The NBA 2K franchise has been going on for nearly two decades and has managed to probably be the most consistently good annual sports game franchise in that time. Releasing with a few different editions this time around, NBA 2K18 has finally arrived with arguably the best gameplay in the series to date, though it comes with one major flaw that impedes it from true greatness.
Visual Concepts has almost always lived up to their name with standout visuals that provide the most realistic NBA action in gaming, and that is no different in NBA 2K18. Even with how good NBA 2K17 already looked, this year’s iteration takes the visuals to a whole other level. Whether you are playing with a superstar like LeBron James, a well known rookie like Lonzo Ball, or even a lesser known rookie such as Sindarius Thornwell, the facial designs are amazing and look just like their real life counterparts. This goes from the basic facial expressions to when they get excited after they get a clutch basket and a foul, though they are pretty stilted and creepy in the pre-constructed interview segments during the loading screens.
Not only has the game mastered the designs of the players, but it also has them actually playing like they do on the real life court. This allows each player to feel distinctly different from one another, with those who really follow the sport maybe getting a bit of an advantage by knowing how your team and the opposing team’s players will perform throughout the game.
NBA 2K18 offers an array of different game modes to check out, giving players plenty of different ways to experience the latest entry in the series. The Play Now heading from the main menu actually holds its own slew of game modes itself, including Play Now itself and Play Now online of course. The online servers for the game seem to be running very smoothly, outside of a few frame rate drop issues that are not very common.
Learning all the intricacies of the different mechanics in NBA 2K18 can be rather difficult by just playing in a regular game, so players also have the 2KU tutorial option under Play Now. This is good to have for newer players or those that just want to harness their skills, because it can even be hard to correctly perform a lay up in this often difficult game.
All-Star Team-Up also returns again, allowing players to play five on five matchups online with each live player controlling an All-Star player. Similarly, Blacktop also returns that lets you play anywhere from one on one to five on five matchups in a more street setting. Neither of these modes have really been improved all that much, but they are good to see back again regardless.
While the development team behind the game have provided us with the best basketball action to date, the major issue that really holds NBA 2K18 back is the game’s MyCareer mode, specifically the over reliance on the in-game VC currency. MyCareer is the single player mode in the game where you create your own player and get to try and take them to greatness.
Moving away from the story last year that featured Michael B. Jordan, the story this year follows a former basketball player that left the game to pursue a music career, but has now returned to try and salvage his basketball dream. The cutscenes here are incredibly cheesy and really overbearing at times, but you can at least tell they’re trying to make the process more innovative. Instead of a linear story setup, NBA 2K18 tries to go with a more Grand Theft Auto vibe by offering a hub world known as the Neighborhood.
The Neighborhood is the central area that you can walk around to go between multiple different locations, including the practice facility, Doc’s Barber Shop, and your MyCourt high rise apartment. While the idea seems inspired by GTA in its inception, it actually feels a bit more like the old PlayStation Home in a way, which is both good and bad. The actual movement of your player around the Neighborhood feels incredibly awkward, even when you run instead of walk. While it’s great they built this area for you to explore and be social with other live players, a fast travel system should have been implemented that lets you travel from one area to the next without having to walk there. The load times are so bad at times between the different areas anyways that it’s not like it would make it any longer.
Besides visiting the different stores and venues, you can participate in training sessions and Pro-Am games on top of your actual NBA scheduled games. Rather than have the training sessions level you up as you would think, you instead are working towards unlocking badges that enhance skills that you already have, such as being able to make better passes or hit deeper three pointers for example.
The actual leveling up system is tied to the previously mentioned in-game VC currency that really keeps this game from being the best NBA 2K game to date. To level up any statistic for your player, you must spend VC, which is earned in various ways in the game. There are plenty of different ways to win VC inside MyCareer, but also outside of it such as in Play Now Online by beating higher tier teams online. It was a bad sign when the game was being promoted so much with VC purchase options and you can see why. Unless you’re planning on dedicating hours upon hours for weeks after the release of the game, you will struggle to level up your MyCareer player much at all.
Leveling up is far from the only use of VC in MyCareer either, with you needing to spend a lot of it if you want any level of customization. The most egregious of the bunch is at Doc’s Barber Shop, where you have to pay high amounts of VC to pick a hairstyle, hair color, facial hair style, or facial hair color. Each of these is individual and you have to pay everytime, even if you’re switching back and forth between them. Making it even worse is that there is no preview option, so you’re essentially just guessing and then having to pay again if you don’t like it. This paywall for leveling up and the other areas is incredibly frustrating and really drags down MyCareer as a whole, almost making you not want to bother with it after awhile.
The good news is that NBA 2K18 also introduced a new variation on MyGM called MyGM: The Next Chapter that offers its own story mode. In this mode, you are a star player that goes down with an injury in a big game and is forced to retire early. As a result, you end up becoming an NBA General Manager and get to run your own franchise in a story mode setting. The game does still have it’s other basic MyLeague and Season options, but MyGM is definitely the standout of the bunch.
The NBA 2K series has continuously managed to impress us over the years with its level of detail to all aspects of the sport and NBA 2K18 is no different. The player animations and visuals look better than they ever have and the new version of MyGM is very enjoyable, but the shoehorned in use of VC for even the littlest of things in MyCareer prevents NBA 2K18 from being the best overall entry in the series to date.