Despite pretty much cornering the market, the NBA 2K series has been consistently great and since last generation, the developers have never been afraid of taking risks to further elevate its success both critically and on the market. With EA Sports back in the fold with this year’s release of NBA Live 18, 2K Sports might’ve fallen flat in its attempt to remind everyone why their game has constantly remained on top.
What Is It?
Veterans of the series know what to expect here. NBA 2K has brought the best brand of basketball games for the better part of a decade now and whether or not EA Sports is in the picture, the developers at Visual Concepts have always brought something different to the fold to capitalize on its great gameplay.
As far as just the basketball is concerned, the main changes come in the form of a new shot meter and unique controls for almost every player in the game. As far as the single player goes, MyCareer once again has a story, and while it isn’t bad, there’s a lot of extra stuff that bogs down the experience and simply makes it seem like they were doing way too much.
Why Should I Care?
The game’s problems begin with the new MyCareer mode. This is the one mode that the developers tinker with every year, but it remains to be seen whether or not people actually care about the new details put in. The big thing that always changes is in its narrative. A couple years ago, the story was directed by Spike Lee, and it was atrocious. Last year’s game featured Michael B. Jordan, and while the story was okay, it was still on the boring side and it took too long to get back into the action of improving your player.
This time around, you play as a former DJ (named D.J.) who left the life of music in an attempt to chase his dreams of dominating the NBA. You quickly go from the streets to playing for your favorite team, and the game immediately opens up by putting you in a city-like hub that replaces a menu system. So if you want to play a game of pickup ball at the park after working at the gym, you actually have to walk from the gym to the subway, so you can get dropped off at the park. Wanna get a haircut after spending sometime at your condo? You have to make your way down the elevator, and physically run to the barber shop. The story progresses as you play through games in the season, and you see the same type of drama that happens with your player, his peers, and the media as the story goes on as you continue to make yourself a better player.
Whether or not that sounds good to you, one controversial point of discussion is the fact that nearly everything in the game has a cost in the form of virtual currency (VC). From getting a haircut to changing up your wardrobe, it all costs VC. It doesn’t just buff your stats anymore. Since I didn’t know that going in, I ended up using as much VC as possible to improve my player’s attributes, and I really wanted to get the trophy for getting a haircut, which I ended up paying $2 for. (Yep, I just spent an extra $2 on a game that I know won’t be getting a platinum for.) The only thing free in the game are the workout minigames, which are taught horribly, and the trivia game that takes too long to move from question to question.
The game’s hub world has a lot going for it, especially with the game’s online features. You’re able to see a bunch of users go about with their avatars on the “Road to 99,” but at the end of the day, it just takes too long to get there, and there’s really nothing motivating to even keep going on that path. This sort of stuff really should’ve been a menu.
I’ll acknowledge that having to walk everywhere instead of picking places from a menu is a weird thing to criticize, but one has to wonder why 2K went and started charging VC for everything there is to do in the game. If you went through the Prelude demo and bought a premium version of the game, yes, you’ll have more to spend, but if you buy a bare-boned copy of the game, it’ll take you so much longer to get your player to where you want him to be. People just wanna pop the game in and play basketball. If not just that, the process of improving your player through the metagame shouldn’t be as arduous as it is.
I’m not even going to go over the fact that earlier this week, a handful of users with the Xbox One version of the game experienced their MyCareer being deleted, along with all the VC they obtained. 2K is currently working on the situation, but this is stuff that shouldn’t happen at all.
Luckily, these microtransaction problems only affect the game’s more involved single player modes, which a good number of people aren’t looking for anyway.
The actual basketball, for the most part, is pretty much the same as it’s always been. The main change is with the new shot meter in addition to the way each player feels when you’re controlling them. As far as the shot meter goes, it’s been moved to the top of the player, and while some people might find it helpful, I simply found it to be a useless and distracting change. For one, the meter is too small to really time anything, and when you do focus on it, for some reason it becomes harder to gauge when exactly to release the shot button or stick. As for the way each player controls, it’s a welcome and authentic change. Gone are the days where you can just bulldoze your way through the court with LeBron–he’s still the best player there is in the game, but actual ball movement and play execution are key to being successful in the game.
Despite the horrid character models in the 2K Sports Pre-Game Show, NBA 2K has always boasted the best broadcast-style presentation in all of sports video games, and NBA 2K18 is no exception. Again, the Pre-Game Show looks like crap, but the production value, team intros, halftime shows, and commentary are all among the best the entire sports genre has to offer, and there’s hardly anything to be done to really improve it. The game even rotates its commentators, which is something I’ve been begging for in Madden for years.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Don’t let the tone of the review or the score fool you. Despite the return of NBA Live, NBA 2K18 is still the better game, but it’s essentially last year’s game with a shinier coat of paint, and we cannot recommend the game at full price primarily due to the fact that everything new in the game does absolutely nothing special, and it makes the package feel like a bloated mess. That said, the presentation value and the core basketball gameplay are still the best they’ve ever been, especially once you get used to the new shot meter and ball movement controls.
Nobody’s going to fault you for getting your basketball fix, but if you have NBA 2K17, there’s no real reason to upgrade anytime soon unless you’re a hardcore online player.