We the North.
Although it doesn’t enjoy the literal monopoly that other sports heavyweights Madden and The Show possess, NBA 2k has been basketball’s virtual standard bearer for a long time. Does NBA 2k18 continue the reign? Or have some cracks have begun to emerge?
With one of the more in-depth setups of any sports game, NBA 2k18 is once again a title in which you get out what you put in. Brushing up on the array of shots, crossovers and post-up moves at your disposal can make you lethal on the court, and returning players should feel right at home.
Regardless of mode, odds are you’ll spend most of your time with the ball in your hands, and the ways you can attack defenders are diverse and well implemented. Charging head long at the rim while flicking the stick in all directions is a great way to get the ball ripped away or dribble into a bad spot, putting the onus on you to elevate your game if you want to enjoy sustained success.
There are times when your effectiveness feels limited, but that typically shows up on the defensive end where it can be a real challenge to stay connected to speedier players no matter what you do. Still, it seems like the A.I. can get by with constantly probing until you get picked off or lose contact — it doesn’t help that you’ll be called for roughly 500 times as many reach-in fouls.
Despite some annoyances and legacy issues, the NBA 2k series continues to recreate the on-court flow of basketball with deft precision. Just like there’s no sound quite like a swish on the playground, there’s no denying how deeply satisfying it is to properly execute a 2-on-1 break or run a pick and pop, lose your defender on the screen and bury a triple.
Not much difference can be seen in player models versus last year, but the animations seem to have been cleaned up a bit as we didn’t run into those moments when players would dribble straight out of bounds thanks to a pre-canned animation. Presentation remains tight, as you get the TNT crew minus Charles Barkley and quality in-game commentary.
Customization feels pared back, however, as there just seem to be very few options when it comes to creating your player from scratch. It’s something you might not notice most years, but the addition of a hub world populated by other players peels back the curtain as you see similar looking MyPlayers left and right. Cut scenes are also underwhelming.
A year ago we noted some warning signs with MyCareer, NBA 2k‘s individual-based mode in which you create and guide a single player through life in the NBA, such as lengthy story sections that can’t be skipped and a grind that felt steeper and more elongated than in year’s past. Unfortunately, NBA 2k18 goes even further down that path.
After seeing what Electronic Arts did with its career modes, 2kSports’ effort feels inadequate with a story that fails to engage. You’re a DJ that gets discovered at a street ball event, earning a tryout and landing on a roster of your choosing. Nearly everything is meant to be goofy: your agent, your roommate, the security guard, and so on.
There’s no meat to the story, and the fact that you can’t skip anything means you’re sitting there during lengthy dialogue that goes nowhere. Making matters worse, the load times are substantial, and after selecting a game you’ll often have to sit through several of them as you load up the game, head into the locker room, often get a cut scene, head to the court and then finally get to the tip.
It adds time on top of an already arduous process of improving your player in which even though the game acts like you’re a big deal, your ratings say you’re among the Association’s worst. Elevating your skills either takes dozens of hours of gameplay or an investment of real-world funds via Virtual Currency, which is now needed for upgrades and accessories (elbow pads, headbands, etc.) alike.
Granted, there are multiple ways to earn VC organically — each game played, teammate grade, correct trivia answers — but none of them pay all that much, especially once your rating starts climbing. More than in years past it really feels like the game wants you to purchase VC.
NBA 2k18 has also added a hub world called “The Neighborhood,” in which you can join pickup games, change clothes, get inked and take part in a significant number of mini-games built around playing hoops or working out. It’s alright, but we would’ve been just as happy if it’d stayed menu driven as there’s no real sense of community within the online hub.
MyGM now features a story as well, though it’s entirely text-based. It isn’t great, as your choices don’t seem to change things very much, but we wouldn’t be opposed to seeing that style in MyPlayer, as the current voiced version basically prohibits interaction with any real teammates. There’s still plenty of depth to be found in MyGM, though, and success isn’t dependent on VC.
Online play is a mixed bag, offering solid performance but falling prey to too much running and gunning in the co-operative modes in which team play is nearly a four-letter word. MyTeam, 2k’s answer to EA’s card collector Ultimate Team, now offers what’s essentially a “quick play” option that lets you play with a single pack and omits substitutes for those that don’t want to invest serious time.
It’s unfortunate that the game modes underwhelm because the actual representation of basketball has never been better. Players handle differently, size and momentum affect body contact animations, and defenses and offenses play more realistically. It’s exceptionally well done.
Judged purely as a basketball simulator, NBA 2k18 is peerless. Its modes need work, however, and it’d be nice if the omnipresence of Virtual Currency was reeled in.