Here's why every gamer needs NBA 2K17 in their lives
NBA 2K17 is the best sports game on the market right now.
No ifs. No buts (although one must give a respectful nod to MLB The Show). When it comes to replicating a sport in videogame land, nothing comes close to the NBA 2K series.
Not FIFA. Not PES. Not Madden. Not nothing.
Remain unconvinced? Allow basketball expert and 2K master Michael Hardy to make the case to you that if you want to play a proper sports game, you may have to get NBA 2k17.
Yes. Even if you’re not into basketball. (Which you really should be. C’mon, did you not see Game 7? Steph Curry is like Lionel Messi, but better and his team just signed Kevin Durant, making one of the greatest superteams since the Monstars robbed a bunch of people’s talent in Space Jam.)
(Oh yeah, brace yourself for the Space Jam references.)
When is someone going to make a videogame version of this please? Lebron, sort it out for Space Jam 2.
In a sports game market long marked by its conservative nature and staleness, this year’s FIFA has been earning huge plaudits for The Journey - a fresh single player mode where you take fresh faced young forward Alex Hunter through his debut Premier League season. Featuring motion captured acting, solid voice work and honest to god character arcs, there is no doubt that this was a huge leap from the age old career mode grind of train, allocate exp, play a game, wash, repeat.
The only problem? FIFA, like all the other sports games out there, is still only playing catch up to the true king of the genre.
For years now, the NBA 2K series has been streaks ahead of the sports simulation competition. So complete has been its domination that EA has seen its own NBA Live titles pushed into being discontinued not once, but twice. How many game franchises can say they put EA out of business? NBA 2K did it twice. It’s that damn good.
With no other competitors left, NBA 2K went from sticking needless bells and whistles on its games to consistently making one of the most accurate representation of basketball round. In many ways the tightly scripted geometry of a basketball court and real life timing elements of shooting and dribbling lend themselves much better to a videogame than the kinetic chaos of other sports, but 2K has still put in the work to nail it. The game consistently captures the satisfaction of a perfectly placed pass, the cruel glee of breaking an opponent’s ankles with your dazzling handles, and the exhilaration as your player jumps into the heavens for a dunk, all presented in glorious console HD.
The new game even has Thierry Henry in it for some reason.
But stunning technical and visual recreations are standard in the modern sport game. We can count the individual pubic hairs sprouting from Gareth Bale’s face as he places a perfectly recreated free kick in the top corner, or admire the flawlessly rendered motion of Rory McIlroy teeing off on a sunny day at Augusta. However, on their own, these displays of technical recreation can often feel a little boring, or even soulless. Another 1-0 win against Stoke? Great. On to the next one.
What sets 2K apart is a recognition that sports is more than just the game on the field and a march towards the accumulation of wins and stats, that we are as interested in the details of athletes personal lives as we are in their technique. Sport is ultimately a story playing out in real time as our heroes and villains rise and fall (and sometimes rise again). 2K has approached the problem from two angles, giving more and more focus to telling the personal stories that sports give us whilst also introducing chances for players to experience the day to day trappings of being a global megastar.
It all started with NBA 2K11. Centred around Michael Jordan (the greatest player who ever lived, and saviour of the Toon World as we know it), the game asked you to recreate signature moments from his career. From there the options kept expanding and evolving with the franchise continuing to focus on the stories of the sports past through legendary players and classic rivalries. 2K14 took the model forward, focussing on current “Greatest Player on Earth”™ LeBron James and allowing you to play out his career in multiple different ways as he faced down a fictional pretender to his throne.
In the meantime, the basic career mode kept developing into an ever more immersive experience.
Do you want to appear on magazines and choose endorsement deals? Done.
A live twitter feed with real life pundits and players commenting on your play? Done.
Decide you don’t like a teammate and politic behind their back to get them traded? Done.
Sign a shoe deal and design a custom sneaker for your player to wear in games, and witness other players start to wear them as your popularity grows? Done.
This was supported by an ever improving game day presentation. Not content with the basic commentary team and faux TV graphics, 2K developed pre-game, halftime and post-game shows with recognisable pundits like Shaquille O’Neal breaking down the action. If you performed well, you could be interviewed on the sideline or after the game in the studio. You could be magnanimous to your opponents or put your coach on blast, and suffer the consequences. The attention to detail didn’t stop in Career Mode. With its General Manager mode 2K developed the most flexible and in-depth managerial game this side of Football Manager, just in case you preferred your immersion come through popcorn sales spreadsheets.
In an added twist, NBA 2K17's Career Mode asks you to play with Michael B Jordan.
These story and immersion elements were consolidated into the 2K15 career mode, with full motion captured cutscenes and voice acting, not just for new fictional characters but coaches and big name real life players. When you got into a fight with LeBron in the locker room, the man himself was slinging the insults. The attention to detail extended outward. This has culminated in the most complete experience to date in 2K17. Alex Hunter is nice and cute, but in 2K my created character (Nordic giant Thor 'Thunder' Thundersson) hangs out with Michael B. "Creed" Jordan himself, as he plays fellow rookie Justice Young. Beyond the irony of his namesake, Jordan brings a calibre of acting and star power to the mode that’s difficult to match. As your players develop a friendship off the court, it begins to manifest on the court, with the game introducing special tandem play controls to facilitate your Batman and Robin act. The story builds on this relationship so that when it comes time to decide whether you are going to leave for another team, it’s not simply a question of which team is better. You have to decide if you are ready to leave Michael B. And that choice is surprisingly difficult. It’s to this point, where my decisions are made as much for character reasons as for the basic mechanics of winning or fandom, that 2K has been driving, and it is truly gratifying to get there.
Look, it’s not perfect. The 2K series has had stumbles like any other. Last year’s career mode - written and directed by Spike Lee - was an interminable dirge, over written and over acted with some truly cringe inducing moments (does the ghost of your best friend appear from the grave to scold you for your life choices? Yes. Yes he does). The franchise has by no means escaped the never ending march towards greater emphasis on in-game purchases and pay-to-win models that often make you feel like you’ve only paid for half a finished product.
But, year in year out, the NBA 2K series produces a sports games as sports games should be. Perfect on the court and making real efforts to nail life off of it. A long as 2K remains a franchise willing provide features that no one asked for but everyone wanted, and to make the most immersive sport experience on consoles, the competition are going to be left chasing their shiny new custom Jordans.