Review: NBA 2K17 (Xbox One)
Every year I wonder how the NBA 2K series is possibly going to get better. Sport games are accustomed to drops in quality considering their annual nature, particularly when a series seems to be at its best for a number of years. I keep waiting for NBA 2K to have this drop. I expect it to dribble towards the hoop and drop the ball, or have its attempt blocked, denied, and end up sitting in the loser’s end. Instead it continues to take that ball and slam it home, with a bit more confidence and a bit more style every single year.
You can probably gather from that intro that NBA 2K17 continues the trend of being pure quality. I could probably stop the review right here, tell you to go out right now and buy it and never look back, but for the sake of those that need a little more arm twisting I will provide more detail, of course.
It’s got the moves, and lots of them
Key to any sports game is the gameplay and it’s something the 2K series has focused on in the past and to almost the most minute of details. With the trick stick, shot stick and a few other additions in NBA 2K16 there was really (seemingly) little space for 2K17 to go. That said, every single aspect that made 2K16 great has been tweaked and improved, smoothed out, made more intuitive and more realistic. It’s honestly just insane how the dev team manage to sort out all the small issues not only making the game even better, but also making it feel quite distinct from the previous year.
Definitely one of the annoyances from last year was the shot meter which seemed iffy at best (for lack of a better description). The time of the shot meter didn’t seem to quite make sense, was not very intuitive and even when you hit the sweet spot you weren’t guaranteed to make a shot. It meant that you had no idea what you needed to do differently. Thankfully this years shot meter, which goes across a bar below the player, makes a lot more sense, and if you get that sweet spot (which isn’t easy or hard, it’s just right – Goldilocks) you are almost guaranteed to make the shot. The bar remains under the player with the ball so you can see what their ability is like from far, which is great from an aesthetic point of view.
One other aspect from 2K16 that was changed is the trick stick. Doing little dribbling moves worked acceptably previously but at times felt a little ‘stuck’ or the transition from one move to another, or a move to a shot didn’t quite seem to be as fluid as it should have been. 2K17 fixes this and everything flows beautiful. Combining moves with passes and shots and fakes has never been more smooth and rewarding.
The gameplay in 2K17 is a wonder to behold and definitely sets the bar in terms of sports simulations. Every type of shot, block, steal, pass, flashy pass and rebound looks absolutely perfect as if you were watching the real thing. It’s a credit to the developers that they can get it to be so realistic.
The production value slams it down. Again.
If there is one thing more incredible than the gameplay in NBA 2K17 then it’s definitely the visuals, and the production value to boot. All players look uncannily like their real life counterparts with nearly every detail of the player included. This is highlighted by the new player interview style playing between quarters where you can really marvel at the player likenesses.
It’s not just the players though. The courts are near perfect, the team kits are perfect and the stadiums and crowds add to what is a tremendous atmosphere from start to finish in terms of any match played. It’s complemented by the excellent presenters panel that is in the game with the likes of David Aldridge joining the team and reporting on the match taking place. From pre-game talk shows to mid-game sideline comments and half-time reports, NBA 2K17 has it all and the value is through the roof in terms of all the necessary aesthetics.
One issue that has carried through all the previous NBA 2K games was the menus which felt like a bit of a mess and didn’t quite make sense when it came to navigating. This time around NBA 2K17 has completely reworked the menus and they are far more accessible, to the degree you’d expect from such a high quality game.
Modes for days. Weeks. Months. Years
NBA 2K17 has so many modes and so much content your biggest issue might be where to start. Personally I always start with the MyCareer mode which lets you setup your own character who you can take through college and into the NBA where you have to deal with all the pressures of being a superstar. This includes everything from playing matches, training with your team, managing endorsements, shoe deals and impressing your teammates.
Last year’s Spike Lee story has been substituted for a much more basic approach, but it really does work just as well and you will find yourself loving the adventure you go on with your player and his teammate played by Michael B. Jordan who does a sterling job of the role.
The gameplay in MyCareer feels much better this time as you are no longer expected to get a ridiculous amount of points and assists from the start, but rather focus on doing a few good things right and being a team player. The further you get the more it changes and the more you can impress. This is largely done through upgrading your character by taking part in training, matches and the endorsements and purchasing attribute upgrades. It is a bit of a grind but it is well worth the effort in the end. There’s a lot more to MyCareer too such as joining online with friends, taking part in the Pro-Am tournaments, collecting badges, player animations and more. The options are just about endless.
Following the magnificent MyCareer mode I gave MyTeam a go (2Ks version of Ultimate Teams). In the past I didn’t quite take to the mode. It was fun but it felt a bit messy and almost overwhelming between the terrible menus and confusing instructions. MyTeam in 2K17 is finally on par with the quality of the rest of the game. The improved menus and instructions make it much more accessible and it has actually become my go-to mode.
There are weekly challenges and general challenges to take part in which places you in situations with objectives and rewards you accordingly. Alternatively you can play against the AI of every single team in the NBA and earn rewards. Rewards are in the form of card packs that contain items such as balls, stadiums, coaches, gameplans and of course players, but there is also an auction house if you wish to buy or sell players instead. While the offline challenges and domination mode is what I love most, I did take to the online courts to play in some of those challenges too and I must commend 2K17 on its online servers holding up very well, pity my skills weren’t as good.
MyTeam definitely sees the biggest improvement for me in terms of what 2K17 offers and becoming addicted to the mode has me more invested in the game than ever before. If you are looking to get into a basketball game it is definitely the place to start.
The other main mode is the MyGM and MyLeague mode. MyGM is a role playing mode where you take control of the entire NBA Franchise dealing with the team, coach, finances, stadium and any other executive decision as you attempt to get your franchise to the very top. It works pretty well but I much prefer the MyLeague mode which actually has you playing in what would be the standard NBA League. You can play up to 80 seasons and there are a number of settings you can adjust to make the format however you wish it to be. There is a lot of detail in both these modes and it will definitely keep you busy, but for those who might find it overwhelming there is the option to play a basic season mode too.
There are lots of other modes included, many returning of course. Online leagues are fantastic if you crave the PvP type competition. MyPark and Blacktop return where you can show off your skills at your local park or playing some park basketball 1v1 to 5v5 with any of the players with far fewer rules. There’s NBA today and a “Live” season mode which has you play games as they occur in the real NBA (starting on 25 October only), and of course All-Star match ups and other variations of the game. Is that enough content for you!?
Nothing but net?
Why is NBA 2K17 not quite perfect? Well for one it still suffers from some rather long loading times. Sure there are usually pre-game shows to keep you occupied but it does break up the game a bit and especially in MyCareer it can be annoying when it adds to the grind. That grind is also something that might annoy people, and while you don’t have to do everything in MyCareer, it certainly does help for that first season.
The story mode also has its ups and downs and while it forces you down a path, which sometimes does feel a bit disconnected, it is still great to see out until the end so that your MyCareer can really take off. Lastly, NBA 2K17 does include a tutorial which was lacking in the previous games, but it could probably still be a little more accessible for newcomers, though it has definitely improved in this regard.
All-in-all, NBA 2K17 is once again a brilliant, quality, pure value for money experience that will never let you down. As I said at the start, deciding which mode to invest time into first is your biggest worry with the game, and the truth is no matter which you pick you will love what you see. I don’t know how long 2K can keep up this kind of quality, but I definitely won’t question their ability after yet another top class outing in NBA 2K17.