As someone who’s into video games and pop culture quite profoundly, friends and strangers are both in agreement when they react to my interest in sport with surprise. However, I’ve always been an avid sports fan and participant since a young age – and basketball quickly manifested into a lifelong passion when I entered high school and played/trained as much as four days a week. Naturally, this translated into others aspects of my life – since the old days of NBA Jam, I’ve loved playing basketball games. As I got older, new series such as NBA Live and the more recent offerings from 2K upped the ante when it came to sports games, but specifically basketball in my case. These days, with a yearly offering brought to the table I’m always front and centre every year to see what 2K has on offer.
To provide some clarification, last year’s offering NBA 2K16 worked hard to bring the MyPlayer mode to the next level. In enlisting famed film director Spike Lee, the 2K series tried to bring a legitimacy to the cross-over of film and game media by providing a story landscape to a series that had somewhat plateaued regarding the direction in years past. Personally, while I could appreciate the direction that they were trying to take the narrative in – I feel like they, unfortunately, missed the mark in their attempt to appeal to both hardcore and casual audiences by overshooting the transmedia foundation they implemented.
I’m glad to report, however, that this year in NBA 2K17, they’ve managed to find what I think is a good middle ground. Free of a lot of the clichés and cringe-worthy moments from 2K16, NBA 2K17 scaled back the drama and focused on proving a more casual and game-like experience while remaining true to the parameters of a basketballers lifestyle and events. There were a couple of things I did miss from last year, however, such as being able to play through high school – whereas this year, you started straight away in college. Regardless, I think 2K have done an admirable job this year, and the next step for them is to figure out what format they want to work within as to be able to offer narrative consistency to fans. By bringing in a recognisable actor in Michael B. Jordan as character “Justice Young,” I feel that 2K has made a significant step towards keeping that filmesque legitimacy to the series while also remaining faithful to the expectations of a video game narrative.
One of the other highlights of the game that I really can’t dodge talking about is the implementation of an NBA 2K17 app, available on both IOS and Android. What I loved was the concept behind the app – by getting players to connect their NBA 2K accounts, you’re able to play card based mini-games and complete daily objectives to collect more VC (virtual currency). You spend VC on a number of things – from upgrading your character, to buying cool accessories, animations and player packages amongst a slew of other things. Honestly, I’m totally addicted to the card game! It’s so quick and straightforward, and the collectable nature of pulling the cards is almost like Hearthstone or Pokémon in trying to build your deck and find better cards.
This was a smart move by 2K, in my opinion. For example, I’ve logged in every day to complete my objectives to keep accumulating VC – as it means I’m going to be able to play “better” by upgrading my character the next time I log in. Another design feature which they’ve overhauled is the calendar in MyPlayer mode. The great thing about the changes that 2K has introduced means that your time is so much more worthwhile each and every day. Optional practices, team practices, sponsor events and chemistry-building activities with teammates means that the simulation experience of being an NBA player is probably the closest to being realistic that I’ve EVER seen in a video game so far. In opposition to last year where you could only do one thing per day, and nothing on a game day – this departure to a more detailed system is an incredibly welcome addition.
Like the calendar system, the control system has also received a relatively significant makeover as well. Shot metres have improved to show where each players strength is when shooting the ball based on their stats, as well as timing releases to make better shots. The stealing mechanic has also been vastly upgraded, with a much more realistic fumbling animation added in rather than what seemed to be a random chance of animation based on opposing statistics (Steal vs. Ball Handling). Overall, I feel this has made the game so much more enjoyable from a playable experience and cleaned up a lot of the issues I’ve had in the past which have caused endless hours of frustration and confusion. Again, I feel like 2K has reached a good place regarding balancing and mechanical structure after years of testing and trying to get it right. Mission accomplished team!
With the usual standard of visuals and voice acting being a touchstone of NBA 2K games today, I don’t feel it’s necessary to dwell on them rather than to say that they’re as good as usual – with real NBA commentary and stars voice overs used. Another one of the benefits of the NBA 2K17 app is the facial recognition scan, which allows you to upload photos of yourself to the app and then bring across into the game when making your character in your likeness. While this is a cool feature, it has proved to have some mixed results from what I’ve seen with both examples of some great and relatively weak captures floating around online. Regardless, it’s a very cool concept and one that I can imagine 2K will continue to tweak with future releases alongside the ongoing development of even more improved technology. The soundtrack also continues to offer an eclectic mix of rap, RnB, rock and pop music to appeal to all listeners which have been a long time staple of the series and continues to both delight and annoy depending on your preferences when waiting for the game to load or change menus.
Sincerely, this is the BEST offering that 2K have put on the table for a number of years, and they deserve recognition for rejuvenating what has become a somewhat stagnant franchise over the last few years in my opinion. By significant change to gameplay, narrative and design, the NBA 2K series is in the strongest position it has ever been. These are the sorts of experiences that sports fans are looking for, with an offering for the person who wants to imagine the glory of an NBA career to the player who just wants to pick their favourite team and mess around with a friend. While 2K has had most of the standard modes on lockdown for quite some time, it has taken a lengthy process to crack the code of their story mode – and I’m happy to report my friends, that they’ve FINALLY done it. So if you’re an NBA fan who has not yet bought the game or a disenfranchised 2K player who hasn’t played for a while, then I highly recommend getting a copy as quickly as you can because you’re missing out. While sometimes it can be easy to critique game companies when they get things wrong, it never seems to be a two-way street in offering praise when they get things right. So I’m here to say thank you 2K, for delivering the sort of basketball game I’ve always wanted.