When you have the best NBA video game franchise on the market, creating an updated version every year can seem like a lose-lose proposition. Change something your fanbase holds dear, and you get crushed. Don’t do enough to differentiate it from the previous edition and consumers feel they’ve wasted $60. Somehow, someway, NBA 2K continues to turn that lose-lose formula into a constant win-win.
NBA 2K17 is the franchise’s crown jewel. The game interface has been revamped, and the result is a cleaner, more minimalistic look, perfect for gamers looking to do one thing and one thing only: hoop. The soundtrack is better. Even small tweaks to the in-game presentation add to the quality, like having David Aldridge deliver an on-camera, pre-game report from the sidelines and having your coach actually talk to your team during timeouts.
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But where 2K17 really buffed up is inside its most popular feature, “My Player,” the game mode that allows you to create your own hooper and take him through the ranks of college and Team USA and into the NBA. It is so much better than last year’s overwrought Spike Lee Joint, it’s like playing an entirely different game.
To start, you’re given the option of molding your My Player face from a myriad of preset looks, or you can download the 2K17 app to your phone and scan your face to create the real digital you. The scanning process needs a little tweaking; my first attempt turned me into a three-eyed, two-mouthed demon, but I eventually turned out alright.
You become Pres, short for President of Basketball, which is a terrible nickname but somehow not as awful as last year’s Frequency Vibrations, or Freq, which was your legally given name. You’re one of the top high school players in the nation, and you jump into the game with an opportunity to pick the college you’ll play for as a one-and-done. I went with Michigan State (because of Tom Izzo, duh), but you can choose from Kansas, Georgetown and a handful of other college basketball powerhouses.
As you start your college career, a series of five games that take you to the National Championship, one of My Player’s biggest improvements rears its head: your interactions with other humans are actually, you know, human. You talk to your roommate/point guard like two regular college kids would converse, elbowing each other about their performance in 2K (a little 2K inception, if you will) and speculating about the future. Your mom calls you, worried about every little thing in your life. You flirt with a girl who lives in your dorm. The cringeworthy cheesiness of Spike Lee’s script is gone, and you’re left with normal human interactions.
Once you’re drafted into the NBA (the Toronto Raptors picked me. What up, Canada?), you go into your rookie season alongside your team’s second round draft pick, Justice Young, who is voiced by and looks just like Michael B. Jordan. After a rocky start, he eventually becomes your bud. Aside from forcing you to live in a giant abandoned warehouse, 2K17 gives your My Player a ton of freedom to choose the t type of person you want to become. Despite both your coach and teammate’s pleading for you to put in extra work at the gym, you can opt to make public appearances and kick it with teammates instead. You get pitched by all four major shoe companies, and can sign with whomever you please. You can even skip practices, though you’ll get a stern text from your coach and lose playing time as a result. The text messages are one of my favorite new features. They appear as actual messages on your phone, and you can have a back-and-forth conversation with the messenger.
Gameplay has largely been left alone, which is a relief. The “shot meter,” used to dictate the perfect release, has been altered for easier use, which is great. My only negatives remain the same from past year: getting your player to turn on a dime, especially when attempting to guard a cutting opponent, still lags; and passing the ball to someone you had no desire to pass to, despite pointing the left stick in the opposite direction, is still infuriating. I’ve also had a nightmare of a time attempting to figure out how to substitute players, which was way easier in last year’s iteration. Still, those are small complaints in the grand scheme of things. NBA 2K remains a gem, and its 2017 installment feels like the peak of sports gaming.