NBA2K18 is 2K Games' latest development in their successful basketball sports games franchise. Last year's iteration was a disappointment to core fans due to awful server management and below-par game optimisation. With my fingers crossed that Visual Concepts would finally get back on the right track, I jumped in as cautiously optimistic as ever. The outcome? Fantastic ideas, second-rate execution.
NBA2K18's Standard Edition is now available on Steam for $59.99
Firstly, 2K have decided that their artistic vision is more important than your experience so 99% of the cutscenes are completely unskippable. I'm not just talking quick 30 second conversations here either. Some of these theatrical disasters drag for several minutes and you're just sitting there whilst your friends wait impatiently for you to join them. It's so frustrating to arrange a Pro-am or Park session only to pop into your MyCourt for a quick clothes swap out and instead find yourself watching what feels like a bad pantomime.
That brings me onto my second problem. They are unbearably badly done. From the voice acting to the entire script writing, 2K18's stories are absolute cringe festivals where you'll find yourself unconsciously spamming the skip button in hope one day it will work. It won't though. It never does. To be fair though I never expected the cutscenes to be good. However, I did expect to not have to watch every one in its entirety. Forcing your player base to consume things they don't want to is anti-consumer. Crazy right? If people want to watch it, they can. If people don't want to, give them the choice not to. I don't know about you but I don't think that's asking for all that much.
Every NBA2K game tends to feel very nice to play. i'd argue its this aspect that carries the series and makes it so hard for NBA Live to compete.There's no denying that when it comes down to the action on court there's simply nothing as satisfying in the entire sports genre. There's a pleasant fluidity with how dribble moves can chain together and how satisfying it can feel to hit a perfect release three from the perimeter.
I can't pretend its perfect and I certainly feel some work needs to be done still. Case in point, there's nothing more frustrating than how the best method to steal the ball right now is basically to run in front of people and force a loose ball. Its messy, unnatural and devalues the steal stat heavily. Its also hard to ignore that the shot meter appears to be, well, broken. The difference between an early, good and late release are clear but not in the way you'd think. It genuinely seems to be early releases shoot a higher percentage than good ones. The way around this is to shoot by looking at your guys animation instead for those who want to get good but it's still strange considering last year's shot meter was mostly fine.
I don't want to concentrate too heavily on the negatives for this sub-section though because if there is a reason to buy this game, it's the feel of the in game experience. It blew me away when I first played NBA2K17 last year after being a FIFA fan for years. Everything felt so smooth and well put together and 2K18 builds on this further. I originally had planned to rip into the new lay up system but as times gone on I've actually grown to quite like it. Gone is the shot meter for lay ups and instead you have to release when your controller vibrates. The pad feedback is good enough for you to consistently make contested lay ups if you know what you are doing. Complaints in this regard from fans can arguably be put down to a lack of familiarity of the system rather than the system itself not working.
Oh dear. I suppose I should just get this out of the way so everyone's clear about 2K18's biggest problem. This is the single worst instance of microtransactions in a AAA game ever. No over exaggeration. Everything in game circulates around VC (Virtual Currency). From player upgrades to cosmetics to MyTeam packs to the very animations your guy uses in game. This is nothing new. What is new however is that 2K have tried harder than ever to create what can only be described as a AAA mobile game.
No one who plays this game seriously doesn't spend real money on VC. So what I'm sure some of you are thinking. Isn't that their choice? Honestly, not really. Technically yes, they have chosen to buy the VC and pay into the game's nasty business model but it isn't that simple. In MyCareer, 2K's main gamemode, you start off with a 60 overall who effectively can do nothing. It is a miserable experience and so you'll want to upgrade your guy as soon as possible. The answer? Well you just jump into some games, get VC and spend it on your player. Except you don't. Doing this via game playing and no bugs or exploits would take you forever. It costs around 200,000 VC to hit your initial cap on upgrades. That gets you an 85 overall which is pretty nice. Buying 200,000 VC up front with real money will cost £35 or $50. Wow.
They literally designed the game to be as grindy as possible whilst hanging tonnes of tempting cosmetics and upgrades in your face in order you chip you down until you feel the need to open your wallet. People will fall for it though. It happens because it works. Doesn't make it any less awful though. To their credit recent updates have given the game a little more transparency. At the start you couldn't actually see what the upgrades you were doing to your player really affected. Rather than it being 16 out of 25 bars of upgrades gets you 80 lay ups it was just arbitrary upgrade bars with no clear value. You couldn't actually find out what stat increase you got from it until after spending the VC. I wonder why they possibly would have forgot to implement something that encourages blind VC spending *cough*. This has since been added in though. Also, haircuts and hair colors were several thousand VC whilst now they're just 100. Mind you, they were free last game.
The PC Port
The optimisation of 2K17 was awful on pretty much all platforms. This year's PC version has quite surprisingly probably come out as the definite version of 2K18. Whilst the Xbox One and PS4 version suffer from considerably server lag and dire loading times, the PC version runs like a dream on my mid-range gaming PC. There are some frame rate drops in and around The Neighborhood but in game I have yet to see it dip below 60 FPS. Loading times are very respectable with my games often loading quicker than it takes for the pre-game show section to begin. This contrasts pretty heavily to last year on Xbox One where I had several games where the pre-game show finished and I still had to sit there for a couple minute afterward waiting for it to load in.
It's far from perfect though. One of the most bizarre PC issues I've found is that if you squad with your friends in Park but don't mute them in game, it can freeze your PC entirely. That one bewilders me. I've suffered the occasional regular crash but this is a less common issue than last year. With no shortage of video options including the vastly underrated inclusion of the ability to pick which monitor the game appears on, NBA2K18 is a decent PC port. Seriously though, so many games don't do that. It really sucks when your game loads on monitor 2 rather than 1 or vice-versa and there's not a simple fix.
The visual elements are mixed but generally pretty solid for a game of this type. It falls short of something like FIFA which looks gorgeous thanks to EA's Frostbite engine but is still no slouch in its own right. Player models and courts are particularly well done although the characters' faces at times can feel a little dead inside looking.
The only section that is badly done is The Neighborhood which has parts which are just flat out ugly. Some of the back alleys contain dreadful texturing where you can just tell the team put it there because they had to, not because they wanted to. This isn't overly significant though and the core visuals do their job just fine.
Sports games always come with large soundtracks and judging them is often a little hard as it's purely personal musical preference. So far though as of 80 or so hours of casually consuming the OST I can confirm that its worse than 2K17's. Gone are catchy tunes like Imagine Dragon's 'Friction' and in are strangely out of place 80's classics such as Sammy Hagar's 'I Can't Drive 55'. There's a few songs like this which aren't bad in their own right but really don't have much a spot in an NBA soundtrack. I don't think they really fit the game's aesthetic at all.
Outside of this you'd be mostly looking at the in game commentary with Kevin Harlan front lining all the play by play coverage. There's not much to say really. He's a natural at what he does and offers commentary on the same level as any other AAA sports game. Cameos from Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett in select games are nice additions as very few can offer insight on the game quite like they do. A solid job and little to complain about here.
NBA2K18 could have been a very good game but in the end it's nothing more than average and underwhelming. The gameplay is stellar, audio elements are well done and its graphically impressive enough. However, all of this is overshadowed by the painful mobile-esc microtransaction implementation which I wouldn't even expect to see in a free-to-play game, forget one that will set you back $60 in the first place. When your entire game is designed around trying to get people to spend more money because they need to, not because they want to, you've got a huge problem. It's a real shame as I'm a fan of the series and want nothing more than it to be great but 2K18 is far from. Perhaps with more updates and tweaks it can become a good game again but right now I strongly suggest you avoid this until the VC pushing agenda is dropped or at least lowered to a reasonable level.
|+ Gameplay feels better than ever||– Way too focused on selling microtransactions|
|+ Graphically strong with a few rare exceptions||– $60 to buy, $100 to enjoy|
|+ Impressive PC port||– Disappointing soundtrack|
|– Tedious and unskippable cutscenes|