“…the very pinnacle of the series so far.”
2K Games aren’t always the first name on gamers’ minds when it comes to sports games, but fans of their WWE and NBA titles know just how special they can be. Maximum effort seems to go into every single instalment in each of the franchises, and their latest title, NBA 2K17, seems to have been no exception to that rule.
Realism, immersion and authenticity are the big factors at play in NBA 2K17. From the word go, the game draws you in, and it never really seems to let go again. When you load up the game for the first time, you are asked to create your own player. The character creation screens would make a Sims or Skyrim fan weep at the sheer level of detail that is on offer. Not only does the avatar on the screen look impeccably real, but as you morph their face in significant and subtle ways, you realise just how mind-blowingly well the system has been put together. Sliders allow you to fine tune every little detail of your player, from the size of their jaw to the length and inflection of the tip of their nose. It’s pretty nuts, almost on unnecessary levels, but if you are the kind of gamer who likes to see yourself in the game then this is about as good as it gets. Short of literally growing out their facial hair and combing their mop top, you can pretty much modify it all. It is fortunate really, as the game’s facial recognition is still a little lacklustre, unless perhaps you have the world’s greatest webcam and lighting setup. Even my Logitech C920 couldn’t really nail it, but I managed to make a pretty close representation of myself with the sliders instead (albeit ignoring just how short I really am).
The level of detail in NBA 2K17 doesn’t stop here, and in fact every player in the game looks practically photorealistic. From facial movements to accurate tattoos, it’s pretty impressive stuff. Other, arguably bigger sports games could learn an awful lot about visual design from 2K17’s designers, that’s for sure. The court looks equally as stunning, and little details in the game’s audio compliment this even further. The noise of the crowd and the fantastically formed commentary are a pleasure to hear, but the finer points such as the scuffing of shoes on the polished floor are the real delight. The movement of players looks very natural and unique to every individual too. Larger players don’t look janky when they perform an animation designed against a smaller one, with real care having gone into making the motion of the game look fluid and true to life. It is clear that this basketball game was made by genuine fans that paid real attention to every aspect of what their game needed to be, and the payoff is everything that gamers could hope for in the design department.
Oddly, some of the cutscenes between gameplay phases, designed to offer an authentic experience for the player, do not manage to hold up the powerful visuals of the gameplay itself. Nevertheless, the design of these, be in pregame, postgame or halftime shows, is fantastic. To anyone walking through your living room as you are playing, you could believably be watching an actual NBA match on TV. It is a fantastic effort by the developers to integrate this side of the match day experience into their game. Other elements such as the subtle HUD, advertisements on boards and occasionally popping up for genuine brands and the best commentary I have heard in a sports title for a very long time really offer the player the all-round immersive gameplay experience that they want when they buy into the title. It is fantastic in that respect.
Gameplay was a side of NBA 2K17 which I felt didn’t quite hold up the same standards as the experience created around it. Whilst motions are very fluid and everything works just fine, what the game doesn’t do is offer much insight to new players or beginners. There are some systems of play which someone new to the game might find difficult at first, such as “tackling” the opponent or taking penalty shots. Once you have had some time to play however, getting used to these elements as you go, the gameplay is logical and sound. It is not the easiest or even simplest system across sporting titles, but any option you want to attempt to play is possible, allowing you to strategize and execute with finesse. Don’t expect to pick everything up with a click of your fingers, but when you’ve got it, it’s easy to fully appreciate what the game has to offer.
Game modes in NBA 2K17 are many, and the options are good. The standard modes such as Play Now for on and offline competition with friends are naturally on the roster, but other modes such as My Team and My Career are a bit more unique to the title. My Team is the equivalent of FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode, and involves collecting player cards to build a fantasy squad and take on other online players. You start with some basic cards, and can purchase packs for new ones with either in-game funds or your own, real world pocket money. The mode isn’t quite as honed as similar ones like Ultimate Team, but its integration into the 2K model will no doubt be picked up on fondly by NBA fans. Those who would rather not spend, spend, spend however might find that finding a strong line up in this mode is a lengthy, dragging task.
What is most special in 2K17 is the My Career mode, which similarly to the most recent FIFA title offers a full, RPG style story to follow. Using a player of your own creation, this mode sees you build a career as you shoot to be up with the pros. As well as controlling your player on the court, you take control of other aspects of their professional and personal lives too. Practice helps you hone your skills, whilst attending events and speaking to friends can affect your reputation. Earning in-game funds allows you to obtain new skills for your player as you progress through the story, ultimately helping them reach their goal. The mode is surprisingly engaging, with the combination of your own actions and pre-constructed scenes carrying your would-be pro onwards and upwards using more than just standard gameplay to do so. It is certainly a nice aside from the more standard modes of play, and does add a refreshingly new experience to the sporting title.
Finally, and on another strong note for 2K17, there is the roster of teams and players on offer. Not only are the major teams all present and correct in the game, but classic teams with some of history’s greats are also on offer for players to enjoy. This means that the all-time greats that you always wished you could see on the court are now at your fingertips, which will no doubt sweeten the deal for those who were already sold on the new entry in the franchise. Great care has been taken in creating the teams, as well as setting the stats for players accurately. The commentators are packed full of fun facts on every side too, which you will have the pleasure of hearing as you play. In terms of content, it is a basketball fan’s heaven.
NBA 2K17 reaffirms the success of the franchise, taking it further to become the very pinnacle of the series so far. Any basketball fan will be able to appreciate the sheer levels of detail, care and content in the game, with endless hours of entertainment value on offer. The game’s new direction with a dedicated story is a shining success, well worth a look for players who are after something just a little bit different. The various other game modes offer further opportunities, while at the same time providing the base game experiences that gamers will expect. New players will face a learning curve when picking up the title, and elements still show some room for improvement, but as a whole, little can be said to have gone amiss in 2K17.