The art of shooting hoops is enjoyed by millions around the globe, with many of them no doubt getting hooked during the popularity boosting Michael Jordan era and even more embracing the new wave of stars like the NBA 2K18 cover athlete Kyrie Irving. My slight interest in basketball as a viewer however comes mainly from watching Bugs Bunny and co. in Space Jam, which isn’t really the same as watching real NBA action. In the gaming world though I’ve been partial to the NBA 2K series, and after skipping a few iterations, I’m now venturing into NBA 2K18 after much anticipation. But can it deliver authenticity without comprising on the fun factor? And will the brand new features help to enhance the overall NBA 2K18 experience?
Considering I’ve not had a real bash at a proper basketball game for a while, I figured the best place to start would be with a tutorial. 2KU is the dedicated tutorial mode, but my word I might as well have not bothered. After heading out onto court, the game just gives you a twenty minute time limit to do whatever you want whilst it mentions a selection of manoeuvres on a loop of informative pop-ups. Am I doing it right? No one knows as it just cycles through them all without any feedback. As far as tutorials go, I think it’s a disappointing effort to make newcomers feel comfortable, but nevertheless, I picked up enough to get by.
Almost everything about the gameplay feels as realistic as ever, especially in terms of the movement, as body momentum can play a huge part in any action taken. Getting used to the way your players move is tricky at first; I saw myself wasting shooting opportunities aplenty by rushing a shot instead of settling the player, or going against the natural flow in which the ball was taking me. But overall the whole system works well in both the defensive and attacking phases of play, as whether you’re dropping a shoulder to shimmy past a defender or trying to block off a slippery attacker, momentum is a crucial part of the game, just like real life.
Passing is pretty neat too, with the ability to make different types of passes and even pick out exactly which teammate is to receive it. Only once have I discovered an issue with the passing, and it was purely an animation discrepancy, when I attempted a small pass to a player nearby but the guy holding the ball looked like he was throwing it miles away. All seems good on the gameplay front, except for 3-pointers – the bane of my life.
Literally every other A.I. controlled team can sink baskets beyond the 3-point line for fun, but for some reason it’s erratic in my experience. Timing the jump and release is something I’m used to from previous games; however my success rate is terrible in NBA 2K18, which is baffling considering the amount of shots taken with players possessing 90+ attributes in 3-point scoring skills. Even when I hit perfect timing, it still bounces away like someone’s shrunk the hoop and it’s incredibly frustrating, almost off-putting to try them at all.
It must be said that the basic controls are very easy to grasp, whilst there’s enough depth in the play for the best ballers to dazzle with their ball control, attacking moves and defensive strategies. The less gifted players can enjoy end to end fast-paced action, whereas the better ones throw in the tactical nuances to turn proceedings in chess-like affairs. Basically, it suits all types of players, but what about the game modes?
In NBA 2K18 there are four main modes – Play Now, MyCareer, MyTeam and MyGM/MyLeague – and each of these has a fair bit to offer. Play Now is ideal with short term interest in mind, as it is here where the standard exhibition modes and one-off basketball games reside. From matches locally versus the CPU or friends, to online play for up to 5v5, this area has you covered. With all of the current NBA teams present and correct, plus a host of all-star and classic versions featuring the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird, the player is saturated with choices of teams to use. It’s a shame the European teams are no longer a part of the series though.
Personally I prefer a bit more substance to my gaming experience, so Play Now does very little in the way of satisfying me. Fortunately, the NBA 2K series prides itself on having an immersive career mode and each year that’s the mode most people are interested in. I can say right now that MyCareer is the real meat of NBA 2K18; a place where you must create your own player with the aim of succeeding in growing the player’s attributes to climb to the top and become a Hall of Famer. After moulding the MyPlayer to suit your preferred position and playstyle – whether that’s being a 3-pt shooter or a dunking enthusiast, the game has you covered with the choices on offer – you’ll be thrown into the story.
Gone is the acting prowess of Michael B. Jordan, who featured in the previous game’s MyCareer, and its main character ‘Prez’. Instead the character you’ve created takes on the mantle of a failed musician, nicknamed DJ, who wants to give basketball another shot after giving up on it earlier in life. DJ has to showcase his skills in a local event to catch the eye of the scouts to earn a tryout, and possibly a place on an NBA team.
I unfortunately went for the Chicago Bulls, and then realised that they’re awful these days, but nevertheless I started as a benchwarmer and that’s what I still am. Despite getting coach ratings for my play of B’s and A’s, bagging assists and points, I’m just getting nowhere. It’s disheartening to have the coach promise to start you and then see the usual crowd of players lining up ahead of me. Imagine being the best player on the team and getting overlooked time and time again, that’s me. The only positive to that is the fact I’m still trying to break through after a ton of games and the gameplay is still enjoyable, if somewhat addictive.
Everything about the story side of proceedings is bang average at best, with a couple of interesting characters within DJ’s orbit counteracted by some, quite frankly, strange people who just seem to cause irritation instead of add to the experience. I’ve also noticed a fair few times when other people’s characters gatecrash a cutscene, for example during a meeting with my agent, someone’s head was sticking through a table. On occasion the cutscene plays out the audio with the visuals to accompany it frozen for a while and then it tries to catch up. None of it ruined my time per se, however it just meant MyCareer had to rely on the Neighborhood feature to elevate the game mode to a higher level.
The Neighborhood is an always online environment which works as a hub for all things regarding MyCareer. Want to hit the training facility to work on drills before a game? Just walk on in. Looking to get a new hairstyle to stand out amongst your teammates? Head on down the street and find the barber shop. Hell, there are even shops to kit out your guy and a gym to work on specific areas to give you an extra Turbo boost for an upcoming game. The idea of having a whole basketball-orientated world to wander around is great, but the practicality certainly isn’t.
Being constantly surrounded by other humans causes really annoying stuttering when trekking through the streets – I use trekking because there’s a fair old distance between some places. It also means you must wait to take a turn on the courts, or even to use certain apparatus in the gym. Not that I’m too fussed about that last part as the gym is full of mini-games which make no sense, even when following the instructions and button prompts, half of them just tell you you’re doing it wrong.
It is good to be able to wander around and it’s definitely more exciting than scrolling through a boring old menu, but more work is needed to make it a great addition to the series.
One new part of NBA 2K18’s MyCareer I really do embrace is the Road to 99, which basically rewards you for reaching certain milestones in regards to the overall player rating. These include simple stuff like more shoes to choose from in Foot Locker and useful perks such as influencing the way the team plays and roster movement. It also tracks everything you do throughout MyCareer, whether during official games, practice or Neighborhood Pro-Am matches, to level up badges to earn gameplay perks – higher chances of catching a ball or throwing flashy passes. The badges add a proper incentive to do well in all areas whilst on the court, rather than just being a one-trick pony.
Then there’s the MyTeam mode, which works very similarly to the Ultimate Team offering in EA’s sports games. After initially being given a starter pack of sorts to get you going, the main aim is that of building a fantasy team that suits the way you play the game. Single Player and Multiplayer game types are present, meaning you can attempt challenges and try to dominate the all-time greatest teams of NBA offline or venture online to climb the ladders rankings in Super Max to try and earn rewards.
Most interesting to me though within MyTeam was the Pack and Playoffs mode, allowing you to draw a team at random by blindly picking cards to turn over and then decide between the two revealed cards as to which is added to the line-up. Let’s just say I ended up being offered a lot of players in the same position and therefore the chemistry of the team was absolutely awful. The luck of the draw element, combined with the lack of cards to choose from, ensures it’s a flawed concept.
The other game types within MyTeam are decent enough, but when the idea is to save up the MT currency to buy packs or players to bolster your roster, it baffles me as to why the auction house is behind a barrier. You, almost literally, have to jump through hoops to complete a load of objectives to gain access to auctions. How can I add players to the roster, to help me fulfil my goals, if I don’t have enough for a pack and can’t fill a position on the cheap by using the auctions? It’s bloody preposterous!
Anyway moving on and last, but not least, are the MyGM/MyLeague options, most of which have been seen before in previous iterations such as the ability to play single seasons using your favourite teams and the 80 year long MyLeague experience. MyGM: The Next Chapter is the new addition and it puts you in the shoes of a General Manager, challenging you to be successful at the team of your choice. Organising the roster, hiring staff, scheduling training and even setting the price of hot dogs, all comes under the job description. There’s a bit of a story to go alongside it, but it’s nothing special. All in all though, it’s an ideal mode for the more hardcore fans of the NBA due to the amount of control it gives you in the many aspects of a GM’s role.
The soundtrack is an area that 2K has done a great job with this year, as it includes a real variety of musical styles with both old school tracks and more current ones featured side by side. If the rock tunes get you pumped up before heading out onto the court, then Def Leopard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and Scorpions’ “The Zoo” will do nicely – certainly satisfying my own taste in music. But there are also plenty of other genres catered for, with songs from the likes of Nas, Outkast, Panic at the Disco, Rag’n’Bone Man etc.
I can’t in good faith finish without mentioning the problem I have with the micro-transactions in NBA 2K18. In the career mode, VC is the currency used to upgrade your created guy’s attributes and 2K allows you to purchase VC with real money. Whilst that’s not an issue, the earning of VC by playing games is so minimal, progress can be painfully slow to get the character from an overall rating of 60 up to a respectable level. It’s like the developers are sat on your shoulders seductively whispering “go on, spend money, and avoid the grind” in your ear. I don’t like that and as seen recently in Shadow of War, micro-transactions can exist without coercing the gamer into feeling as if they need to splash any cash.
Overall, NBA 2K18 succeeds in delivering truly addictive gameplay that is pretty easy to pick up for newcomers, while long-time players will enjoy mastering the advanced techniques. The presentation on-court, pre-match and post-match, delivers a high level of quality throughout. There’s also no doubt whatsoever that there’s a ton of stuff to do, no matter if you prefer being a baller offline or taking to online courts, with enough depth to some of the modes for those looking to invest a lot of time. Not everything hits the mark though, with MyTeam failing to draw me in due to closed off features as well as the new Packs and Playoffs mode really dropping the ball. MyCareer also has a plethora of positives and negatives attached to its existence.
Will I carry on playing NBA 2K18? For sure because of the top drawer gameplay, but the game modes certainly need some work to elevate this year’s title to the heights it could, and should, reach.