Jordans, Jordans everywhere …
HIGH MyCareer is now 100% Spike Lee-free, and MUCH better for it…
LOW …Although that’s not to say it doesn’t get silly at times.
WTF Purple-faced created players that appear due to poor rendering.
How does a team improve on a championship season?
This is the question Visual Concepts asks itself when creating new entries in the NBA 2K series, and it answers well. Despite having no threatening competition in the console basketball space (EA’s beleaguered Live series won’t return until early next year) they continue to evolve and add polish each season.
NBA 2K17 represents, arguably, the most realistic sports experience to date. That’s no small claim, considering how much depth and variety was offered in its predecessor. Yet, it’s accurate – I can’t find a single element of this title that doesn’t equal or surpass the previous edition.
I find this series’ bread and butter to lie in the MyCareer mode. What was once a simple, performance-focused way to replicate an NBA career has become a story-driven, often melodramatic mode. Granted, it has occasionally lost focus over the years, but it always centers on the core elements of improving and expanding a player’s skill set.
Last year, 2K got a little heavy-handed with its Spike Lee-penned narrative about an inner-city success story whose entourage often got in the way of good judgment. It was a decent tale, but its linear structure and maudlin ending blemished the experience. By the third Hallmark Channel cutscene, I wanted a little more action and a little less emotion.
This year, the preachy melodrama has been toned down considerably, while still presenting a compelling plotline. It all started in the world’s best playable preview to date: The Prelude.
Here, players begin as a high school standout prematurely (and unfairly) saddled with the nickname “Pres.” Naturally, the name drives a good amount of friction from teammates as the story progresses, though users never have to deal with obnoxious, entitled caricatures as in 2K14, or faceless nobodies like Spike Lee’s protagonist.
The Prelude alone is a tremendous experience that offers dramatic urgency, quality gameplay, surprise bonus features and even a full complement of achievements/trophies. And, just like any good trailer, it leaves gamers wanting more with a dramatic draft-day cliffhanger. I’d bet that pre-orders went through the roof once fans finished playing this wonderful marketing tool. I won’t spoil it further, but suffice it to say that 2K has found a much better balance of on- and off-court activity to keep gamers busy past the final act.
Once the career is over, there’s still a boatload of content to be had. MyGM is 2K’s fleshed-out franchise mode that presents its own level of drama and intrigue. MyLeague allows gamers to customize any of the included leagues to their liking. If they want to add new teams (or move the Nets back to Jersey) they can — the game will adjust accordingly. Likewise, if players want to make wholesale changes to league rules and regs, they can have at it.
What separates these modes from past iterations is how much deeper they go. Whereas gamers would usually play this way for a few seasons, once stars retire and no-namers take their place on rosters, the mode would struggle to stay relevant. 2K17 keeps things more interesting for longer periods by adding summer trading, more control over contracts and roster management, and the biggest addition, league meetings.
Now a player’s GM or league owner can participate in annual rule changes and league policies, turning the NBA into a morphing, evolving beast, and seeing these changes come to fruition makes each season its own entity. Even seemingly minor changes become significant once applied. (PROTIP: brush up on full-court defense.)
All these modes and features are great, but they don’t mean a thing if it plays poorly, so it’s a good thing the controls are immaculate. NBA 2K17 is at once both tighter and more liberating, with more responsive feedback, better collision detection, and some of the smoothest animations this side of a Pixar film. The series’ trademark canned animations have been drastically reduced, putting more control in players’ hands, and allowing for fewer unwanted actions.
The game’s vaunted right-stick controls are even better this year, with more accessible dribble combos available for skilled players. Dwight Howard won’t be breaking any ankles, but players that flick the stick with Chris Paul will be more than satisfied.
One key control change comes in the form of shooting, which adds considerable depth to its meter system. Whereas there was one timed “charge and release” element to shooting in past editions, timing is now only part of the process. Players have hot zones, statistics determine shot likelihood from every part of the court, and even layups are timed. To some this may be seen as an unnecessary change, but it certainly makes easier shots more challenging.
Steals and takeaways are better represented in 2K17, and outcomes are no longer limited to “steal” or “foul.” Now players can tip the ball, interrupt dribbles and perform other, more subtle actions, each of which has an all-new animation. There are more foul calls this season, but players won’t have nearly as many questions as to why they were called. Try to steal too much and expect whistles to rain down early and often.
NBA 2K17 is just as good online as it is for solo play. The standard Play Now Online mode moves beyond simple head-to-head matchups and rewards players for choosing (and winning with) lesser teams. Matchmaking is solid, and leaderboards are easy to follow. Likewise, the simplistic but entertaining Blacktop mode is where most of the trash-talking contingent will be, living out customizable Rucker Park fantasies.
Visually, the game is on-par with anything out there, give or take a few pock marks or beads of sweat. Silky smooth animations are met with the most realistic player models in sports gaming. Even from a zoomed-out perspective, fans will have no problem identifying key stars from their signature moves.
On the audio side, there is simply no better commentary than that of the NBA 2K series, and this year’s rotating booth only enhances that reputation. New additions to the broadcast are Steve Smith, Chris Webber and Brent Barry among others, keeping each game fresh and unique. Coupled with pinpoint-accurate court and arena sounds, players will never have to hit mute.
In the end, NBA 2K17 is an all-around win. There is simply no equal to the depth and overall quality of this title, cementing the series as perhaps the best of all sports. Those who enjoy drama will find MyPlayer to their liking. Armchair point guards will enjoy MyLeague and MyGM. Casual ballers can hop in and play some of the most finely-tuned basketball ever. There’s more content here than most basketball fans will ever experience, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Any fan needs NBA 2K17 in their library.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Games. It is currently available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via purchase and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the MyPlayer/campaign was completed. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains nothing objectionable, on or off the court. Several moments in MyPlayer present adult situations, but nothing that couldn’t be discussed at Sunday dinner.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game can be played without audio without any detriment to the experience.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
When not writing for Gamecritics, Brad spends his days managing several sports and entertainment websites, handling several freelance writing contracts, and occasionally playing the role of "Dad" when time permits.
Brad is also the only guy on this staff who prefers the Xbox One to other platforms. And he's not budging on that one bit.