Disclosure ‐ Thanks to the people at 2K who provided us with a code for NBA 2K17 on our request. Also, note that this is a review JUST on the MyCareer mode of the game. If you'd like to read a review on the full game, apologies! Head on over to Google!
If there’s something 2K does really well, it’s creating great sport-themed games. If there’s something I’m really bad at, it’s playing great sports-themed games. However, despite my appalling basketball skills, the showcase of the 2K NBA games – MyCareer mode – takes whatever skill level you have and turns it into an enjoyable basketball experience.
This year, the story line has toned down plenty from the previous year; the year of Academy Award nominated Director Spike Lee. There’s no crazy twists or turns, and it’s got a low-profile story despite the talent of TV and movie star, Michael B. Jordan (what a name for a basketball game, right?) playing your teammate and friend, Justice Young. Your character is… whoever you want them to be, but more importantly, you are the President of Basketball. That already sets you up for success, right? Well, kind of. You are a high-school prodigy but there’s something you have to remember: you’re a high-schooler going up against other high-schoolers. The prodigy pool is kind of low.
The character customisation is something that is made better and easier as the years go on. I mean, apart from the face scan technology. We gave it a go (obviously not on my feminine features) but it continued to let us down with incomplete scans and misplaced… well, everything. That didn’t really put a damper on the experience, though, as I got to create my character the exact way I wanted anyway. And hallelujah, the ‘create-a-character’ background music was the full soundtrack, unlike Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”, which was set to repeat a couple of games prior.
It holds your hand through the process of creating your President, but it isn’t irritating. For someone who enjoys herself some basketball, I know about the game and its players although I’m not fluent in basketball talk. The game compensates for that with its visuals. If you like Steph Curry and want to play like him, no worries, there are visual cues throughout to help you out. If you want to customise a little further than your favourite players, you can see exactly what every extra inch of height or pound of weight will do to your character’s mobility and play-style.
However, as said previously, your player’s name is, and forever will be, ‘President of Basketball’ or ‘Pres’ for short. The personalisation of your name like in the games of old doesn’t exist anymore. The name you pick shows up in text only, on the back of your jersey and in text messages from others. Unfortunately, you can no longer play out the dream of hearing your name praised by the commentators but… hey, at least it’s better than last year’s ‘Frequency Vibrations’.
After you take control of your character, you choose your college for a few easy games and inevitable wins, and you zoom into the NBA Draft. Throughout your college games, scouts and media are rampant, talking about you and your performance on the court, creating fans and haters. The cutscenes in between games paint a picture of who your character is: loved by his mother, father met a tragic end a few years prior. He’s humble and hard working in class and on the court. If he’s not living up to the potential he’s been told to have (because of your mid-game decision-making), he takes it hard and it determines the cutscenes that are shown to you.
Your drafted team career always begins with yourself, Justice Young, and the real-life draft pick of your team. You are a prodigy, so naturally, that makes others, especially Justice, uncomfortable. Through the cutscenes, your friendship blossoms, and a new duo is conceived; Orange Juice. The cutscenes paint a picture of relationships. Yeah, it gets a little corny with your mother as your number one fan, sending you food and making sure you go to bed early. However, the authenticity of your character and his interactions really emphasise that Pres is a ‘real guy’, not just a blank slate that you control. The cutscenes are pretty frequent as well, but the fun little quips and inside jokes that are included make them a whole lot less intrusive than you think. It’s really just a couple of guys having a whole lot of fun, playing video games, making up secret handshakes and critiquing mum’s cooking.
In your first year, the plot is centered on the fact that you’re a rookie. Everyone’s impressed with your performance (mostly) and the world is getting to know your story. However, the plot is embedded with a real issue within the NBA; the rookie wall. The point where playing 4 games of fast-paced, professional basketball a week hits you in the face like… well, a brick wall. The game tells you that Pres is tired. Cutscenes show him falling asleep on planes, while watching TV, just all ’round fatigue. He sleeps in late and almost misses practise at one point. Even the commentators make remarks about it mid-game, talking about how Pres may finally be overwhelmed by the workload of a pro-basketball player. However, that didn’t stop me from playing some of my best games of basketball to date. If the game is going to throw a certain agenda my way, it needs to make sure my character concedes to it. Give me a small injury if I overexert myself on the court, because I know that’s a very real possibility in this game. Don’t just tell me I’m tired without any evidence of me actually being tired.
The visuals are still the best I’ve seen in any sporting game. The face scans are slightly in uncanny valley territory, with basically no eyelashes and bushels of armpit hair on most players, but they’re things you can look past because… basically, these guys are real people and it looks just like them! Not only the visuals, but the voice acting from the main characters is excellent. It’s not forced, it’s natural, they make mistakes. It’s convincing that Pres and Justice are just two guys hanging out and playing video games, but when talking to his mother, he’s genuine and caring. It doesn’t take you out of it at all.
Of course, it’s not just how you play the game of basketball itself that determines how your character is seen by his fans; there’s plenty of opportunities to grow the brand of ‘Pres’ off the court too. The MyCareer mode in 2K17 is managed through your calendar. Once you’re drafted into an NBA team, your schedule will consist of game-days, optional and compulsory practices, friend meet-ups, public events, and sponsorship events.
Your super-agent, Bruce, gives you press and publicity events on your days off which gain you in-game currency, fans, and customised products for you to show off. These events aren’t compulsory to your career as a basketball player, but if you want people to like you, you’ll have to find some time. People talk about you on social media, and what you do in your downtime will be spoken of positively or negatively. However, beware, as your schedule will involve clashes of events. Some clashes won’t matter, others do. Scheduled team practices will help your skills as a basketball player, with your coach running plays with your teammates. Miss this practice, however, and you can kiss some of your on-court minutes goodbye.
Most of the communication is done through text messages and dialogue options. Your clique will contact you on different days, after events or games, asking you to hang out, or giving you advice, opportunities, or just general chit-chat. You can reply to these with a few different options (and most of them include emojis, so that’s really only how I communicated), sometimes prompting the conversation to continue and new events to arise, or just to say ‘hi’. If you’re trying to maintain your busy schedule with no clashes, a prompt to check your calendar for important events if someone is asking to hang out will be there, which is super helpful.
These new activities break up the monotonous task of actually playing basketball. I know it sounds wrong to suggest that playing basketball in an NBA game is ‘boring’, but it means you don’t always have to be ‘on’ while playing. It’s not just game after game after game, you have a chance to breathe.
As I mentioned before, this MyCareer mode seems to have a theme about it: relationships. Your relationship with Justice Young begins a little rocky; he’s a bit jealous of your quick rise to stardom, but after a few training sessions together, text messages, and haircuts, Orange Juice is born. Orange Juice is your… combined forces, I guess? It’s just a fun handshake at first, but then you see some real benefits on the court. Justice gives you a lot of chances to score or pass the ball inwards for an assist, and once your friendship has blossomed into the wonderful breakfast drink, you can unlock ORANGE JUICE mode. I’m not kidding, this is a thing. When activated, you can take control of both Justice and Pres and switch between them seamlessly, bringing the ball down the court with Justice and passing to Pres for an easy layup, depending on your position, of course.
This can only happen if Pres and Justice are on the same team, however. Yes, you can be separated from your buddy. You haven’t got a choice what team you’re drafted to; it’s determined on how well you play your college games. I started off being picked 21st, being sent to the Atlanta Hawks, then after starting again for various reasons, I was picked 13th and sent to the Pheonix Suns. Both times, Justice was my teammate and our friendship was strong. After playing a few games, you have a chance to request a trade and change teams. I had a peruse and noticed the Milwaukee Bucks (the team I follow in real-life) were more than interested in my skills, but I was torn, as I didn’t want to leave my squeeze behind. Well, the game compensated for that, asking if I want to be traded with or without Justice. Eventually, after an unsuccessful try, I was traded to the Bucks, but with no word on Justice. At least, not until my first game as a Buck when suddenly we were together in the locker room discussing if we should tone down the OJ in this new team.
However, like many games (especially sports-based games) there is plenty of room for improvement, though I know a lot of my criticisms probably couldn’t be helped due to licencing and time constraint. You still get immersed with real footage and transcripts of on and off court interviews. However, no matter what team you’re in, your coach will always be generic Coach Brubaker. I understand why; this installment of MyCareer has you interacting with your coach in multiple cutscenes, and getting Steve Kerr into the recording booth during an already overwhelming year is just not going to happen. But they go to the effort of telling me that the Milwaukee Buck’s head coach is Jason Kidd, only for me to be greeted by another Coach Brubaker when I get there. I mean, you can see your real coach right there, on the bench with your teammates!
Not only that but the scheduled and optional team practices are void of any music or meaningful sound. I get annoyed seeing a scheduled team practise in my calendar because they’re just so dull. Yeah, they’re meant to be teaching me about teamwork and improve my shooting skills, but at least entertain me as I’m having to go through this task. As much as it benefits me on and off the court, the only reason I go to optional practices is because sometimes it triggers a cutscene with my teammates. When I’m in the scheduled practices, I perform the drills as quick as possible, not really caring if I succeed or not, just so I can get out of the silence. I’m not sure why this is the choice they made. If it’s there to make you focus or really connect with your movements, or whatever, so be it, but the fact that the soundtrack plays as you shoot-around at your own court makes no sense otherwise.
The NBA 2K games are always going to be my go-to sports game of the year, there’s no doubt about that. This year’s MyCareer mode has separated itself from the ‘illusion of choice’ story line drama from the last instalment, and then some. The overall plot isn’t in-your-face, and everyone needs a little more Vitamin C in their lives. It’s fun, the characters are likeable, you look forward to the cut scenes that are prevalent throughout, and the extra tasks remind you that you’re managing the brand of the President of Basketball; you’re not just there to shoot threes and reap the rewards. You’ve got some other hard work to do, Mr. President.