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Unrivaled gameplay, presentation and game modes make ‘NBA 2K17’ a must-play for all sports fans

By MATT BERTZ | Game Informer Magazine | Published: October 7, 2016

Elite NBA players enjoy the 24/7 spotlight of national television, lucrative endorsement deals, and even occasional crossovers into Hollywood. But underneath this veneer of the charmed life are thousands of hours spent in gyms perfecting shooting strokes, honing dribbling moves, and sculpting physiques to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season. For better and worse, “NBA 2K17’s” popular MyCareer mode looks past the glitz and the glamour to focus on the practical side of being a professional athlete.

A year after the Spike Lee debacle, MyCareer returns with a new narrative penned by screenwriter Aaron Covington (“Creed”). Regardless of which organization drafts you, your team’s rookie class includes an overlooked gem named Justice Young, played by the talented Michael B. Jordan (“Creed,” “The Wire”). Together, you strive to become the next great NBA tandem, following in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Your chemistry develops through cutscenes and hours of practice at the gym, and if you play off each other enough during a game, you unlock the ability to take control of the tandem. Controlling two players at the same time almost feels too empowering; lethal give-and-gos are unleashed at the push of a button, and Young rarely misses an open look.

Performing well in MyCareer is paramount to improving the skills of your player, who once again starts with an absurdly low rating in a shameless ploy to get users to take the easy path and spend money on the virtual currency. Regardless of which approach you take, you need to put many hours into the practice mode to round out your player. Earning currency via games played and endorsement deals is still the way to upgrade your primary skills, but certain critical skills like stamina and free-throw shooting can only be improved by grinding at the gym. Unfortunately, the path to upgrading these is needlessly opaque; even if you shoot free-throws for 20 minutes, you may not raise your rating a single point. After putting 20 hours into the gym activities — which offer great variety, by the way — I still don’t understand the logic of when skill points do and don’t get awarded.

These quibbles aside, MyCareer is once again the best offering of its kind in sports games. The allure of improving your player, earning endorsements, interacting with teammates, and spending currency on new gear is strong. My only wish is that the narrative more effectively empowered player agency. Most dialogue choices are limited to two options, which often only differ slightly.

Embracing player expression is what “NBA 2K17’s” MyGM and MyLeague modes are all about. Want to add six more teams to the Association with custom jerseys? Go for it. How about relocating and rebranding a current team? Have at it. 2K Sports gives you all the tools to turn your team of choice into a competitor, all while managing relationships with your owner, staff, and players. Hardcore features like adjusting player rotations by the minute, league-proposed rule changes each offseason, and being able to trade players during the season, draft, or offseason once again make this the most impressive franchise mode in sports games.

If you prefer to take your game online, “NBA 2K17” offers options for both streetball aficionados (MyPark) and those who prefer simulation, 5v5 basketball (Pro-Am). The servers proved to be largely stable in my experience, with only some minor lag, and each has the infrastructure in place to be destination modes. My only major complaint is I wish MyPark would do away with the ridiculous “got next” format and let me immediately form a pick-up game with the other dozens of players standing around waiting their turn.

The ridiculously overstuffed suite of gameplay options extends even further with the inclusion of historic teams for head-to-head play and collectible card based MyTeam mode fashioned after “EA Sports’ Ultimate Team.” This game has no shortage of ways to hoop.

Regardless of which mode you’re playing, “NBA 2K17” treats its players to best-in-class presentation and gameplay. Guest analysts keep the broadcasts feeling fresh, and this may be the best-playing NBA game to date thanks to some changes that limit the amount of canned animations signature players execute. The new shot meter extends to lay-ups and dunks, bringing an element of skill into play on formally automated shots. Off the ball, more physical contact between players brings an added level of realism to movement, though the increase in collisions also resulted in more animation clipping than I remember seeing the past few years. High-end players are much better at shooting through contact, which can be maddening when you feel you did everything in your power to stop them. Regardless, no sports game is better at capturing the play styles of the many different teams; each attacks just like their real-world counterpart.

In the world of sports sims, no other game feels like it’s even on the same level as “NBA 2K17.” Visual Concepts continues to embrace innovation and add benchmark-setting features for hardcore fans.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Online: 2k.com/games/nba-2k17

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