NBA 2K17 feels like it was made by a team of people who live and breathe basketball. Everything from the meticulous presentation to MyCareer mode's practice drills exhibits the care and attention that only come from people who get whisked away in midday dreams of playing in the NBA--and that makes it doubly easy for you to do the same. This is the first time I've delved past an NBA 2K game's Play Now and Blacktop modes, and in witnessing how great this game is, I’m beginning to wonder why I never did so in the first place.
2K's NBA games are known for smooth, fluid play, and true to form, 2K17 allows you to move the ball around the court, mixing in advanced ball maneuvers and fancy footwork with ease. Employing the right stick's ability to juke is when you'll really feel the satisfaction of faking out an opponent on your way to the net. It's empowering to know that you outsmarted the opposition, and it's a credit to the game's controls that complex moves are accessible and feel natural. Once you grow accustomed to the potential at your fingertips--a fast process--NBA 2K17 feels like a game of instincts, rather than a calculated series of inputs.
Of course, victory wouldn't feel as sweet if the AI didn't put up a good fight, and given its prowess, you need to employ smart positioning and playmaking to get to the hoop. Experimenting with the tools at hand is as essential as it is satisfying when you put a winning strategy into action--and humbling when you're stuffed by a clever opponent. The AI isn't going to fall for the same trick every time, so mixing up your strategies is required--passing the ball to your best player in an attempt to score three points every time isn't going work. Finding out the best way to tackle each shift on the court is continually rewarding and engages you wholeheartedly in the excellent on-court action.
To get your bearings, you can jump into the 2KU mode, which has you participate in scrimmage games, and feeds you tutorial tips as you play. Gameplay pauses as instructions and narration pop up to let you know how to pass, shoot, and retrieve the ball on defense. This can be helpful for learning the basics, but it would be a lot more effective if the game reacted to your performance and coached you appropriately rather than merely providing static direction. For example, it doesn't let you know why you lost a jump ball or why you got a foul for trying to knock a ball loose. Without a responsive, real-time feedback system, NBA 2K17's training mode feels more like a primer than a full-fledged tutorial.
When it's game time, NBA 2K17's commentators, camera angles, and mid-game events--such as mascot antics and halftime dunk shows--demonstrate incredible realism and attention to detail. Fans get excited at the right moments, with intercepted passes and turnovers riling them up the most. The only downside to the whole broadcast setup is the pre-game and half-time shows; they sound good, but the virtual hosts are stiff. It often looks like someone’s pulling the strings of realistic Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith puppets. Thankfully, they're a relatively small part of the package, and the rest of the presentation, particularly the commentary and fans, makes every game feel like you're playing in the NBA.
Playing with authentic teams and players scratches the NBA itch, but MyCareer offers a different kind of game, where you create a player and master a single position as you make your way through college and into the pros. Cutscenes are infrequent, but they add some nice background to you and your life through moments of playing video games with a friend or talking to your excited, caring mom over the phone. They're not super impactful, but the way everyone in your life reacts to you and your playing makes you want to do better on the court.
Playing as a single athlete can feel restrictive in some sports games, but playing your part on a team in 2K17 is thoroughly rewarding. Setting up a teammate for an alley-oop or having someone pass to you so you can make that key three-point shot fosters an awesome sensation that feels like real teamwork, where you have total ownership over your role. Sure, you can call for the ball every second and hog it like Kobe, but you'd be robbing yourself of the satisfaction that comes with skillful cooperation.
Playing as a single athlete can feel restrictive in some sports games, but playing your part on a team in 2K17's MyCareer mode is thoroughly rewarding.
You can actually improve your game by participating in practices--various types of mini games. They might challenge you to sink as many alternating three-point shots as possible, shoot the ball from a specific spot, or play a game of one-on-one. Most of these challenges are fun, making the choice to go to the gym before a game a lot easier.
Outside of playing basketball, MyCareer encourages you to take part in life off the court. You can attend promotional and fan events to get a little extra currency to spend on attributes and upgrades. These amount to nothing more than selecting a menu item, watching your player walk out the door, and then getting a message saying you completed the event. The lack of interactivity with these events is fine, but the amount of time it takes for this process to finish feels a bit excessive. Additionally, you get text messages from friends, players, and coaches, and the way you respond will change the way certain people react to you. These moments of texting are often funny and add a bit of life in between games and practices that's much appreciated.
2K17 offers a number of modes to play online against other players, and for the most part, the connection holds up well. In my several hours of online testing, I came across a few games where the connection was fairly bad, resulting in a match that was nearly unplayable. Thankfully, these encounters were few and far between.
You can compete against other players in the basic Play Now mode or take a team you assemble through card packs and face off against others in MyTeam. In this mode, you kick things off with a starter pack that gives you a small bounty of cards to help you build a lineup of players. In addition to paying real money for these packs, you can earn them by racking up in-game currency. This process takes much longer, and you aren't guaranteed to get any useful cards in a pack. This can be frustrating, especially when you pay real money toward the purchase of card packs. You're better off buying the players you want from the auction house. Doing what essentially amounts to gambling is a risk that just isn't worth it.
Despite its few drawbacks, NBA 2K17's excitement for basketball is contagious, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in it. Apart from the lacking 2KU mode and stiff recreations of commentators, the rest of the game looks great and plays even better. After finally devoting a significant amount of time to one of these games, I now see why it's such a well-regarded series, and it makes me wish that every sport got the same treatment that basketball does in NBA 2K17.