To each their own – is what I tell myself while playing NBA 2K17. There are a group who are passionate for NBA games, and I’m confident they will enjoy the latest 2K Games/Sports release with its increased range of animations and mechanical updates on past iterations. I won’t be speaking for them, but reviewing this game as someone entirely detached from the NBA world, with an open mind and a love for games. NBA 2K17 is not good.

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A video game is a fantasy world where everything that exists has been deliberately created by the development team. This fantasy is bound only by imagination – and technical capability, perhaps – and gives us the chance to have fun experiences while turning a blind eye to the lacklustre necessities of having that fun in our reality. It disappoints me that the 2K Games development team would choose to create a game that directly emulates the experience of watching a televised NBA programme, ignoring the wonderful potential the medium offers. The talkative commentators, the pre-game show, the halftime show, the janky jump cuts, instant replays, and above all else the culture of advertised spectatorship are central to this release, more so than the fun and competition of the sport. 2K17 is not a basketball game, it is an NBA game. A well-respected brand that doubles as a seriously lucrative advertising platform.

For such a fast-paced sport, the gameplay feels very slow and clunky in 2K17. Marking a player on the other team is an important part of basketball, but when you play as a single character in MyCareer mode, this means much of your time on defence is spent standing beside someone while eight AI-controlled players take control of the game. On offence, you can move to an open position and request a pass, but much of the time you’ll be left wondering why you bothered running to this end of the court when your teammate scores. It makes sense, and it happens in basketball; why does it have to happen so consistently in this fantasy reimagining of the sport?

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One factor of the MyCareer mode that is heavy on the fantasy is the personality behind the main character. Call him what you want, his nickname is The President – Pres. While some players are mentioned by the in-game commentators and on-social-media fans, 90% of the time they only care about one dude – you. MyCareer mode is the perfect campaign-esque mode to live out your unfulfilled delusions of grandeur. Which is fucked up. Everyone will have your name on their lips, whether they are kissing your feet or criticising your very existence.

They all seem to have picked a side before the player takes “control” of Pres’ career, and will swap sides at the drop of a hat. Any hat. Social media is abuzz with Pres’ performance and how the saved the day in that last game, despite him having been on court for 18 seconds per quarter, scoring 2 points, no assists, no rebounds…

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Imaginary commentary, of the critic and social kind, that depends on player input is always going to be off, because the people reading out the dialogue or writing that tweet never actually witnessed the course of action.  Even in exhibition matches – i.e. games not #blessed by @Pres – commentators will pretend to construct a narrative based on player actions. While it does a good job of mimicking real-life commentators, at least those commentators are actively using their knowledge and bringing something to the spectator sport. In 2K17, their expert input is procedurally generated bullshit estimates of what a person would say, determined in some part to player action.

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Technically, the game runs fine. Individual animations are well-made, but can’t be taken seriously when they are strung together; players will bounce off each other like bumper cars in the same dorky way as in all super-cereal simulators. Loading times are long; this isn’t much of a worry in exhibition matches, but is unbearable in MyCareer mode as you jump between sessions after only a couple of minutes of gameplay. A particular bug sets the camera to shake violently as a player prepares to take a free-throw as if impersonating a rocket launch. These technical hiccups aren’t deal-breakers in any way, but that may be because the deal was never offered by 2K17 in the first place.

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At no point throughout 2K17 are any rules of the NBA explained. Within this release was an opportunity to bridge the gap between people who enjoy games but are unfamiliar with the sport, and the community that surrounds that sport. 2K17 takes the time to explain the controls and mechanics for the player without ever actually explaining how basketball is played. I’m familiar with the rules of basketball – at least how we played it here in Australia when I was a kid – but knowing the distinct ruleset used by the NBA would make the experience more engaging and personable. Failing to include and convert potential fans is such a wasted opportunity, but it’s clear this was never a priority for the team. This game is designed exclusively for those already deep in the NBA ecosystem, and they already know whether they’re going to buy it.

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Games like these help 2K Games to fund the likes of Bioshock, Mafia, and XCOM, all of which are seeing console releases this/next month. Finding the funding for a single AAA title, let alone a string of franchises, is hard. Pumping out annual games directly targeted to people that are happy to drop top dollar to experience more of their favourite hobby and selling the screen-space to Gatorade is a viable way of making that cash to support bigger, better games. That doesn’t mean I have grounds to give the game a good score. I can’t.

1/10
Worthless

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of NBA 2K17 for PS4.

About The Author

Nick feels nostalgia but only for Treasure Mathstorm. He likes games and sometimes has the energy to write about them. Does most of his complaining over at @NickLongshaw.