Available on PS4, Xbox One (version tested), Nintendo Switch, PS3 and Xbox 360
Given the sheer amount of annual sports titles that arrive each year it’s always hard to make a definitive statement about any one of them simply because it’s impossible to tell what the next iteration will bring. Developers often reveal sweeping changes that have been quietly worked on over the course of multiple cycles, whereas others are keen just to fiddle with the existing template. With that said, it’s safe to safe that NBA 2K18 may be one of the best sports games ever.
Building off an already very successful format, the real joy with Visual Concepts’ latest is just how dedicated it is to replicating the sport of basketball within a video game, and good grief, has the team done a great job.
There’s hardly anything here that doesn’t match up to what you expect from watching it on TV, and the sheer differences you’ll experience depending on your setup are, frankly, ridiculous.
Take your run-of-the-mill players and the major names we all associate with basketball. While all sports titles will ensure that a superstar is more skilled and proficient, it’s completely distinct in NBA 2K18 because you can actually feel how different they are, and not just because LeBron James is more likely to be a nuisance on the court.
Be it height, weight, ball control, shot ability, dribbling or intelligence, no two players are alike here and the way it can transform your approach is mind-boggling. Sound tactics and a specific strategy depending who your opposition is essential if you don’t want to be utterly destroyed.
This is helped further because the game itself is far more free flowing than it was in 2016 to the point at first you’ll be slightly thrown off. It’s no longer a case of waiting for the expected animations and learning how to circumvent them. Now you have to be prepared for any and all outcomes meaning you can’t just wash, rinse, repeat any approach that may have worked previously. You have to play basketball and think on your feet – it’s truly something you can only appreciate by actually playing it for yourself.
There are obviously minor tweaks that help with this, such as a revised shot meter and a feedback system that is far more robust and sensical than 12 months ago. 2K17 always threatened to make any shot feel far more ‘hurl and hope’ than was fair. That’s not the case anymore with every movement you make being processed as to whether you succeed or fail.
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Getting an instant evaluation on your shot, too, to let you know what you did wrong so you can continually try and improve is wonderful. It’s small touches like this that put 2K18 a country mile ahead of anything that could be considered competition.
In many ways this would have been enough given how well it simulates basketball, but it’s everything around it that will keep you hooked all year long. There are so many modes here, each with an abundance of options, that it’s difficult to fathom how you’ll get to all of them without just giving up on life. It’s absurdly deep, the career option being a genuine delight.
While it’s nothing new for a sports game to let you choose a player and go from zero to hero, Visual Concepts has become masters at it because of the bells and whistles that come along with the idea. For starters the overall presentation is near perfect, replicating what you’d see on ESPN to an almost anal degree. Pre and post-match segments are as entertaining as a closely fought encounter, and Shaquille O’Neil’s punditry deserves to win an award all of its own. I’m not entirely sure the former Los Angeles Lakers center doesn’t actually live inside 2K18’s code.
This goes on, too, be it the commentary, the visuals or the animations, all of which create such a lifelike experience it makes a mockery of what other people are trying to do within the genre. I’d be amazed if someone could even copy this let alone best it. It’s simply that good.
There’s more as well, right down to a mini-hub area known as ‘The Neighborhood’ where you can essentially control any aspect of what’s on offer. As well as allowing you to participate in some mini-games, train or just see who else is present, it also serves as a way to accelerate the process should you not want to faff around with such extras. If you want to get as close to a sport as games allow, then this is for you.
It’s only fair to highlight that, as before, 2K’s focus on monetisation is extremely in your face, right down to buying Gatorade to replace your stamina mid-hustle. You could argue this is what happens in reality, so why not here, and that’s fair to a point. It’s also very easy to ignore should you wish, but there’s quite clearly a push here to drown you in Virtual Currency to profit as much as possible. It’s an industry at the end of the day so it’s not a huge surprise, but 2K18 is far more aggressive with it than most.
Ultimately, though, it’s easy to look past because of how good everything else here is. It may be utterly lost on you if you pine for the good old days of NBA Jam, but those who want to sim their favourite sport to the nth degree are going to be head over heels in love here. It’s as close to the complete package as you may ever get.
This does, naturally, mean if basketball isn’t your thing then NBA 2K18 may not float your boat, but that should’ve really been obvious from the name. Either way, 2K has outdone themselves this year. 2018 is going to very interesting indeed…