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NBA 2K17: The Prelude is a sign of great things to come

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What goes up must come down. Right? The NBA 2K17: The Prelude demo was launched this weekend on PS4 and Xbox One to give fans a taste of what to expect from this year’s entry to the series.

The biggest problem with yearly franchises like NBA 2K is peaking. Series like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty have shown that it is difficult to keep iterating on a game and show significant improvements that would entice players. Which is why Ubisoft is taking a break from making an Assassin’s Creed’s sequel to focus on other titles.

It seemed like only a matter of time until NBA 2K succumbed to the same fate as the once prestigious NBA Live franchise and wound up dealing with the issues of a short shelf life that could lead to gamer fatigue.

I always thought the NBA 2K series peaked in 2014. Or that it would start to experience decline during these recent years, after several improvements to gameplay and graphics. But credit the development team’s tenacity for bringing innovation and attention to detail, because NBA 2K continues to break new ground.

With a revamped MyCareer mode, which promises a cinematic narrative of an NBA prospect’s journey from college to the pros, and a new face-scanning system that makes it easier than ever to put your likeness in the game, NBA 2K17 is shaping up to a be a unique and worthwhile addition to the franchise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, as the game isn’t due out until next week, September 16 (for those who pre-ordered, anyway; September 20 is the global release date). For now, I’ll focus on what I can critique.

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Physical gameplay

In the “Friction” trailer that 2K Games released a few weeks ago, we noticed an emphasis on physicality, the kind we see in an actual NBA game. Contact looked much more real, especially off the ball.

It turns out physicality is a huge part of NBA 2K17. Boxing out for rebounds; fighting through screens; dribbling through contact — all of it feels much more real now, thanks to an improved contact-recognition system that ties together with a ton of new animations. Even an opponent swinging his elbow has repercussions and can cause your controller to vibrate.

This combined with my favorite gameplay element from last year, which was the momentum physics when changing direction, shows why, even this early on, NBA 2K17 is the best simulation game of its kind. And it reaffirms that it is in fact light years ahead of the competition.

Gameplay-wise, the latest installment introduces some notable tweaks like a new shot meter, the ability to throw a skip pass across the court, and the ability to rapidly shift your position on defense, which is something I have been desperately hoping for.

MyCareer story mode

I had honestly given up on previous iterations of NBA 2K‘s MyCareer story mode because of the monotonous experience of playing through NBA seasons and answering repetitive post-game questions from the media.

But Spike Lee’s “Living’ DaDream” on NBA 2K16 changed my perspective, as it told an engaging story that featured memorable characters. It was a breath of fresh air. My only problem was that it was too short.

This year, 2K Games is sticking to the same approach but with a different narrative. I haven’t finished The Prelude’s MyCareer mode yet — I’m only up to my last game in college. But I can only hope the development team has a longer story to tell this year. Without spoiling anything I can tell you it is still very detailed and personal, though probably not as intimate as NBA 2K16‘s Spike Lee joint, with the team bringing in a new writer, director, and cast.

This year’s story feels much more mainstream; actors Hannibal Buress, Michael B. Jordan, and others have lent their voices and faces to NBA 2K17. This tells me we will be seeing more Hollywood-driven storylines in the coming years. A rotating roster of writers and directors helming the story also opens up the franchise to more creative possibilities.

Face-scanning in NBA 2K17

It’s probably important that I talk about the new face-scanning feature, which now supports Android and iOS devices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work.

I first tried face-scanning in NBA 2K15 on Xbox One, using the Kinect camera. I spent several hours in front of the camera, slowly turning my head from side to side to get a decent result, but without success; I always ended up with a deformed version of my face. Which led me to sculpt a face from one of the presets. I wasn’t able to try out the face-scan feature in NBA 2K16 because I got a copy for the PS4 and didn’t have a PlayStation Eye cam.

It isn’t as limiting this time, as for the first time ever, 2K Games is making the feature available to more users by integrating it into the free MyNBA 2K17 app. It’s a godsend for people who don’t own a PlayStation Eye or Kinect, although in my experience, the app is just as frustrating to use.
It still couldn’t generate a decent mold of my face from the pictures I uploaded. This time, however, instead of creating a monstrous mug for me to post on social media, it just shows an error message. Thankfully though, they’ve added even more options now for sculpting faces from presets.

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Early impressions

From what I’ve seen from this prelude, it looks like NBA 2K17 is going to be another success. Once again, the developers have proven that their focus and meticulousness when it comes to translating the NBA game into virtual form are the key to the franchise’s winning record. Their efforts this year serve to create the perfect basketball simulator.

Casual fans might not notice the fine nuances, particularly the new collision mechanic. But hardcore fans of the game and of basketball will be sure to pick up the finer details.

In the end, most of us want our basketball game to be as close to the real thing as possible. And I think once again, NBA 2K17 delivers on that front more so than before.

[irp posts=”10750″ name=”Drone assists in 2017 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest”]

Reviews

Google Pixel 4a Unboxing & Review: Unbelievably Good?

A direct contender of the iPhone SE and OnePlus Nord

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Google’s ‘a'(ffordable) line-up may be long overdue because of the pandemic — but after several months of waiting, we finally have one on our hands.

Cheaper than last year’s US$ 399 Pixel 3a, the US$ 349 Pixel 4a might just be the most affordable flagship killer contender you can get over the 2020 iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord.

But can the mid-tier specifications and less-fancy phone features justify its affordable price tag? Head over to our in-depth Pixel 4a review here.

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Best Smartphones

Best Budget Smartphones below $200

August 2020 Edition

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Welcome to GadgetMatch’s list of the best smartphones priced below US$ 200! Each month, we update our selection with the budget-friendly phones we believe are most deserving of your hard-earned savings.

Even though the spotlight has been on high-end smartphones this entire year, there have been a few surprisingly good entry-level handsets coming out lately, as well. So good, in fact, that we had to reassess our entire list.

Here they are in no particular order

Redmi 9 (PhP 6,990 / US$ 141)

Quality build with baseline specs that can handle, well, the basics. This is what the Redmi line has been offering and that remains true with the Redmi 9. You’ll have to be bit creative with some of the apps you install (always go for the Lite versions), but the pre-installed Google apps run smoothly and should be more than enough to power you through.

Hands-On: Redmi 9

Redmi Note 9 (US$ 200)

This is a routine appearance for the Redmi Note line. Xiaomi continues to lord over the budget segment by offering fairly capable smartphones at such an affordable price.

Review: Redmi Note 9

Realme 6i (US$ 196)

Realme finally releases a budget phone with a USB-C port! That aside, everything here is standard Realme — which is great. Its cameras leave much to be desired but what this is a budget phone after all. It does pretty well everywhere else — can game, handle your usual daily things, and has an impressive battery life.

READ: Realme6i 

OPPO A5s (US$ 117)

The OPPO A5s perhaps is best looked at as a transition device more than anything else. It does what you expect out of budget smartphones. It’s good to have “for now” but you might look elsewhere for a more reliable daily driver.

REVIEW: OPPO A5s

Samsung Galaxy A20 (US$ 190)

Samsung’s revived Galaxy A-series proves that the company cares about every price segment. The Galaxy A20, in particular, is the most well-rounded below US$ 200 thanks to its ultra-wide camera, AMOLED display, and hefty battery.

REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy A20

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Best Smartphones

Best Midrange Smartphones from $200 to $400

August 2020 Edition

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When premium phones are out of financial reach and entry-level handsets just don’t make your cut, something in between is the next best thing. This is our updated list of the best midrange smartphones retailing from US$ 200 to US$ 400.

Formulating this category was tricky, since you can’t set an exact price and some of these devices are, in fact, the flagship phones of their respective brands. To simplify things, we chose a price range that simply sits between our other lists for best budget, upper-midrange, and premium smartphones.

Here they are in no particular order:

realme 6 Pro (PhP 16,990/ US$ 339)

This is the only smartphone in this segment that offers a 90Hz screen refresh rate. It’s one thing if that’s the only thing it’s good at, but the realme 6 Pro has a 64MP quad-camera setup, a really clean UI, and Snapdragon 720G along with 30W VOOC charging. We’re convinced this is the best Android phone in this segment.

Review: realme 6 Pro

realme 6 (PhP 13,990/ US$ 280)

It’s pretty much everything its “pro” sibling is except it’s instead powered by a Helio G90T processor made for gaming. the RAM and storage combo is no slouch too (8GB/128GB) and yes, it also has a 90Hz screen refresh rate. Solid. Value.

Review. realme 6

iPhone SE (US$ 399)

One of the world’s fastest processors, a fantastic camera, at a midranger’s price. If we told you, we’re talking about an iPhone you probably wouldn’t believe us but here we are. The iPhone SE’s design is dated, but everything about its performance is near-flagship or flagship 2020 levels.

REVIEW: iPhone SE

Huawei Nova 7 SE (PhP 19,990/ US$ 399)

Barely making the price point, Huawei phones are facing a unique problem with the lack of Google Mobile Services. That said, Huawei Mobile Services is making a headway. But the reason the phone lands on this list is because of its 5G capabilities. This is one of the most affordable phones to support 5G and that has to count for something.

Hands-On: Huawei Nova 7 SE

Samsung Galaxy A51 (US$ 320)

Samsung’s on a roll with their Galaxy A-series. The Galaxy A51 builds on everything that was already great with the Galaxy A50 and A50s and just makes it even better. Much like everything on the Galaxy lineup this year, the Galaxy A51 sports a look that as of posting is still undeniably Samsung.

Pixel 3a (US$399)

The Pixel 3a barely makes this price range by being just a hair under $400. The camera alone easily makes this crème de la crème of this bunch. Add to that the vanilla Android experience and of course being in the priority list of Android updates, this is the Pixel to get for Android purists.

HANDS-ON: Pixel 3a

POCO X2 (INR 19,99/ US$ 279)

The future of Pocophone was up in the air for a while, but all of that was finally put to rest when the brand finally released the POCO X2. This isn’t exactly the successor to the POCO F1. In fact, this is just a rebranded Redmi K30 Pro. But it’s still a step in the right direction for a brand that quickly captured everyone’s attention only to go completely silent for over a year.

REVIEW: POCO X2

Samsung Galaxy M31 (INR 15,99/US$ 224)

This battery-powerhouse of a smartphone has never quite made it to more markets, but it has gotten a significant amount of attention thanks to its 6,000mAh battery. Something this long-lasting appears to still be one of the priorities of smartphone buyers.

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