NBA 2K17 review

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher 2K Sports
Developer Visual Concepts
Release Date Sep 20, 2016

Somehow, NBA 2K17 continues to preserve the series’ creative gameplay ideas and expressive personality almost two decades in. Sweeping updates and additions are almost unnecessary at this stage. 2K’s lone basketball competition, EA’s NBA Live, is caught in a development delay on consoles, possibly until the NBA’s All-Star break. Yet, the tempting future presented by NBA 2K17 shows an annualized sports product unwilling to slow down. It’s unusual to see the slate of growing options and modes challenge the expectations that come with sports games. Even when those aspects falter — and they do in terms of storytelling — the groundwork lays out an interesting future.

For the second year in a row, NBA 2K’s MyCareer mode is where the majority of updates happen. This makes sense — according to stats in the first episode of 2KTV, a weekly video broadcast blending NBA and 2K news, MyCareer now boasts the highest number of players in the franchise.

NBA 2K17 - MyCareer screenshots

NBA 2K16’s MyCareer story came from Spike Lee, a narrowly woven urban poverty tale about player avatar Frequency Vibrations. NBA 2K17, meanwhile, taps Creed scribe Aaron Covington (along with Creed star Michael B. Jordan) to tell a new story.

Your custom-made high school standout, automatically coined "President" or "Pres" for short, serves as NBA 2K17’s MyCareer star player. Narrative themes of hard work and success have a literal imprint. Engaging with practice sessions builds a meter titled "Doin’ the Work." Pres earns a boost to attributes within a handful of sittings.

Those who downloaded 2K’s The Prelude earlier this month played 2K17’s initial MyCareer chapter. From the selection to play for one of 10 college teams and a stint on on the modern USA Basketball squad, pacing keeps the fiction in focus. Post-Prelude, it’s a grind of assigned practices, event appearances and game days.

The few stray story bits act as a reprieve from repetition. Jordan’s impact as Pres’ teammate Justice Young warrants an enthusiastic video introduction. Later in the season, players have the option to control Justice on the court with the purpose of building tighter camaraderie, a departure for the usually solitary game mode. Young’s brief appearances elsewhere mark him as a superfluous addition to the narrative otherwise.

nba 2k17 review screen 3

As things go with sports games, MyCareer addresses problems from one year ago: on-court performance dictates changes in dialogue. Criticism for those struggling with 10 points per game makes sense, in opposition to Spike Lee’s possible success story of a third-string bench rider.

A focus on MyCareer also makes sense because so much of it fits into the rest of NBA 2K17. Features bleed into other features, with ridiculously diverse gameplay choices. Pres can step away from NBA tedium for MyPark, pickup-style street basketball that takes place in oddball locations like a steel mill, adding color to the proceedings. You can form teams or dabble in random games, and automatic matchmaking eliminates the need to wait around as in previous games, with the bonus of mercifully pairing players by skill level.

Pres also features into the online 2K Pro-Am, the league-within-a-league carrying individual team owners, free agency markets and customizable squads. Those looking to practice before entering free agency can jump into quick five-on-five matchups. Pro-Am holds the odd distinction of being labeled an esport by 2K. It’s weird but effective in concept, if hampered by menu crashes and NBA 2K’s notoriously fidgety online connectivity. During my review sessions, two games were lost partway through, and a handful never started.

nba 2k17 tall screen 2

As great as MyPark and Pro-Am are in theory, both modes’ leaderboards are too full of players that appear to have paid their way upward. Regardless of where MyCareer gameplay happens, the slog of leveling eases with NBA 2K17’s Virtual Currency, which can be bought in amounts that range from $2 to $100. While gameplay skill factors in, high player ratings carry obvious and substantial impact, with less urgency to improve for higher VC payouts. Never mind how this comes at odds with the hard work and success theme of Aaron Covington’s story.

The fantasy-driven MyTeam, with its improved and faster user interface, features additional dollars-for-content offerings, mirroring EA’s Ultimate Team. Open digital packs of cards, build a team, complete challenges or play your unlocked squad online. The formula is familiar, with a handful of tweaks to card behavior like Dynamic Duos. With Duos in play, cards signifying chemistry earn significant categorical stat boosts when played on the floor together, altering how lineups are assembled. It’s a different level of strategy rather than merely picking squads with high ratings.

Digging into MyGM franchise or season play brings more touch-up. As a GM, league meetings allow for relocation and the introduction of custom expansion teams, optionally bringing the NBA to 36 teams max. Retiring jersey numbers is now possible too. These pile onto a mode already numerous menus in depth, all needed and readily accessible from the sharp UI design. Conversations with players alter team attributes (better or worse), and the fan base changes their loyalty based on concession/memorabilia prices, with added battles of player scouting and contract negotiations.

Where MyCareer and the modes it touches have seen the biggest updates, on the court, NBA 2K17’s basketball sim has received a nuanced update. There’s a wealth of bullet-point improvements, like new animations and physics — fine-tuning that might go unnoticed unless you revert to prior NBA 2K games.

NBA 2K17 - MyCareer screenshots

The odd proclamation "this is not a game" adorns the box art, marketing that’s a touch self-indulgent, although play sessions do carry competitive theater and pleasing crowd reactions. In tense moments, home fans visibly stomp to "D-fense" chants. In garbage time, they sing along with the PA system. This brings an unusual, even unequaled, level of energy to elements surrounding the game itself. When paired with a commentary booth rotating in prior players like Brent Barry and Chris Webber as analysts, broadcast accuracy continues to earn best-in-class credibility. Specialized touches include stunt shows at halftime and a remarkable number of dialogue instances — player and coach interviews happen before, during and after games.

While it’s easy to dismiss the actual game development for being in a comfortable resting pattern, minor changes slowly evolve the series. Otherwise, 2K’s game would only be a more technically decorated version of the series’ undervalued progenitor, NBA Action ’98. Progress is understated on the court itself, but 2K17’s massive selection of growing features and choice creates an entire basketball platform continuing to sit upon the bones of a premier simulation.

Wrap Up:

NBA 2K17 is a worthy if subtle upgrade

NBA 2K17’s story falls apart in the end, despite the Hollywood talents, but luckily, created players still have plenty to do with their custom creation, both online and off. With 2K Pro-Am providing an intriguing look at 2K’s esports future, and despite the presence of microtransactions, the basis is there for something long term. Taken as a whole, NBA 2K17 is a worthy if subtle upgrade to an already extensive, even exhaustive, sports sim.

NBA 2K17 was reviewed using a "retail" PlayStation 4 download code provided by 2K Games on retail servers. This review will remain provisional until such time as Polygon staff can ascertain its launch state. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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