The sports genre use to be filled with a variety of options, but as videogames have evolved the average games that once flooded the market have fallen by the wayside leaving a choice few sitting at the top of the charts. NBA 2K is one such game that has climbed the ranks by knocking off the competition year after year all while making key adjustments to set the bar to new heights. While there is no doubt that 2K is at the top of its game, many loyal fans are questioning the game’s overabundant use of microtransactions as a ploy to suck them dry and diminish the game they’ve come to adore. Like anything in life you have to take the bad with the good, but is there enough good this year to shell out the cash?
I’ve been following the 2K series since its induction in 1999 and have watched it ride the ebb and flow of the gaming market by following trends while being innovative. One of the greatest additions to the series was the MyCareer Mode that put a story behind the gameplay where you build your character from the ground up to pursue a career in the NBA. This year you don’t start out as a rookie, but are picked up by a NBA scout after a street ball tournament. You assume the role of DJ whose ultimate goal is to go from a 60 overall rating to a superstar in a journey 2K calls “The Road to 99.”
Don’t think this is a simple process because it makes Destiny’s grind look easy, unless you want to fork over some real world money to lessen the insane amount of time needed to even make it above an 80 overall. For roughly 200,000 VC (2K’s virtual currency which is $50 USD) you can take your character from a basic 60ovr to an 85ovr. Frustrating to say the least as you journey around “My Neighborhood” and see everyone else already has a rating 20 or more above you making it feel like you’re the only freshman amongst seniors. The neighborhood is supposed to give you a taste of the NBA baller lifestyle on and off the court by allowing you to complete endorsement contracts, meet fans, shop for high end clothing, etc. as you rise the ranks of NBA stardom. There are also training and practice tasks that will help you upgrade DJ and while this is fun for the first couple of times around the hood it quickly feels like you’re trapped inside the NBA version of the Sims.
While the MyCareer mode may be the lynchpin for the NBA 2K series and many choose to spend their VC there, they also have the widely popular MyTeam mode that is very similar to EA’s Ultimate Team for Madden and FIFA where you buy packs of cards to upgrade your team. Developing your fantasy NBA team gives you control to play with your own style, be it low post scoring, run & gun, or 3ball. You’ll be tasked with challenges against the computer or going head to head against other users to get some in game currency to improve your dream team. There are a ton of customization options for jerseys to home courts and you’ll see some truly outstanding player creations that you see in other games like Forza.
There is also another story driven game mode called MyGM: The Next Chapter that gives the play an in depth and detailed simulation of what it takes to manage an NBA franchise. This mode can be very engaging for players who are sticklers for detail or love RPG style games, but the overall experience isn’t quite as fun as MyCareer or MyTeam because you don’t get to actually partake in the gameplay and that is the main reason many fans flock to the 2K series year after year.
As far as an authentic basketball experience, you won’t find anything better than 2K18 when you’re on the hardwood. Changes to the movement system and graphics from an already solid base established last year keep the game feeling fresh and relevant. Defense seems to have more of an impact this year by making steals, blocks, and defensive switches feel like a natural part of the game. Tightly guarded players or contesting shots have a greater chance of causing the shooter to miss and makes shot selection and distance factor into each and every play. The shot meter feels more sensitive which in turn makes scoring more difficult and requires you to practice with each player on your squad if you want to become an offensive powerhouse. Free throws are a little quirky because even if you get a near perfect shot off with an 85% or higher chance of making the bucket you are not always guaranteed a point. I had 4 instances where my shot was 92% successful and bricked all four of my free throws.
Adding to the experience is a polished pre-game show featuring fan favorites Shaq, Kenny & Ernie who give insight to the match ups you’ll see during the game and the keys objectives needed for the team to win the game. The national anthem and pre-game introductions add depth and authenticity to the event to emulate what you’d see on TV. Commentary from Kevin Harlan and co-hosts flows perfectly with gameplay calling each moment on the court accurately while interjecting humor and in-game banter like it was a live NBA game. As a sports game fan this is refreshing to hear when so many games butcher or make errors with their commentary. The 2K18 soundtrack is as close to perfect as possible giving players a stellar mix of old school hip-hop jams and new mainstream tunes. These are mixed in throughout the game, but really add to the atmosphere when they are played during the game in the arena.
Overall NBA 2K18 delivers the goods by giving the player a polished game that once again raises the bar for sports game expectations. Action on the hardwood is more solid than anything else on the market and forces the player to learn the game a little better instead of just scoring buckets. Each of the game modes is overflowing with tasks and goals to reach, but it is hard to ignore the grind required to improve your character or team. The sheer amount of time put into developing your team or character doesn’t feel worth it or even fun at times when you see others who have bought their way to the top with real world money. There is a great game underneath the business model of pay to win and if you can resist the “I gotta have it” urge to upgrade everything you’ll find that NBA 2K18 is a gem.