Video Games Review: NBA 2K17 (PS4, 2016)

Basketball is one of the few American sports I follow zealously. A long-time Celtics fan (you heard me, wannafightaboudit), I find myself with a love-dread relationship with basketball video games. NBA 2K17 comes loaded for bear with an involved My Career mode that gets right to heart of my idiosyncratic relationship to these games. 

The reason I find myself in two minds with games like these is because I a) become incredibly spiteful of any team I get drafted into that aren’t the Celtics and when I finally do get to play for the C’s I feel like I’m brutally letting them down with every blown pass or missed shot on the basket.

So imagine my surprise when the second thing the career mode does after letting me get a feel for my character (his name is Shuma Gorath, the world’s ugliest, shortest point guard) is make me the second pick in the college draft for the Celtics. So right away, I’m filled with neurotic energy and I go from being an unbeatable college powerhouse to “Why the hell did we draft this kid again?” in record time.

It also didn’t help that the My Career mode is built around the idea that you will become a Jordan level holy-shit machine built for point scoring, and I kind of ruined this by playing point guard, a support position that really only gets a handful of minutes in each game.

Good defense is important, you guys.

Okay, fine, my bad, I’ll remember that for next time.

This year’s edition looks and feels a little more finely tuned than last year, and the controls remain squarely in the easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master camp. Shooting creates a power bar that must be tapped upon reaching the top to nail the shot. Team AI doesn’t feel like its been changed over much from last year, and that’s okay because its already pretty solid as it is. It’s possible to set up easy layups and attacks on the basket, pass to a team mate and have them follow through with the two-pointer, exactly as you planned. That said, the opponent AI remains an aggressive, slippery character, constantly on the look out for holes in your defense, bringing a swift and brutal hammer down on any weaknesses it finds.

On court movement feels a touch more fluid, though character models still have do lot of awkward computery bumping-into-each-other when attempting to box people out or execute a pick and roll.

The thing that annoyed me, particularly during the career mode, is the game’s slavish devotion to pretending to be a sports broadcast. I know a lot of this puffery is included in the game to conceal long load times, but it makes me feel like I’m stuck being fed information I already know about when I could be on the court.

Regarding your personally curated characters, its possible to level them up through dedicated training, improving their skills and turning them into a better overall player or master-level specialist in a particular discipline. What I liked about this system is that, even with minimal changes to a given stat, it was possible to feel an improvement.

If you’re a newcomer to the NBA 2K series then it will be worth your while poring through the menus to locate the tutorial. I say this because, beyond the training and tutorial modes, the game does not do a lot to explain itself to the player. I jumped directly into the career without doing a refresher and regretted it when it became clear the game simply expected me to know what I was doing.

There’s a lot to like here once you do figure out how everything works. The amount of modes alone will keep devotees going for months and the career mode features an extreme amount of play, even between matches.

Where it stumbled for me was in its myriad annoying but not-quite-game-ruining bugs. I’ve had one issue where, when taking penalty shots, the camera will occasionally shake uncontrollably right up until the moment I release the ball. It’s a great recreation of the nerve-shredding pressure to sink the shot, but that doesn’t mean I appreciate it. I also had the game wrest control away from me on a number of occasions, with my player getting stuck in a twist-and-step animation loop that caused him to moonwalk his way into several backcourt violations. Like I say, these bugs aren’t the end of the world, and its often possible to recover from them without much of an issue, but they certainly make the game feel far less cohesive overall.

NBA 2K17 is a solid entry in the series, even with its rougher edges. It doesn’t do anything we haven’t really seen before, but it attempts to refine its core systems further and the on-court experience is better for it. If living the basketball dream is your thing, you’ll find an awful lot to like here.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Great animation; Tons of modes; Great soundtrack; Play feels as good as ever
Lowlights: Marred by some irritating bugs
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.