Sports games are a stalwart of the annual release schedule. Many years before games like Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft) and Call of Duty (Activision) were being rehashed for fresh buyers every twelve months, Electronic Arts were pumping out their FIFA, NHL, Madden and Tiger Woods titles with aplomb. It’s well documented and widely accepted that EA’s monopoly on sports licences led to lazy reskins of the previous years titles, and quality went out of the window in favour of profit. 2K, originally a Sega company developing sports games for the Dreamcast, became EA’s rival at the turn of the millennium. By the time people were gaming on their Xbox and PS2 machines, titles such as NBA 2K4 and NHL 2K6 were garnering better reviews than the ‘traditional’ EA versions. It’s largely thanks to this rivalry that the quality of the yearly releases saw a massive increase. NBA2K was the first title in the seminal basketball series. Three console generations and seventeen titles later, can even the diehard fans justify giving up their cash for another shot at gaining glory as part of their favourite team on the digital court?
I’m going to come right out and say it up front: If you’re a basketball fan, you should absolutely buy NBA2K17. If you haven’t bought any game in the series for a few years, say since 2K13, you won’t believe the fidelity and detail in this latest iteration. And if you bought last years game, well – the improvements are such that paying out another £40 is actually worth it for once!
NBA 2K16 was as complete a basketball title as you could find. Almost everything was executed with sublime perfection. There were some areas which didn’t sit too well for me, and they’ve been addressed. First off, last years embarrassingly named ‘Livin’ Da Dream’ storyline has been omitted in favour of something a little more open and fluid. MyCareer, where you create your own character and take them pretty much into any game mode, is practically an RPG in a sports-sim mould. With great features like MyPark, where you hang out after dark with other ballers online, taking it in turns for One-on-one games and three point score competitions, MyCareer is unmatched in any sports game I’ve ever played. It’s revolutionary, even. You can have up to three private courts in MyCourt too, and people online or even AI pro’s can come and visit you to shoot the hoops. Other off court action includes responding to text messages, choosing what to say during press interviews and dealing with players from other teams. All of your action matters, whether on court or off, and the game and the characters respond to your behaviour accordingly. Celebrity is as celebrity does, y’know.
With the insane level of detail throughout, it’s probably worth mentioning the core of the MyCareer experience is still basketball. The on court action is simply sublime. Not only are the graphics for players and courts cutting edge, right down to realistic sweat and facial expressions, but it’s all animated brilliantly. There are literally hundred and hundreds of motion captured animations, and every one has been seamlessly stitched together to create a silky smooth, knife-through-butter game flow. 2K’s flow of the game has always been pioneering, but here it achieves pinnacle status. It just looks THAT good. The frame rate is locked at a super smooth 60fps, so you feel every twitch, every nuance in ball control as it happens. With the new dribbling system, controlled by making stick and button combos as you go along to create free flowing combination dribbles, it provides a feeling of satisfaction without parallel. The only thing which comes remotely close is with EA Sports’ NHL 17 in full manual mode. NBA2K17 also has the distinction of being the first Xbox One title to take advantage of the ‘S’ model’s HDR10 colour space – on my 4K HDR10 set up, every glint of floodlight, every bead of sweat, every reflection in the court floor looks stunning.
The audio is also next level stuff. The development team visited thirty stadia to record each locations specific ball contact, buzzer and clock sounds. Each contoured reverberation is exactly as you would hear it if you were there, and the crowds on game day react to the flow of the game in real-time, getting quieter and louder as the action dictates. The commentary team is made up of two guys primarily, but there is a third guy adding colour commentary and analysis, and for the first time ever in a sports game, the third commentator rotates. If you’re playing in New York, you’ll be hearing a different guy on the mic than if you are in Washington for example. Just one more way 2K are pushing the envelope of what’s possible with a sports title.
Everything here is fleshed out and polished to the nth degree. The audiovisual presentation, the user interface, the physics and gameplay and obsessive attention to detail is unparalleled in any sports sim to date. NBA 2K17 isn’t just the best hoop title of all time, it’s probably the greatest sports title ever released.
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