The NBA 2K series has been the undisputed king of basketball simulation gaming for close to a decade, and with very good reason. The commitment to a realistic simulation style of gameplay, mixed with top visuals, presentation as well as creative innovation have gone a long way to create the ultimate basketball video game experience across consoles year after year. However, with EA Sports’ NBA Live series making a comeback and taking their own steps toward closing the gap between the two franchises, does this year’s offering from 2K Sports have enough new tricks to stave off the challenge. To put it in basketball terms, have they put in enough work in the practice gym to play aggressive lockdown defence on their end of the court. The answer appears to be a resounding yes, as if there was ever any doubt.
First and foremost, the area where NBA 2K18 shines and has no peers is in its gameplay which has been further tweaked to provide an even greater authentic feel of the game. This has been the bread and butter of the series dating back to its inception. The gameplay engineers created a brand new motion engine to move your athlete around the court. Gone are the days of animations being the sole factor as now the stick inputs and a wide range player attributes are the sole components driving this. Much like last year, your shot skills on the stick (or shot button) matter when pull up for a mid or long range jumpshot, but in addition, it is more crucial than ever to have good basketball IQ and take smarter high percentages shots with the right types of players; meaning don’t expect to succeed very often with any player by pulling up for jumpshot when smothered by a defender or experiencing heavy traffic in the paint. The shot meter has been redesigned once again, now alongside your player and provides improved shot feeback to help you hone your timing. When you land a green excellent release it’ll be nothing but net. There are more animations for a number of offensive and defensive scenarios as well no shortage of dunk, jumpshot and layup animations of the top stars in the league past and present.
That basketball knowledge will come into play many times on both ends of the floor as you’ll want to play smart ball, keeping the ball moving to stay ahead of defence and find open lanes to the basket or wide open looks. Additionally you’ll want high performing big men on defence in the paint to clutch any rebounds with ease and net you easy second chance points. Defence is a lot tighter this year as well and will react adapt toy your plays so don’t expect to run the same plays too often without defenders switching things up. The lockdown defence button has been adjusted too, so now defenders will no longer stick to you like glue, or you to them; and some expertly timed dibble, size-up and step-back moves could be enough to give your enough distance to let the ball fly or drive to the basket.
With the faces of many NBA teams changing this year, NAB 2K18 well represents of the new team rosters as of release and will regularly update the looks of players to keep things up to date as the 2017-2018 season progresses. While the Euroleague is no longer present this year, in their place are are new All-Time Teams for each team in the league, comprising the all-time top players to have ever worn the colours of each team. Picture the playing as an All-time Los Angeles Lakers team with Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaqueal O’Neal, Dr J and many more all on the same team or a Chicago Bulls comprising Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Steve Kerr and more. That sounds fun right there.
Presentation has always been top notch in NBA 2K and the same holds true in NBA 2K18. Menus look crisp; The NBA Pre-Game and Halftime Shows return with Shaq, Ernie Johnson and Kenny “The Jet” Smith being as entertaining as ever; team arenas are accurate; mascots and cheerleaders provide entertainment between quarters and timeouts; fans are vocal if their teams are winning or slipping behind. As a special treat this year, the commentary team are joined by quest Legends, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, when you play on the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics home courts respectively.
Visually, the look of the NBA athletes themselves has received a major boost due to many being rescanned with high resolution cameras capturing up to 16,000 textures. Every facial expression and tattoo has been perfectly captured and anybody not rescanned recently has been upgraded too thanks to 2K’s extensive past archive data of scans. Body types for the first are infinite and not limited to a half dozen presets and every one will look like themselves in all aspects. A big like Legends cover star Shaq will tower over other smaller players and play like a big man too. A few odd facial expressions aside, The art team has left out no detail, no matter how small, even scanning every detail and perforation of all team jerseys with handheld laser scanners and also scanning over 200 shoes and accessories, including implementing improved cloth physics. It’s truly stunning to take it all in and every detail goes a long way in this player’s mind.
Never ones to rest on their laurels, the team at Visual Concepts attempts to redefine the sports video game genre with their signature modes. MyGM has been taken up a notch this year with MyGM: The Next Chapter, incorporating the story driven aspects that have until now been exclusive to MyCareer with the analytics based gameplay aspects of MyGM. Your MyPlayer was a bright NBA star until a career ending injury during the Western Conference Finals in 2011 ended those dreams. Now six years later you are hired by an NBA team as GM (The choice of team is up to you). There are plenty areas of criteria to assess when choosing a team or owner like how hands on the owner is, their emphasis on success, on making money, maintaining employee satisfaction, etc. As your story and season progress you’ll have to manage potential trades, set future objectives and also have the option of sending benched players to the G-League (non-playable) to scout their potential and ensure their talents do not go to waste on the bench; a feature available in MyLeague mode as well. MyGM was fun last year, albeit more for analytical players with great insider knowledge and instincts for basketball and the NBA, but the addition of the story aspects give you more of a personal involvement and make the mode enjoyable to play, although the text based cutscenes can get a little boring to read after a while. Initially, My GM: The Next Chapter is looking like a successful addition.
The biggest feature in NBA 2K18 is the much hyped MyCareer mode that allows you to run the neighbourhood. Raising the bar above past iterations of MyCareer in the series, The Neighborhood in an online integrated mode blending the MyPlayer creation, progression and story based aspects of MyCareer with previous online modes MyPark and Pro Am into a combined shared experience with your MyPlayer as the central figure. You start as an undrafted Rookie scouted at a street ball competition and in invited to a tryout with your favourite NBA team. The story, while a little cheesy in places, does seem fun and your MyPlayer is more likable right from the start with interesting friends and personalities around him. In between games, you have the freedom to #RunTheNeighborhood also populated by hundreds of others Myplayers from around the world at any given time. There you can choose between attending team practice, exercising at the Gaterade facility, grabbing a haircut from Doc’s barbershop, playing on your MyCourt in your high-rise apartment, buying shoes and clothes from the NBA store as well as Foot Locker and other stores, playing ball at the Park, playing the arcade in addition to travelling the Neighborhood to perform objectives. A little sad that the high school and college games are gone but it’s not major. The ability to gain endorsements and navigate social media all return. Everything you do in NBA Games, practice and the gym all contribute to gaining XP for skill badges on ‘The Road to 99’ where you can break your character ability caps and potentially have an overall higher rated MyPlayer…that is if you can earn enough VC (Virtual Currency) to upgrade your abilities that high.
The Neighborhood is a forward thinking approach to a video game Career mode that will undoubtedly set the bar for many other sports games in the future who will likely try to adapt similar mechanisms. The fact that it combines three different games modes together in a clever way is a feat in of itself. The only negative thing about this is that everything you do from changing your hair style, hair colour, buying shoes and clothes (you gotta look the part right?) costs VC. This wouldn’t be nearly as bad if everything didn’t cost so much VC. You’ll already need close to 200,000 VC just to full max out your MyPlayer (assuming you haven’t increased your overall ability caps via ‘The Road to 99’) or at least more than half of that just to be a halfway decent player in the NBA or in the Park. Considering that nice clothes and shoes can cost several thousand VC plus nice animations if you want to really customise your MyPlayer costs just as much and you only obtain a few hundred VC per game, it’s a long grind. You can always purchase VC packs from the Playstation or Xbox stores, assuming you want to progress quicker and are cool with spending several hundred (or thousand) rands worth of VC extra.
MyTeam also returns with far more game types and online as well as offline options to keep you busy all year long. There’s so much more that could be expanded upon but that’d cause this review to go on even longer.
Overall, NBA 2K18 is a vast improvement over NBA 2K17, which was already near the pinnacle of sports gaming. Gameplay is overhauled with more responsive controls and AI logic, requiring smart playmaking and a basic knowledge of your player’s strengths to get the best use out of them, presentation and graphics are on point, My GM: The Next Chapter expands MyGM and MyCareer/MyPark/Pro Am are forever changed under the umbrella inclusion of the Neighbourhood. After introducing this, I don’t see how NBA 2K can ever go back to navigating these modes through simple menus alone. Best of all, there’s so much content across the different modes to keep players more than busy throughout the year. If they can adjust VC earning ratio vs. the costing across the board of animations and extras like clothing, this shared mode will truly by “Lit”. To put it in basketball terms again, 2Ks Sports called a screen around their defenders and caught them leaning with a spin move around the teammate for an open floating layup to the basket. A little more refinement and 2K will be able to deliver a glass breaking slam dunk and “posterize” on the competition…Just like Shaq.
Reviewed on: PS4
Available on: PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch, PS3, XBox 360, PC
Age Rating: Pegi 3+
Publisher/Developer: 2K Sports/Visual Concepts
Estimated RRP: R899+ (R630+ Last Gen)
Release Date: 15 September 2017
- Presentation & Graphics
- Audio & Commentary
- Story Aspects of MyGM & MyCareer
- VC costs of MyPlayer items too high
- Occasional lag in Neighborhood* – (can’t determine if it’s sever related or my connection though)