When the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics tip off the NBA season on October 17, the teams’ All-Star point guards will be reversed. The Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas swap was the biggest story in an offseason filled with surprises. The trade had implications for NBA 2K18, as a revised edition will be released with cover athlete Kyrie Irving in his new Celtics uniform. While 2K Games couldn’t revise the cover in time for launch, when playing the opening game of the season in 2K18, the storyline is already there. The announcers discuss the trade, and the effects it will have on each team — in detail. The trade was finalized on August 31, and yet, just over two weeks later, 2K18 remains in lockstep with the intricacies of the constantly changing NBA landscape. From the opening tip, as you’ll read in our NBA 2K18 review, 2K Games displays the essence of what makes the series so consistently great — its dedication to the finest of details in order to make a living, breathing adaptation of the NBA experience.
With 2K18, though, developer Visual Concepts wasn’t satisfied with simply delivering the best simulated basketball we’ve ever played; the studio has taken risks with its MyCareer mode, converting it into an all-encompassing social experience, that both emphasizes the cultivation of a future NBA legend and the camaraderie of pick up basketball in a neighborhood that could very well be yours. While it’s not a complete slam dunk, the strides made here, and in the other major modes, easily convert the layup to make NBA 2K18 the greatest entry thus far.
The meeting of hardwood and blacktop
In one of the most interesting moves in sports game history, MyCareer, which sees you creating a player and taking him on a journey from unheralded prospect to NBA legend, has transitioned into an open world social experience dubbed “Neighborhood.” The focus on this mode is so prevalent that the first thing you do when you boot up 2K18 is create your player. The ultimate goal of Neighborhood is to advance your player from a mere 60 overall rating to a 99 (higher than any current NBA star in 2K18).
Like previous years, there’s a storyline in MyCareer. Your character is a former DJ who wants to get back to his B-ball roots by competing in the Proving Ground competition. Shortly thereafter, you’ll get an NBA tryout with the team of your choice, and be signed on as undrafted rookie. Also like previous years, the storyline isn’t very good at all. The dialogue is corny, the cut scenes are uninspired, and the direct ascension from street ball standout to playing on an NBA roster is more than a tad ludicrous. Your interactions with actual NBA teammates consist of head nodding and dancing, probably because 2K couldn’t pay more than a few NBA stars to provide lines for the narrative. Instead, a fake NBA teammate and fake assistant coach serve as your mentors and communication interface in practice and in the locker room. The story doesn’t even register when compared to Madden’s Longshot and FIFA’s The Journey.
MyCareer has transitioned into an intriguing open world social experience dubbed “Neighborhood.”
Fortunately the hackneyed story is more in the background than ever, and doesn’t detract much at all from the real reason to play MyCareer — the social experience. In between games, you have free reign to walk around the neighborhood, get a fresh fade at the barbershop, work out at the gym, buy new kicks at Foot Locker, or play mini-basketball at the arcade. Most of the time outside of NBA games and practices, though, you’ll be heading towards the blacktop courts to call next in pick-up games against other real players. The Playground has 3-on-3 and 2-on-2 courts, the downtown court has a multitude of shooting challenges, and King of the Court lets you face off 1-on-1. A Pro-Am gym lets you assemble a five-man squad with players you meet in the neighborhood.
The pickup games provide a different, more freeing experience than the full, simulated games you’ll play with your NBA teammates in arenas. These two styles of basketball complement one another, and since each goes towards leveling up your player, it all blends together into a cohesive package.
Seemingly taking the social considerations into account, created players now have two archetypes instead of the one. Your initial stats and ceilings correlate with your choice of a main and secondary skill. You can choose to be a three-point aficionado and a pass first-point guard for instance, giving you a varied set of strengths. This translates well for pick-up games, as the number of archetype combinations ensures that your teammates will likely excel at different facets on the court.
In previous editions of MyCareer, once you hit 99 overall, the NBA action grew stale, but with the social element and the sheer plethora of skill badges to work toward, Neighborhood feels like it could hold your interest for as long as players keep logging on to hoop at the playground.
Hey, that IS LeBron
Eventually, you’ll want to bounce out of Neighborhood and take control of NBA stars. Out of the four major professional sports, basketball players’ lightweight uniforms make them the most exposed. From hair, to facial features, to biceps, all the way down to tattoos, NBA players are more visible by default. This leads them to be more recognizable in the real world, but in the realm of 2K, it has led to increased scrutiny. While 2K has always done a respectable job making the biggest stars mostly recognizable, it’s not often you looked at a player of even LeBron’s notoriety and said, “Wow, that really, really looks like him.” 2K18 changes that. Player likenesses have taken more than a few steps forward from 2K17, and that extends all the way down to lesser known bench players.
Moreover, there’s a considerable uptick in the fluidity and accuracy of player animations. Previously, animations, especially when going into the paint, were beleaguered and often played out repetitively regardless of each player’s innate strengths and weaknesses. In 2K18, animations are realistic. They are snappier, and take account of player size and acceleration, but most importantly their individual play style. You’ll recognize LeBron slashing into the paint, Kyrie twisting ankles, Steph Curry flipping up a long three pointer with ease. The players look and play the part, making it the most visually accurate representation of player-by-player nuance in an NBA game to date. It’s by no means perfect, as you’ll see the occasional awkward angle, exaggerated motion, or contorted body. But it’s a considerable jump from 2K17–more than we’d expect in one year.
The basics done right
Like player animations, the basic gameplay of NBA 2K18 has improved in key areas from 2K17 to 2K18. Visual Concepts attempted to implement a skill-based shooting mechanic last year that seemed to take too much chance into account, artificially reducing players’ abilities to make consistent shots. The end result was an erratic, often frustrating experience. 2K18 fixes these issues, with shot conversions affected by timing, context (player motion and position in relation to defenders), and stats. This lends a more realistic complexity to shooting, while also leaving room for growth. Directly following each shot attempt, an on screen prompt notes how well you timed your shot and how open you were when you fired it. This simple, but smart addition of instant feedback instills the logic that both your timing and basketball awareness matter.
To set up more efficient shots, passing the rock has become more predictable and efficient thanks to a combination of factors. The quickened player animations mitigate those pesky scenarios when passes seem to zoom past teammates that they shouldn’t. 2K has let players choose their passing targets for years, but basic passing (pressing X on PS4) now offers an easy, but helpful addition. Previously, you weren’t always sure if pressing just the pass button would send the ball towards your intended target. Now, tapping the button sends it to the closest teammate, whereas holding the button allows you to make cross-court heaves. Again, like shooting, this passing improvement is subtle but meaningful for both casual and serious players. Additionally, a more in-depth passing feature for experienced players lets you take control of the teammate you want to pass to and issue commands as to the route they should take to receive the pass. It gives you a fine degree of control that, when in the swing of it, makes you feel as if you are directing a basketball symphony.
These mechanical improvements make the already sound basketball sim even more appealing.
Make your own dynasty
The mechanical improvements make the simulation experience better, especially in standard 5v5 game modes where players tend to spend the bulk of their time. This time around, your created player can get in on the 5-on-5 traditional simulation – sort of. In MyGM: The Next Chapter, six years after suffering a career ending injury, you return to your team as the new GM.
This mode, like MyCareer, has a narrative element, but its presentation is severely lacking. Mouths open but voice acting doesn’t come out — you have to read all of the text in cut scenes that are often more like static set pieces with flapping jaws. Ultimately, The Next Chapter is not very different from the regular franchise mode, adding interactions with the media and decisions to make about personnel. But really, that happens in the regular franchise mode anyways, where you already had roster control. Here, you merely are forced to think and act on the fly when questions are lobbed your way through dialogue trees, but none of your choices feel consequential. It’s basically franchise mode with filler.
It’s a shame that the presentation isn’t up to snuff, but frankly, given the depth and quality of the additions throughout the rest of the game, we’re a bit surprised it’s there at all. With a bit more development, however, it could become an interesting twist on franchise mode in future iterations.
It’s basically franchise mode with filler.
The additions to MyLeague — the straight-up franchise mode — are minimal but keep with 2K’s dedication to authenticity. You can now offer players supermax contracts, sign players on for two-way deals (a combined NBA/NBA G League contract), defer players picked in the draft (draft and stash), and the offseason now has the moratorium before free agency begins which limits you to only getting verbal agreements from free agents.
The other major tentpole of 2K, the card collecting mode MyTeam, has received some welcome improvements that get it close to the level of EA’s Ultimate Team suites. Pack and Playoffs, the new draft mode, tasks you with putting together a five man lineup (no bench) and face off in a round robin style online tournament. Along with Pack and Play, a bevy of single player and online challenges are at your disposal, with each helping you to expand your collection. Cards have been redesigned, and like Ultimate Team, they have more exciting reveal animations that let you flip them over. It’s the little things that make the card collecting modes engaging, and MyTeam offers enough variety to keep you coming back to fill out your collection.Our Take
Visual Concepts continues to show that it’s not settling on simply producing a great basketball sim each year. NBA 2K18 makes strides in both visuals and gameplay, while introducing an endearing social experience blended within MyCareer. The two story modes don’t impress, but their surrounding parts are so strong that they become an afterthought.
Is there a better alternative?
No, the NBA 2K series is king, and NBA 2K18 is the best basketball sim to date.
How long will it last?
NBA 2K18’s main three modes — MyCareer, MyLeague, MyTeam — each offer dozens upon dozens of hours of content. The social experience in MyCareer in particular could hold players until the inevitable NBA 2K19.
Should you buy it?
If you like basketball, absolutely. Even casual fans who feel satisfied with an older edition should highly