks to the ability to upload your own logos, our jerseys featured a ‘patch’ remembering the life and times of our fallen comrade Harambe. It’s pretty neat.
NBA 2K17 continued to charm the hell out of me, even in a perceived ‘dry’ general management simulation, thanks to little nuggets like your scheduled interview with the press. I kid you not, I was actually asked these questions:
“The online petition at www.FireTonyXypteras.com has more than 2,000 signatures now. Anything to say to your fans that have signed it?”
Around year ten of my simulated franchise, avoiding multiple trade demands from Marcus Smart, I started receiving amazing notifications from my assistant GM, like this gem –
“You know, Tony, I was once a young boy, playing NBA 2K’s MyGM, simming through seasons, not caring what anyone wanted, but this… this is real life. You can’t ignore your players and staffs’ needs and have them handle everything!”
Did I mention that this game was charming?
NBA 2K17 isn’t without its video game bullsh*t. Virtual currency systems of any kind will leave a bad taste in the user’s mouth despite my plea that you can have fun in MyTeam without spending money. There will always be that lingering layer of spite when you play someone with a crazy super team they obviously spent a lot of money on.
I already referenced the MyCareer grind above, but that really does put a hamper on what could be a really fun mode thanks to the enjoyable storytelling elements.
The game also has a few unfortunate technical issues. They all sit firmly in the category of slightly annoying, and certainly aren’t game breaking, but the game will just hang for lack of a better term, on random cut scenes or animations outside of the on-court action. I’m talking about before tipoff, or coming out of a timeout, etc. It’s almost as if the game is loading, but instead of an obvious loading screen it just sort of lingers on a shot that doesn’t make any sense for the camera to linger on. You’ll come across some instance of this in nearly every game, and NBA 2K17 will eventually figure this out and start working normally again after a few seconds, but it isn’t pleasant.
I’ve been playing NBA 2K basketball for well over a decade, and NBA 2K17 has a ‘fresh’ feeling thanks to its new control scheme that I haven’t felt in quite sometime. Other modes like MyTeam, MyGM, and MyLeague feature minor-but-welcomed improvements, but for the most part, the NBA 2K franchise is well established, and if you’re the kind of gamer who buys NBA 2K every year, you certainly shouldn’t skip this year’s release.
With that being said, nothing in this package screams YOU NEED TO PLAY THIS if you weren’t previously interested in the 2K franchise, but if this is the year where you finally jump on the 2K bandwagon, you won’t be disappointed.
Definitely worth a chance
This review was based on an Xbox One copy of NBA 2K17 provided by 2K Sports.