2K sports may have, scratch that– they HAVE outdone themselves with their newest installment of the NBA 2K series this year. I was lucky enough to have the honor of being invited to their annual 2K community team-up day and be one of the first people to play the game, and I must say from a gameplay standpoint, this may be one of their best pieces of work in years. For once, you have all the control of everything that happens on the court. The game is smooth, well paced, realistic and looks amazing. Here are my hands on impressions on the overall improvements and new gameplay features.

Overall

To begin with the game presentation, Jeff Thomas of Visual Concepts showed us the effort that was put into revamping and recreating the entire look of the game. At first glance it doesn’t seem like much has changed, but when you take into consideration all of the detail that was involved in this, it’s nothing short of admirable.

Just to name a few things:

⦁ Lighting, shaders and textures have been redone to avoid the “washed out” look that some player models seemed to previously have.

⦁ 3D scans of over 300 shoes were done improve the texture and detail of every player’s shoe collections. From Air Jordan to Air Penny and the entire Kobe collection– Sneakerheads Rejoice.

⦁ A new cast of color commentary voices have been introduced including names such as Chris Webber (possible hint, MyTeam fans), Brent Barry, and TNT’s David Aldridge. With their new additions, the total number of commentary members they now have has gone up to 11. The premise, and coolest part of this, is depending on which city your game is being played in, the cast will change. So it never feels as if every game is the same, with the same voices, and the same lines being read to you again and again.

⦁ Finally, and possibly most impressive, they traveled over 16,000 miles to every team’s home court to record the sounds of each arena. The net snapping on a wet shot, bounce of the ball, shots hitting the rim, and even crowds– it’s all individualized for that team’s arena. Now THAT is some effort.

Offense

For the last two years, the offensive gameplay of 2K has fluctuated from great to sub-par, sometimes within the span of just a week. Patches have both made the game and ruined the game (as of late, mostly the latter). However, I am incredibly happy to say that NBA 2K17 has some of the most fun offensive gameplay in years. I got the chance to sit down with some of the game’s lead designers (Mike Wang and Scott O’Gallagher) and pick their brains about the good, the bad and the ugly of 2K17’s gameplay and their plans for the future. Here’s the rundown of many of the new features and improvements on offense.

All shots are now timed: layups, 3’s, post hooks/fades, up and unders, and even the half-court heaves that last year you could only press the shoot button and hope that the 2K Gods smiled down at you. At first, you might think that this is a bit of an absurd idea. However, the reason I say it isn’t is because last year a lot of shots you were forced to take at times, specifically from close range, were just animations that you could only hope would work out whether you made a good move or not. Now you have the control to dictate how good of a chance you have to make every shot you take.

They’ve broken size-up dribbles down into combos. By that I mean that now instead of one flick of the pro-stick triggering an entire series of moves, you now use the pro-stick to make a series of dribble moves while reading and reacting to your defender. So now instead of spamming the Jamal Crawford size-up 10 times until you get open, you can now manually go between the legs – behind the back *pause to watch your defender* boom boom, crossover and gone. You can literally string together every move possible from hesitations to stepbacks and it is glorious; this brings in a whole new dynamic for the players good on the sticks. After speaking with Mike Wang, he even feels that if some do get really good at these chains, they just might become unguardable to the point where it needs to be toned down in a future patch. Some normal size-ups are still in the game, but with the new design, it’s as if you can create your own on the fly every time you come down court.

The shooting has been touched on for the better as well, from the new full bar shot meter to the shots that are just now more make-able. In 2K16, moving mid-range shots were as broken as it got. Not even the GodKing of faders Allen Iverson could consistently knock them down. This year, there is now a contested as well as an open stat for every type of shot (Ex: open shot 3/contested shot 3). Furthermore, badges now play a much larger role in helping players make the shots that they’re known for.

“Situational Motion” has been introduced to cause players to react to exactly what may be happening on the court at any given moment just like in real life (Hallelujah). The best example of this that I can give is as follows: I was using the Warriors (don’t judge me) and had recently hit two deep threes with Steph Curry. As I came down court the third time, my opponent picked me up from the half with pressure defense so I called for a pick with Draymond and handed the ball off. As I stood at the top of the key with Draymond, Steph (now as a CPU) saw that my opponent’s players didn’t switch quickly enough and he casually faded to the corner as he does in real life. One pass and mouthguard adjustment later, SubTheGa- I mean, my opponent was screaming “WHO LOST TRACK OF STEPH?!” Sounds like real life doesn’t it?

Defense

The Defense in NBA 2K has possibly been the most sporadic aspect of the gameplay from year to year. Looking back immediately to NBA 2K16, the on-ball defense made good strides in comparison to 2K15; However, there were still areas that were so far behind that it almost made defending certain things unbearable. Therefore, forcing players to rely on their CPU’s defense and defensive setting to save them. This year, none of that. Unless you’re presented with the nuisance of guarding Jesus of the Bay AKA Stephen Curry, you can play defense to the best of your extent and control everything you and your team is doing on your own.

Following suit to a lot that has been mentioned so far, real life has found its way into 2K17 in regards to fouling jumpshooters too. Only one season ago, there were more fouls on 3 point shots in the NBA playoffs than in the entire season that preceded it. Recovering on shooters by just jumping out at them all willy nilly will now help you get down by 20 in the blink of an eye. And although one may imagine this could become a problem in the future, there is a great balance of when something is a foul and when it isn’t. But thankfully now when you have an open shot and somehow a defender jumps the length of the free throw line to the 3 point line to contest you, you’ll likely be rewarded with a foul rather than a D- quality shot.

The post has been bolstered with near 700 new animations from denying the ball, sealing and ducking, brushing, bumping and straight up just pulling the chair out from the offensive player. It adds some more realism to the post game and even a bit of a mind game aspect for user v. user matchups.

Steals and blocks, as they previously mentioned, really have improved. If you’re using a player who averages a high number of either, you really will get those stats. Even if you aren’t, just being a smart basketball mind will now reward you. Timed swipes as people are trying to break you down will give you pokeouts and even if you don’t get the loose ball, that in itself feels rewarding. You can even choose to swipe in a specific direction with the pro-stick rather than just using the steal button. And as for blocks? Let’s just say that help side defense will now be menacing when you’ve got an athletic, rim protecting big down low.

In regard to bump steals and help side/chase down blocks, I got a chance to speak to the game’s defensive movement coordinator, Jerson Sapida:

“It’s always been hard to balance steals with ball accountability. When we made the change to make the ball independent of the player, it made it more difficult to determine what would trigger the loss of the ball. Although a lot of people had complaints about bump steals last year, they don’t know that there are so many more times that the ball has touched the opposing player through regular contact of something as simple as just bringing the ball up. Basically, you’d be losing the ball three or four times as much if there was no regulation already set in place. Still though, it’s something we’re open to taking constructive criticism on and working on it until we do find that good balance.”

So far in my experience playing the game, bump steals still exist but now more of the times that they happen, I feel like it was more my fault for either overusing dribble moves or trying to force my way through my defender. As far as blocks go, Jerson went on to say:

“Vertical and block rating will now dictate everything in regards to blocks. The higher the ratings of the player, the more block animations they will have and the higher they can go up to get them. So now if you’re about to get a dunk on the fast break and see a smaller player chasing you down, he’ll do a weaker, faint jump for the ball rather than ones you’d see last year. That’s if he doesn’t have high athletic ratings.”

And to confirm that, I didn’t personally see any little man chasedowns in my time playing the game.

Finally, 2K’s new ACE 2.0 defensive AI/coaching system will now help the casual player to become a better game planner, while also challenging the experienced player by making the CPU adapt to their playstyles. For example, if you were playing the Spurs and a specific player of yours started going off, Kawhi would switch onto you and the defense would start taking away your preferred ways of scoring (cutting off your drives, running you off the line, ect). The new Smart Coach in timeouts will also recommend what settings to use on certain players as well as what adjustments you should make for your own team. Conversely, the new system will also make the CPU attack your positional mismatches and team weaknesses (and yes, as you get better, so does ACE). And while all this is going on, you also now have full control of how your team defends and reacts. Normal points of emphasis are still around but now you can go further in depth and run specific players off the line, pick someone up 90 feet, deny him the ball, make him shoot or extend the defense entirely.

It’s quite a lot to take in but I’m sure that all of these improvements will change the dynamic of every game that we will play in NBA 2K17. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube as we will be releasing additional details on NBA 2K17 there.

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Andre2K
Sports gaming is like a thorned-rose; a beautiful simulation of a beautiful game, coiled with sharp prickles of pure rage. Being entertaining is more important than being the best – but my content is where both of those collide. Follow me on Twitter @TheSurrealAndre and subscribe to my YouTube.