Review of EA and 2K Sports NHL 17 and NBA 2K17

Official game cover of EA Sports NHL17

EA Sports

It must be fun to be the king. Every once in a while, challengers to the throne will pop up, and you can swat them away as you continue your market dominance. Let’s be honest, the recently-released NHL 17 and NBA 2K17 aren’t just great games, they’re monopolies. Last year, EA Sports tried to bring a challenger to the court with NBA Live 16 — and they’re reportedly working on an NBA Live 17 to be released sometime early next year — but it was roundly defeated by the reigning champ, which not only returns victorious but with an ambitious sports game that reminds us why it took this throne in the first place. And then there’s NHL 17, which is quite possibly the best hockey game to date. How do these two titles continue to dominate year after year? They could basically just release roster updates and probably sell just as many copies as the year before — it’s not like there’s any competition. But staying on top requires breaking new ground, and this year’s iterations of the NHL and NBA 2K franchises serve as models for how the best franchises are always seeking not to replicate the previous year’s success but to improve on it.

NHL 17

This game is incredibly fun. The presentation is the best yet in an NHL game with crisp, clean, easily navigable menus and the on-the-ice gameplay always feels remarkably fluid. One of the key elements of any sports game is physics and the player movements in NHL 17 — like Madden NFL 17 and MLB The Show 16 in what has been a very good year for sports games — feel natural and fluid. It’s also a remarkably deep game in terms of modes, including three all-new game modes: Draft Champions, Franchise Mode and World Cup of Hockey. The first is a riff on the same mode in Madden — quick player picking and gameplay. The second is what it sounds like, allowing you to run a franchise from player management down to the cost of concessions and when to do a bobblehead night. The last one is country-based World Cup gameplay. Hint: Canada has an advantage.

Overall, the gameplay is responsive, the modes are extensive and the graphics are better than ever. You don’t stay the king without working this hard to do so.

NBA 2K17

2K17 took the success of last year and fine-tuned the details, offering more modes, but also refining the on-the-court gameplay, including more realistic facial models and sound design. MyGM and MyLeague have been enhanced to allow for more options, MyPlayer plays out like a movie (complete with a co-starring role for Michael B. Jordan), and the broadcast presentation has been greatly enhanced, including audio by eleven different commentators and announcers. Overall, NBA 2K17 plays a lot like NBA 2K16 but with a much higher degree of presentation value. It’s like a souped-up car — it takes you to the same place but with a lot more style and finesse.

The actual gameplay is nearly flawless. Playing through several games with the Chicago Bulls in a season mode, the Toronto Raptors in a playoff mode, and a player in MyPlayer, the gameplay feels intuitive and realistic. The old days of predetermined animations from line to dunk don’t really exist anymore, and strategy is rewarded. Move the ball around, vary paint vs. perimeter, draw the foul, time the pick & roll — it’s a game that rewards people who know the beauty and art of professional basketball.

Disclaimer: The Publishers provided review copies of these titles.