There are plenty of games that are released year after year with only minor changes, but to huge sales and great reviews regardless. The biggest sporting franchises are certainly chief among them, and for many fans the only reason these games are must buys every 12 months is for the updated roster… and because everyone else is doing it, so the multiplayer population has to keep up or drop off.
As someone that loves all things basketball and all things gaming, I’ve played my share of the major basketball franchises over the years, so getting my hands on Visual Concepts’ latest offering was an assignment I was more than keen to embrace to the fullest.
My review of the latest basketball blockbuster from 2K Sports will be taking the updated rosters and multiplayer popularity for granted though, so this week I’ve been playing my way through the many various game modes that NBA2K18 has to offer, all to bring you the most informed critical review possible.
So, how does 2K18 stack up compared to the other NBA games on the market? And how does it rate as a videogame on it’s own merits?
One of the most pleasant surprised of NBA2K18 is the strength of the story, considering most AAA sports games only tack on a story as an afterthought, both the MyPlayer and MyGM modes offer thorough and enjoyable story modes that add just enough character choice to make it feel truly interactive.
There are no major plot twists or must-see moments, but overall the combination and depth of the two seperate stories are some of the best in the genre, and genuinely enjoyable on their own.
The heart of NBA2K18 is still basketball simulation, and on that important count the gameplay and presentation don't disappoint.
Some loading screens and the potentially marathon length of real-time games complete with media interaction and all the bells and whistles can dampen the interest factor compared to other genres, but critically the latest in the 2K NBA franchise delivers one of the most smooth and exciting gaming adaptations of basketball I've ever played.
The animations and shot mechanics aren't hugely different to an outsider's eye, but the game is genuinely more fun and competitive to play as a result of these improvements.
The on court action looks as close to photo realistic that we've seen, and even the recreated all star players from by-gone eras don't look out of place despite not having the same live capture technology to model them, but the art choices of the open world neighbourhood mode aren't particularly inspired and it's far easier to make a MyPlayer character look terrible than it is to get the look you're going for.
The in-game UI is easier to follow than other NBA games though, which definitely makes this an overall win for the visuals.
A fun pumping soundtrack is the hallmark of a good sports game, and from the get go NBA2K18 didn't let me down.
Throw in a really well mixed balance of court noises, crowd noises and commentary that manages to avoid the "so repetitive and annoying that it's a parody of itself" pitfalls of other games all contribute to making this one of the better listening experiences going around.
With so much content it's inevitable that even this slick commentary and soundtrack might start to grate, but in my first week with the game I'm still loving it, so it deserves top marks here.
Remaking the exact same game as last year but with an updated roster is a bad concept for a videogame, especially in an era when live updates allow rosters and results to stay up to date with the NBA season in real time.
Thankfully the devs over at Visual Concepts have put together something that feels genuinely fresh with some of the implementations of this same old concept, which is enough to bring it up to a pass mark.
You might be surprised to see such a low score considering my high praise for the variety of game modes, the story elements and the core gameplay, but whether it's an inevitable element of such an ambitious and massive project (this game has everything, even before you start customising your game modes and experience) or whether it's something more sinister, this game is certainly not without some significant flaws.
Minor annoyances like insisting on using a My2K account, but then not all players being successful in registering (have fun entering your e-mail address twice every time you start the game) to the face scan on the companion app not working are poor enough execution to bump the score down a little, but the MyCareer mode is so reliant on the virtual currency and so slow to progress (even more so thanks to the otherwise interesting neighbourhood mode meaning you have to job everywhere instead of navigating a menu) that for anyone that can't play this game full-time, finishing the career mode becomes a pay to win (or even pay to look good) experience, much to its detriment.
Throw in 6GB worth of bug fixes and updates in the first week alone, and you've got a game that barely balances some major problems against some fantastic features.
Compared to other NBA2K or NBA Live titles, sure, NBA2K18 brings some cool new twists to the genre, but ultimately it's just a better version of last years game, and they'll be trying to release a slightly better version again this time next year.
While not as co-op and multiplayer friendly as the basketball games from before "online only" multiplayer came into vogue, NBA2K18 is one of the most varied and accessible mutliplayer experiences going right now.
Pick up and play challenge modes are easy to get into on street courts of the MyCareer neighbourhood and all the other expected multiplayer modes return. Add in a salary cap mode to make things more interesting in the MyTeam game mode, plus the All-Star rosters of the greatest all time teams from each NBA franchise and there's plenty here for everyone to play together.
On the other hand, basketball simulation games as in-depth as this one take hours to play even the most straight forward game, so don't expect to just pick up a controller and play with a friend unless you've planned a solid session.
Even though the game is repetitive by its very nature, and despite the big turn off that the micro-transactions and virtual currency put in slowing down the MyCareer mode, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm as addicted to playing entire seasons of NBA2K18 from fantasy draft through to trying to achieve a three-peat of consecutive playoff championships. With the added interest of the MyGM story and the unique excitement of mixing some of the greatest players of all time into the current NBA roster, this is definitely the game mode I'll be coming back to over and over again.
Although it has it's fair share of disappointments, I really appreciate the solid fundamentals that NBA2K18 brings to the virtual basketball court. With enough game modes and complexity on offer to find your own fun, chances are you'll thoroughly enjoy this one if you're in the market for a new basketball game and you definitely won't be left wanting in terms of size and scope... you might even still be working your way through it when NBA2K19 hits the shelves next year!