If you’re a gamer and a basketball fan then you likely hold the NBA 2K series in some reverence. I first fell in love with the series when it had my childhood idol of Allen Iverson on the cover, and over the years it has established itself as the undisputed king of hoops dethroning NBA Live from both a critical and commercial perspective. This year it finally has some competition as EA gets back into the realm of digital hoops after taking a year off to retool.
In some ways, NBA 2K18 is able to continue raising the bar it already set in its previous installments. The on-court basketball feels as good as ever, and it doesn’t get more satisfying than breaking a defender’s ankles and then sinking a three-pointer as Steph Curry. They’ve made several tweaks to mechanics, such as shooting, that help make a successful shot a combination of player skill and character attributes, and enhanced passing that allows the player to dish the ball like never before. It’s the natural evolution of a game that already played incredibly well.
The only thing that tops the actual gameplay is the presentation, which is shockingly like a broadcast. From the pre-game segments that have Shaq giving his own brand of analysis to the mid-game interview segments that have NBA superstars discussing the finer points of their game, it all feels like watching a real basketball broadcast. I know many people will simply mash the X button to get past these segments, but I found myself watching them more often than not simply because I was impressed with how well it all gelled. The presentation manages to enhance games, especially during a season, as they’re able to create a cohesive narrative during the virtual matches
Sadly, not everything is incredible in NBA 2K18. One of my favorite modes in past years has been its MyCareer offering that has me creating my own character and watching their career unfold. I’ve always had a blast in this mode, no matter if it was watching the story of Frequency Vibrations (I’ll always be a “Friend of Freq”) unfold, or deciding to make Riff Raff become an NBA point guard. That simply wasn’t the case here, as it tries to mix story elements in a less-structured environment, and it winds up falling completely flat.
The first red flag is that I hated every character I encountered. From my own character, a former DJ who somehow gets spotted at a streetball tournament and unrealistically starts getting NBA minutes on day one, to the annoying agent and terrible roommate, I didn’t want to deal with any of them. I just wanted to play ball, but more often than not I found myself staring at the screen, and being prompted to respond to text messages I didn’t care about. 2K has added so much nonsense that get in the way of actually just playing basketball, such as having to walk around a virtual city in order to buy new clothes, that it gets in the way of what is actually fun.
The entire premise of MyCareer is built around trying to raise your DJ-turned-baller into a superstar with an in-game rating of 99. That’s a tempting proposition at first, as the player winds up progressing at a steady pace early on as they can buy several skills after every game, but after the first couple dozen games they find out that there’s a wall. What makes it even more ridiculous is that the currency used to upgrade your skills is also used to buy in-game items such as shoes, special animations so that your player has some flair on-court, and even haircuts cost as much as a skill point. There’s a constant trade-off, and it feels straight up predatory with how the game will tell the player that they could forego actually playing the game if they just spent some extra money in order to progress.
One’s enjoyment of NBA 2K18 will ultimately come down to what they want out of a basketball title. If you just want to play franchise mode and relive some great NBA games as exhibitions then you’ll be thrilled. There simply isn’t a better playing basketball game on the market, and as much as an improvement NBA Live is upon its predecessors it can’t top 2K18 from a strictly mechanical standpoint. If you enjoy taking a created character through a career, and watching them develop, though, you’ll likely wind up being disappointed. This feels like a step backwards.
You’ll also likely feel gross after being tempted to purchase virtual currency for the 50th time. Sure, it’s all optional, but when nearly everything is tied to it, and progression grinds to a halt, it stops being simply an”easier” way to progress. Instead, it’s the preferred method, and one that 2K is expecting players to use if they’re serious about playing. It’s a really damning state of the industry that I’m feeling pushed away from a game that I really enjoy playing due to a poorly executed business model.
Rarely have I had as many conflicting feelings about a game as much as I do with NBA 2K18. So much about the basketball sim is top-notch, but there are also so many elements that make me want to put it down and never touch it again. From gross business decisions that get in the way of enjoying modes to adding so many elements that get in the way of simply enjoying the on-court action, it winds up being its own worst enemy. Those who just want a solid basketball game to play exhibition matches won’t find anything better, but the rest of the package winds up stepping on its own feet all too often.
NBA 2K18 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.