2K’s popular basketball sim is back and it looks like its got plenty of game for die-hard fans.
“Every year our goal is to be the most realistic sports game on the market,” 2K Sports Brand Manager Andrew Blumberg told a room of reporters at Gamescom 2016. It’s a tall order, but one that NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts and publisher 2K take seriously. Nearly every update and announcement for the upcoming NBA 2K17 is a reflection of the current affairs in professional basketball, from spotlighting up and coming talent like Indiana Pacer small forward Paul George to putting Kobe Bryant on the cover of the special editions just one year after his NBA retirement.
2K Sports’ Gamescom presentation started with a focus on basketball in Europe. They quickly recapped how Spain’s towering power foward/center Pau Gasol and Italy’s talented small forward Danilo Gallinari will appear as cover athletes of NBA 2K17 in certain regions. And for the first time, the Euro League would have 21 up-to-date teams in the game. “In the past, we’ve been a year behind,” Blumberg said, “just because European teams are selected late in the summer and it didn’t work for our timelines.” Since the Euro league adopted a new format this year, it allowed 2K to identify teams much earlier and get them into the new game.
But the big announcement for basketball fans around the world is the inclusion of the legendary 1992 USA Dream Team, which is playable for the first time since 2K13. It’s a pre-order bonus (but it can also be purchased separately in regular editions), but regardless of how you feel about pre-sale content it’s hard not to get excited for the most celebrated talent in the history of the sport, with headliners like Michael Jordan, Sir Charles Barkely, and Larry Bird in one unforgettable lineup. Blumberg said the current US Olympic Dream Team team is also available along with celebrated college basketball coach of the Duke Blue Devils Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, who’s pulling double duty for his first 2K appearance: he will be the sideline coach for the current team, and the voice of the tutorial mode, called 2KU.
2K ended its presentation with a demo showcasing one quarter of NBA 2K17 gameplay, and the improved lighting and graphics immediately stood out. Blumberg told us that the development team worked on revamping the lighting to make it custom for each basketball arena, so diehard fans will notice how the bright lights of the Cleveland Cavalier’s Quicken Loans Arena differ compared the focused lighting of the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s just another example of NBA 2K’s dedication to capturing the look and feel of a live TV broadcast. The glassy look on the players faces is still here but, outside of the occasional weird closeups, it all looks and sounds incredibly authentic.
Blumberg gave us a quick update on some gameplay changes. The development team wanted to put more control in the hands of the user and rely less on probability from stats. They also revamped the fatigue system. In previous 2K games, you could play your starting roster for the majority of the game and play for 48 minutes straight without it affecting your players. Now, your digital athletes will start missing shots, be slower to react, and more susceptible to injuries if you keep them in too long. Ultimately, you’ll have to get your bench players into the game and rest the starters if you want to win simulation games.
Visual Concepts has also done some work on the rebound system to make it closer to real life basketball. “Last year, pretty much every rebound was caught cleanly by a defender,” Blumberg said. “That doesn’t happen in basketball all the time. There’s a lot of fighting for the ball, it gets tipped around, and it’s a physical part of the game.” He told us that players will see the ball get tipped around more as players crash the backboards. You can tap the ball over to a teammate if you’re unable to pull bound a rebound yourself. We even saw an offensive player catch the ball and take a shot in mid-air. Blumberg said stealing the ball also had a significant revamp, so it’s not abused as much as it was last year’s games.
NBA 2K17 is looking sharp and it follows a consistent string of great basketball games by the team at Visual Concepts. In chasing the dream of the most authentic basketball game in town, NBA 2K has tinkered away at each new installment and the effort shows. Blumberg said there are still a few more announcements left, so look forward to more NBA 2K-related announcements in the future.