The 2017 NBA offseason has been perhaps the most unpredictable and thrilling summer in the history of the league. The top two teams in the Eastern Conference swapped point guards when Kyrie Irving demanded his way out of Cleveland. Paul George and Jimmy Butler were shipped off to an already stacked Western Conference. Steph Curry and James Harden made history, signing deals worth north of $200 million. And most importantly, Kevin Durant showed everyone just how far NBA Finals MVPs are willing to go to defend themselves from trolls online.
But while the offseason has been chaotic, one thing has remained constant in the world of basketball: The NBA 2K franchise’s dominance in the hoops video games market.
Leading up to the release of NBA 2K18, the majority of the talk around this year’s title has been on the introduction of ‘The Neighbourhood,’ a game mode that has essentially transformed the MyPlayer menu system into a connected open-world experience.
Outside of the Playstation Home style revamp to MyPlayer, the majority of the changes in NBA 2K18 has been to the game’s already stellar gameplay, including modifications to player A.I., an all-new contested shot feedback graphic and a major improvement to the overall fluidity of animations.
These changes may sound minor on the surface, but ultimately they are significant, whether you’re brand new to the series or have been playing since Allen Iverson graced the cover year-after-year.
Sure, choosing a player with mass star appeal is an important part of selecting a cover athlete, but it’s also important that they are in some way representative of a few of the key additions to the game. Kyrie Irving -- the quick cutting, slick shooter, lay-up magician -- does just that.
The NBA 2K series has long been known for having a steep learning curve that punishes those who attempt to play the game like they just came back from watching an And 1 mixtape. While the gameplay mechanics do stay true to the franchise’s simulation style roots, the improvements to the animation system and overall feel of player movement has made this year’s game more accessible than ever.
If you had to describe the changes to 2K18’s gameplay in one word, it would be “smooth.” Although 2K17 had a robust control scheme, with less pre-canned animations than ever before, chaining dribble moves and shots together still felt clunky at times. That’s no longer an issue in 2K18.
Players move just like their real-life counterparts, changing the way you play on both sides of the court. While controlling a point guard like Kyrie Irving, you seemingly glide on the court, creating space with his precision ball handling ability, and splitting your way through traffic. When you play as Anthony Davis you won’t run the floor like an agile point guard, but you really feel like you can lock down your assignments in the post and use your size to bully opponents in the paint for rebounds. By that same token, while offence and defence feels easier due to the fluidity of players who excel in those areas, it’s become a whole lot tougher to use below average players.
A brand new contested shot graphic has also been added this year, finally allowing players to understand why their well-timed shots rimmed out. It’s a simple addition, but it is nice to know when you have actually taken an uncontested shot.
Casual Gamers: The game is still very unforgiving to those who prefer an arcade style basketball game. Repeatedly spamming 360 rotation moves and jacking up three-point shots from Curry range will result in nothing but a string of Ls. Still, since players feel even more like their real-life counterparts, it is relatively easier to perform superstar-like feats with superstar players.
Hardcore Gamers: Remains as the best simulation style sports game on the market from a gameplay perspective. Yes, 2K18 still has a steep learning curve control wise, and yes, players who choose to go renegade and ignore the coach’s gameplan will find it hard to succeed. But you get out what you put in. Play ‘real’ basketball and you’ll get real results. Longtime fans of the series will be very pleased that smoother gameplay didn’t come at the cost of dumbing down the mechanics.
It seems like just about every single major sports video game franchise is finding a way to incorporate structured narratives into their game modes. The 2K series has included a ‘chose your own adventure’ style MyCareer mode for the past few years now, but for the first-time ever MyGM contains a story as well.
When this feature was first announced we were admittedly quite excited to see how a story driven GM mode would work. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not very well.
Firstly, while the mode contains dialogue, there are no voice overs, leaving you to read (skip) through novel length “cutscenes.” Secondly, the dialogue is not all that intriguing or entertaining to read through.
We could forgive all that, because as we said, you can skip through it. But what we can’t forgive is the bizarre scenarios that play out within the story that effectively strip you of any sort of control over your team.
While playing as the Portland Trail Blazers, the team’s owner approached me and demanded that I trade for Vince Carter because the team needed to “look to the future.” I later learned that the real reason the owner wanted me to trade for VC was because he was selling the team and wanted to help boost the franchise’s overall value. Yeah, nothing says billion dollar team with a bright future quite like having a 40-year-old Vince Carter on a one-year contract.
From there, things only got weirder. After the team was sold, the new owner informed me that he planned on moving the team to Seattle. He also went on to let me know that his son would now be taking over the role of ‘Assistant GM,’ even after I attempted to reject the move repeatedly. Oh, and to make things even more ludicrous, the son then proceeded to go over my head and trade for point guard Tyler Ulis, despite our team not needing another point guard. Damian Lillard was left upset about the deal, and when I informed him that the owner had gone over my head with the trade, he then proceeded to let me know he would be reconsidering his future in Portland. Just to top everything off, the owner demanded we trade into the Draft Lottery, forcing me to scrap all of the Blazers’ depth, as well as the services of C.J. McCollum.
All of this is forced upon you, leaving you to sit back and watch as a fictional owner pulls the puppet strings and ruins your team. While the new MyGM mode may be a great case study in how a bad owner can affect the success of a professional sports franchise, it’s not very fun to play.
Thankfully, you are still able to play a traditional style GM Mode with MyLeague, which allows for custom rosters, league expansion and even offers the ability to add a whole new list of historical NBA greats to current teams.
Casual Gamers: The novelty of having to follow a lunatic owner’s absurd instructions in a story-based GM mode may actually be appealing to someone who isn’t looking to spend weeks of their real time developing a franchise from the ground up. And even if you are looking for a straight forward, casual GM experience, that’s available as well.
Hardcore Gamers: Don’t even bother with the new MyGM mode. It will only cause you headaches, as the majority of the things you’re forced to do make absolutely no sense. Thankfully MyLeague is just as deep as ever, allowing you to really put on your GM suit and run a team with your own hires and not the son of a fictional egomaniac owner.
The biggest changes by far in this year’s game come in the MyCareer mode. The traditional menu system that had you bouncing in and out of MyCareer, to Pro-Am, to My Court to the Playground is now a thing of the past, replaced by an interconnected neighbourhood.
Think of the ‘The Neighbourhood’ as an open-world lobby. Your personal court, the gym, your team’s practice facility, shops and a set of streetball courts are now all situated within a three block span of one another.
While you do have to now walk from mode to mode rather than simply press “exit,” we really enjoyed the sense of immersion that it offered. Just like a real-life pro you could develop a routine with your MyPlayer. Put up some shots on your personal court, walk over to the gym to make sure you were fit for the next game, head to practice to work on some drills, then walk on over to Foot Locker to check out the latest shoes to wear in a streetball game in your neighbourhood later that evening.
Getting rid of the menus in MyCareer definitely doesn’t save you time, but it did make the grind on the ‘Road to 99’ feel a lot less like a grind, and oh boy is there a grind in 2K18.
One of our biggest gripes with NBA 2K18 is how long it takes to develop your character. We’re all for earning your stripes, but there were periods where I played five straight games in MyCareer where my character recorded a double-double, and yet I didn’t even receive enough VC (the in-game currency) to bump up my player’s rating from a 76.
The game is far too stingy with how it hands out VC, which really becomes a problem when you start to look at all of the prices for upgrades and accessories. The sponsor bonus I received for winning an NBA title was 1000 VC. That doesn’t even buy you a third of a pair of Jordan Vs, let alone a meaningful upgrade to your player’s attributes. It’s almost as if you’re living in present time with a salary from 1959, like 2K didn’t account for inflation. It would be nice to see this change in the future, as MyCareer is a central part of the 2K experience and you really shouldn’t feel like you are required to shell out real money to improve in the game.
Oh, and as for the cutscenes that are included in MyCareer? They will make you wish that the mode didn’t have VO, just like MyGM. If you thought that the characters from past NBA 2K story modes were a little too goofy, just wait until you have to watch these unskippable cutscenes.
Casual Gamer: This one is tough. The game mode is truly exceptional in how much it offers up. However, there is a serious amount of grinding required to get your player to even a moderate overall rating, which serves as a barrier to fun. If you don’t have a ton of spare time on your hands and you’re not looking to make in-game purchases, you actually may want to skip out on MyCareer.
Hardcore Gamer: If you’ve played NBA 2K before, then you’re probably already kind of used to the grind. But be forewarned, ratings progression has never been slower in the series. That being said, if you don’t mind the grind, MyCareer’s new Neighbourhood mode has made working on your player more fun than ever before.
Closing Notes & Score
The NBA 2K series currently finds itself in a position similar to the Golden State Warriors. While the franchise has been at the top of the league for years now and shows no signs of slowing down, it’s tough to really make any major improvements, and yet, the competition around them is gathering steam.
The true star of NBA 2K18 is the gameplay. It may not sound as flashy on the back of a box as the introduction of a new game mode, but 2K’s tried and true simulation style gameplay continues to shine like no other game on the market. The changes to MyCareer are also a solid addition to the franchise that will have you going back to the Neighbourhood for months, but the distribution of VC in the mode needs to be addressed. Overall it would be hard not to recommend this game to fans of the NBA, because at this point in time, NBA 2K is the king of the digital courts.
NBA 2K18 – 8.5/10