NBA2K18 Impressions—Style Over Substance

2K Sports’ most recent effort is a step up graphically, but gameplay feels out of focus, and stripped of its ultimate potential for enjoyment.

Game: NBA2K18

Developer: Visual Concepts

Publisher: 2K Sports

Reviewed: PlayStation 4

As a total newcomer to the realm of NBA2K, two things struck me whilst playing the latest iteration in the series. Firstly, comparatively speaking, the graphics are the finest yet. The hyper-realistic facial models with visual imperfections are occasionally trumped by those of EA’s NBA Live 18, which I think comes from superior lighting. But secondly, and slightly more disappointingly, the satisfaction and thrill I had from stealing the ball, shooting three pointers, and learning the ropes quickly gave way to something more lacklustre; on the whole, NBA2K18 is certainly a fun game, but AI felt unfairly advantaged, and the difficulty in nailing excellent releases left me frustrated.

Play Now’s exhibition matches are full of atmosphere and are a great simulation of actual NBA matches. The all star cast, half-time entertainment and roaring applause from the audience make every second absolutely worth it. Like its predecessors, NBA2K18 succeeds in delivering an authentic basketball simulation experience. What with the pre-game shows, Star-Spangled Banner heralding the start of the match, and slick score recaps and performance breakdowns flying on screen at half time in impressive animations.

Overall, player movement feels smooth, passing, dribbling around competitors and scoring from close range packs a massive adrenaline rush. But I can’t say the same about shooting outside the 3-point line. I tried both scoring methods, square button and holding down the right joystick, however they were equally unreliable (and inconsistent) for getting a three. There was also too much emphasis placed on mastering ‘excellent release’, and in a way, it reminded me of the differences between Mario Tennis 64 and Mario Tennis Open (Nintendo 3DS). In the former, matches against difficult AI were challenging but left enough breathing space and rewarded your efforts; in the latter, it was a punishing grind that tipped the scales towards exasperation.

MyCareer mode lets you build up your dream character and enjoy a more personalised game that targets your career performance. It might sound a bit cheesy, but the matches themselves are exciting, have more balance compared to the exhibition matches, and really encourage you to improve your points, assists, blocks and steals for the glory of achieving a better teammate grade. You also earn skill points, which can be spent on slowly maxing out your player attributes, and as you can imagine, it’s a bit of a grind.

From what I’ve gleaned, NBA2K18 comes with microtransactions that accelerate your ascent towards a decked out player, so you’ll be forking out extra cash on top of the $60 USD admission price. While the level of gameplay is decent and amount of content offered is enough to keep you entertained, this just seems unreasonable and unfair towards players who aren’t splurging their way to victory.

Lastly, the story/narrative mode in MyGM was an interesting turn. It did feel lacking without proper voice overs and text heavy paragraphs in the introductory sequences, so maybe this is an area Visual Concepts might enhance in future titles. But beyond that, you can manoeuvre your custom character through choices about coaching, performance, set up a game plan to maximise your team’s chances of winning, simulate a match, and even jump in midway if you get the urge to play. So in that sense, there’s overlap with the Play Now matches, but MyGM gives you much more managerial control.

You can effectively build a team from the ground up, including drafting prospective international players, and scrutinising player statistics in the brand new analytics tool (MyLeague) which can then be transformed into graphs and charts. It’s a completely different perspective to get behind, which should have some serious appeal for anyone who likes number crunching.

So if you’re a fan of the series and want a fun game to kick back with, NBA2K18 fits the bill. While it isn’t technically perfect, and may leave you frustrated over the microtransaction inequality, it’s worth buying it on sale for the the electric atmosphere, improved character models and courtside animatons. MyCareer will soak up a lot of time if you’re pumping in effort to collect badges and skill points to advance your player, but the exhibition matches and MyGM offer fun, yet polar-opposite experiences that harmonise together really well. Ball’s in your court.

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NBA2K18 is available for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. You can also purchase PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.