It's here at last—the mothership game. The tester of relationships. The reason you and someone you love will communicate only in disappointed Bitmojis this weekend. Yep, NBA 2K17 launched at midnight on Thursday, and the rush is on to ransack the chest of new goodies in 2K Sports' crown franchise. It’s yet too early for a full review, but the following are some first impressions of 2K17—a game that is huge, meticulous and trying to do things other sports video game franchises won’t.
“The Prelude” is worth it
I was not excited for “The Prelude,” a free mini-campaign released ahead of the rollout for 2K17. You create a player—a freshman entering his first (and only) year of college hoops—pick a school and then get as many buckets as possible while doing your best to pretend to be a good teammate and noble citizen of the game (you won't be noble, and your teammates are too garbage to trust. But alas). I expected it to be thin and forgettable, but am pleasantly surprised by the story and production value put into project that tops out at 30-ish minutes of actual gameplay. The cutscenes were long, but a lesser franchise could've just filled the space between games with Dick Vitale screaming at a broom he thinks is people.
Georgia Tech is not a thing
The coolest part of The Prelude is when you see that, yes, you are actually playing in your team's stadium and against other recent college stars. Guarding the Buddy Hield—not “No. 24"—in the Final Four was as intense as it was novel. The only downside is the legally limited batch of schools to choose from—a selection that includes nine D-I programs and one large eye-wash station.
MyCareer: a lot of fun & Creepy Krzyzewski
I haven't gotten too far into MyCareer yet, but you pick up right where the Prelude leaves off—in your dorm room, with an impressively uncomfortable call with Mike Krzyzewsk, who is all lip sweat and stomach ulcers as he invites you to play an exhibition game with Team USA. From there, you're introduced to the real world—which means riding the bench, no one buying your jersey and having barely enough fans to start a fight. I’m excited to see how the narrative goes forward and whether Krzyzewski follows you from team to team like a clammy, paternal Zubat.
You will sweat getting drafted
In 2K17, getting drafted means sitting and staring and wondering what the hell is exactly taking so damn long. You can’t just skip to the part where the commissioner says your name and you hug him like a tall stick bug. In 2K17, you have to sit there and watch as the names before you come off the board. It's a microscopic taste of what players go through on draft night and by the time your name is called you have memorized everyone who was taken ahead of you and ONE DAY YOU WILL TELL A BLOGGER ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC HATE-MEMORY.
Bigger MyTeam packs, less clutter
The bad part about 2K’s ambitious in-game economy was its tediousness. Opening packs was slow and wonky, and you can go through the motion of selling back a duplicate four-day contract only so many times until something deep within you shatters forever. 2K17 addresses a few of these issues, offering 20-pack boxes for the big and rich, faster unboxing animations and a more streamlined system for liquidating duplicate cards. You'll still have to sift through your collection with rope and a metal detector for your badges and shoes, but it's a step in the right direction.
Friends with benefits
Another new twist this year in MyTeam is the introduction of the “Dynamic Duo”—a potentially devastating stat booster that gives certain pairs of players a performance bonus whenever they’re on the court together. A good example would be Klay and Steph taking the floor in the same lineup and receiving a boost to their moving three-pointers. A weird example would be Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson fusing Dragonball Z-style to form Baldgeta. He would have the most devastating and biannual dunks.
LeBron is an 85 and that’s OK
There are 10 different card colors, or levels, in 2K17—twice as many as players were offered in the last release. This means there’s going to be a lot more cards and a lot more variety for collectors to look forward to. So don’t freak out over a stock model LeBron James pull being rated the same as Dwight Howard's card from 2016. There will be many more unfathomably powerful LeBrons to be had down the pike.
There’s a lot more contact
The first difference you notice after firing up 2K17 is the texture—players no longer just slide around each other like an amoeba in a dish. There’s a sense of friction when you charge into a crowded lane that forces you to change the way you cut and pursue. You can't just charge toward the hoop and expect that it's going to work out. More likely, a wild dash at the rim will get you armbarred and sent backpedaling toward the baseline. It's a new dynamic that rewards timing without noticeably slowing play or turning the paint into gridlock. People who are in your way are actually in your way. Which brings us to our next point…
All arms matter now
Unlike in past games, arms are important in 2K17—your arms, your opponents’ arms. Everyone’s arms. You’ll notice quickly that your teammates tip passes more than they ever did in 2K16, and will even try to smack away entry lobs without you having to line it up three seconds ahead of time and do it yourself. Steals also have seen a major overhaul. There's now a variety of swiping animations that play out in accordance with the in-game situation at hand. Trying to pickpocket a dribbler no longer begins and ends with one hideously futile swipe that may or may not have been inspired by a mother cat gathering her kittens.
The realness officially has become terrifying
Curry’s jumper is his jumper on a molecular level. It was close before, but players’ unique celebrations and shooting style now look like they’ve been siphoned from their bodies and thrown onto the screen. It's as cool and creepy as it sounds.
The ball is no longer on a string
You’re going to chuck a few balls into the 10th row in your first few games. This is due to an apparent change in ball dynamics—specifically, the basketball moves like a basketball now instead of a cross-court homing missile. Shots and passes alike seem to hang a fraction longer in the air, and the result is more loose balls and airmailed touchdown passes. This sounds like, well, not the funnest, but the end result is a less predictable and more genuine game flow. 2K17 wants you to feel like you're shooting a basketball, not a packet of data that made up its mind before it left your hand.
Throwing an alley is now as easy as throwing an alley oop
I don’t know why 2K16 insisted on making it a Cirque du Soleil level possibility, but it's been fixed.
The state of the 2K Beats union is strong
As a game packaged for all ages, 2K's soundtrack has to walk a tight line between “relevant and good” and “technically not telling children to spray down bottle service waitresses with Veuve Clicquot.” They've pulled this feat off again for 2K17 with a strong list of headliners in Drake, Future, Skepta, More Drake, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Young Thug, Popcaan, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Drake Yet Again. There’s also “Adesso Sono Qui” by Ghemon—my clubhouse leader for “Non-English 2K song that takes up permanent residency in your soul.”
Justice Young is the worst
You meet Michael B. Jordan’s character “Justice Young” immediately after being drafted, and it becomes abundantly clear that this man will need to be dealt with. Because Young is stubborn, and as the team’s second-round pick, he is determined to keep your ego in check and push you. You will eventually become your best friends once you buckle down and start playing basketball The Right Way. I will not rest he is traded to the Kings. Dan is on Twitter. He's penciled in some sleep for Sunday but we'll see how this playoff run goes.