With about a month to go before the beginning of the NBA regular season, it’s the perfect time for video game basketball.
The annual “NBA 2K” games allow you to live out your dream season with your favorite team, before the crushing reality that they just aren’t very good sets in. Unless you like the Warriors or the Cavaliers or a handful of other teams. If that’s the case, you’re probably stoked for basketball.
Anyway, after spending more than a week with “NBA 2K17,” it’s time to find out if this year’s game is any good or not. Here we go:
Let’s get the most important part out of the way first: Playing basketball feels fantastic in “NBA 2K17.”
If the part where you play basketball in “NBA 2K17” wasn’t any good, nothing else would matter. Fortunately, it just feels right this year, as it has in previous years.
The players animate and travel with momentum that feels real, and even though I’m far from an “NBA 2K” expert, I generally feel like I’m always able to do the things I want to do without thinking about it too much.
I generally feel like I can navigate through the defense to get in position for a three-pointer or slash my way to the bucket for a layup or dunk in the same ways as the best NBA players. It’s tough to put into words, but the act of playing the sport feels about as pitch-perfect as it has in any sports game I’ve played in recent years.
The re-worked career mode represents the biggest new addition to “NBA 2K17,” and it has its ups and downs.
Last year’s edition of “NBA 2K” had a story mode that was written and directed by filmmaker Spike Lee, and it was a bit of a disaster. It was quirky and ambitious, but that tale of a hoops phenom coming up from nothing and becoming an NBA star had lengthy, clumsily-written cutscenes that made it a drag.
This year’s offering loses much of the charm since it plays it pretty safe with the storytelling, but the execution is better all around. It’s the same rags-to-riches sports story we’ve seen a million times, but your on-court rookie partner is played by actor Michael B. Jordan, and that’s pretty cool.
As your custom-made player, you will spend the bulk of your time managing your daily schedule. That means practices, sponsorship events and friendly get-togethers on off-days, and regular old basketball on gamedays.
The basketball lifestyle is fleshed out a little bit this year, as you’ll choose which brands to represent and which players you want to hang out with. That said, I wish they would go even further with this idea – you usually don’t actually see the events you attend, you just get a stat bonus afterward.
If so much of my time is going to be spent not playing basketball, I want the non-hoops moments to have more meat to them.
The “Orange Juice” system in MyCareer is incredibly fun, but needs some work.
Your custom character in “NBA 2K17” is best buds with Justice Young, a fellow rookie draft pick on the same team played by Michael B. Jordan. The two players want to become the next dynamic duo to dominate the NBA, dubbing themselves “Orange Juice” in the process.
In-game, this manifests itself as a meter that fills up during games when you synergize with Young on-court by assisting each other’s shots. Once it’s full, you can control both players at once (see above), giving you more control than ever to set up highlight reel plays.
There’s just one big problem with this: It only lasts until the next rotation change, which happens two or three times per game, even if you’re a starter. That means you’ll realistically only get to take advantage of it for a couple of minutes at a time before it resets, instead of throughout the rest of the game you’re playing in.
I hope this feature returns next year in a reworked fashion because it allows me to dictate the flow of the game in entirely new ways. It just feels slightly limited in its current state.
The game’s biggest problem is the practice activities you need to take part in during the career mode.
In MyCareer, you have a cap on how high your core stats (three-point shooting, agility, etc.) can be at any given time. To increase this cap, you need to fill up a meter that can only be filled by doing practice mini-games in your daily schedule.
Unfortunately, the practice drills are tedious at best and downright broken at worst. Short one-on-one matchups, shooting drills and wind-sprints are probably an integral part of a normal basketball practice, but they don’t make for especially engaging gameplay.
What’s downright inexcusable, though, is whenever the game makes you run drills involving setting screens or using the pick and roll. It makes absolutely zero effort to explain what these things mean or how they should be used for more casual players, and more often than not, the game’s controls simply stop working during these drills.
Case in point: I had a screen drill that required me to run to a spot on the court and press the circle button on my PS4 controller. Easy enough, right? Well, the circle button didn’t do anything. I stood there, smashing the circle button in the vain hope that something might actually happen until the 90-second timer ran out and I failed the drill.
Things like that have happened to me multiple times. I guess it’s possible that I’m missing something (but how could I with something so simple?), but I’m going to assume it’s just broken.
While it has drawbacks, “NBA 2K17” is as good a basketball simulation as you’ll find this year, and is still one of the better sports games around.
Despite its faults in MyCareer mode, “NBA 2K17” is a pretty excellent basketball video game. It still has the same host of multiplayer features you’d expect, meaning you can dunk on fools online all day if that’s your thing.
For the sake of my self-esteem, I haven’t really touched that part of the game.
I’m not as enthused about it as I was about “Madden NFL 17,” but that’s because “Madden” usually has more to prove each year than “NBA 2K.” The best basketball game in town has been great for years, while the NFL equivalent is less consistent.
“NBA 2K17” keeps the ship sailing smoothly without much in the way of disruption, but no part of it is especially mindblowing, either. Removing the hilariously-misguided Spike Lee story is addition by subtraction, and the new features in MyCareer mode are mostly for the best, even if it’s occasionally rough around the edges.