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NBA 2K18 gives gamers more control than ever

Team GFG, right, and team Drewkerbockers, left, seen at the NBA 2K16 Road to the Finals championship event on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. Two teams of gamers go head to head during a competition that merges simulation basketball with eSports for a shot at $250,000 and a trip to the 2015-2016 NBA Finals. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision for NBA 2K/AP Images)
Dan Steinberg/Invision for NBA 2K/AP Images

The 2K franchise has been on top of the basketball world for nearly a decade now. While Live has always thrived with a slant toward arcade gameplay, 2K has made its mark on realism. 2K’s simulation-based gameplay, top-notch graphics and depth of its first person mode (first called 24/7, now known as MyCareer) has helped it become the premier basketball title on the market as well as one of the most successful gaming series ever.

The developers at 2K didn’t sit on their hands for this year’s game; they improved the game in virtually every area. By any measure, NBA 2K18 is the deepest, most detailed and visually appealing game of the series. Let’s take a look at the major areas of this game.

PRESENTATION/GRAPHICS: A+

Look at prime Paul Pierce here, and tell me this isn’t the best-looking sports game out there:

The player models are slimmer and more detailed. Faces have more definition this year; tattoos are more detailed and visible. Players that have had “meh” scans like Dwyane Wade look just like their real life counterparts now.

The presentation has always been top notch, but 2K somehow managed to get better. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have been added as special guest commentators for select games. The banter between Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith remains hilarious. Kevin Harlan brings that extra oomph in the booth, especially when a highlight play occurs.

One small addition I like: the post-quarter cut scenes. After each quarter, a short slideshow of pictures from gameplay flashes across the screen. It’s a change-up from the cheerleader cut scenes or the typical “slowly zoom out until the screen fades to black” routine. It’s also a quick opportunity for gamers to see just how good the game looks.

GAMEPLAY: B+

This is, by far, the smoothest version of 2K I’ve ever played. More animations were added, but they don’t feel forced like they have in previous years. The dribbling is more responsive, the post-play is easier, driving to the basket feels better and the perimeter defense is better. What also stands out is the amount of off-ball activity on both ends.

On offense, players are constantly on the move; last year’s game was frustrating at times because of how quickly the offense would stagnate. Off-ball screening is much improved: Guys like J.J. Redick read how defenders are playing them and take different paths to take advantage.

Defensively, teams rotate more smoothly and pre-rotate more than they did in previous editions of the game. That isn’t always a good thing; the help logic is still a bit busted, and corner 3s are still given up too easily. As you can see in the clip/tweet below, Heat forward James Johnson rotates to the paint — leaving the shooter — despite Hassan Whiteside being in position:

Positioning and timing matter more than ever on defense; that’s realistic, but also pretty frustrating. Unless you have a player with the pick-pocket badge, it’s probably best that you don’t reach for steals. It feels like reaching fouls are called more this year, though you can tone that down with sliders. If you’re not in position for a block, you will be called for a foul. Heck, sometimes you’ll be in position and still get called for one.

The shot meter is still inconsistent. You’re able to change the color of the meter now, which is neat. There are still too many instances of missing jumpers with a full bar (without getting the excellent release). Making layups is pretty random now since they removed the meter after a year. At the very least, 2K should’ve given you the option to have it on or off.

MyCareer: B+

This is the area where 2K made its largest leap.

We’ll start with MyCareer mode. The story is rather odd: your character, DJ, is a 21-year-old player-turned-DJ (original, right?) looking to make his return to basketball. What sets this year’s game apart is the introduction of The Neighborhood, a GTA-style online community.

You can now walk to the practice facility, shoot around or do badge-specific drills to improve your player. You can walk over to the training facility and lift weights, run on a treadmill, do rope exercises, run sprints and more. If you need to meet up with your agent to talk endorsements, you can head over to his office.

Want some new clothes? Walk over to Swag’s or head to the T-shirt kiosk for custom shirts designed and uploaded by other gamers. You can head to the barbershop and choose from an array of new hairstyles, as well as chop it up with the barbers and other NBA stars who may appear. Get fresh kicks at Foot Locker or get some accessories for your player at the NBA Store. You can even kill some time by going to a recording studio.

The biggest goal, aside from putting up the most ridiculous stats possible, is to get your player’s rating to 99. You can do this by playing NBA games, doing those badge-specific drills, playing in Pro-Am or playing in Park games.

2K added a secondary archetype to MyCareer this year, something gamers had been clamoring for. You can go with pure archetypes (example: sharpshooter/sharpshooter) in order to unlock hall-of-fame level badges. Otherwise, you can mix and match any way you see fit.

I am … not the biggest fan of how they handled rating improvement this year. The VC multiplier you used to get for playing on “superstar” or “hall of fame” difficulty is gone, making the process even longer (while also encouraging gamers to spend money on VC to speed up the process).

(And seriously, 2K: Either give us the ability to upgrade free throw shooting like we can with virtually everything else or allow us to shoot free throws at practice any time we want. There’s no reason a sharpshooter should spend the first month and a half hitting free throws at a 65 percent rate.)

The cut scenes during the story are also hit-or-miss. This is mostly due to DJ’s friend “B-Fresh” being one of the most annoying video game characters of all time. The scenes with your team’s analytics guy hit on just about every stereotype out there.

Nitpicking aside, it’s hard not to love MyCareer this year.

OTHER GAME MODES: A-

MyGM mode is absurd this year. I won’t spend too much time on this — FanRag’s own Zach Harper already went in depth on it — but adding a story to this mode made it more fun to play. My only gripe is that, because of the story, you aren’t able to import custom rosters to start.

Aside from the story, the mode is also more detailed. There’s a moratorium period in free agency. You have to account for cap holds. You can draft-and-stash players, signed young players to two-way contracts, and send players to the G-League. Of course, you can still create and import custom draft classes.

If you want to skip the story and go right into team building or relocation, MyLeague is the mode for you. Here, you can import your custom rosters and customize the league how you see fit. You can do things like alter the salary cap and how much it rises. You can change how quickly players progress or regress.

MyTeam mode is back with a pair of new twists: Pack and Playoffs and Super Max. The “pack draft” is exactly what it sounds like: You choose from packs and build the best possible team from those packs. The “Super Max” implements a salary cap where you must build the best team possible under the cap. New “Strategy Cards” put a premium on coaches, which is a nice touch.

“Quick Game” typically isn’t noteworthy, but it is this year because of the teams that are available. EuroLeague teams are gone (not sure why), but All-Time rosters for all 30 teams are available. There are some notable players missing due to licensing rights (Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Rasheed Wallace, etc.), but playing with legends at their peak is as fun as you’d expect.

CUSTOMIZATION: B+

2K has always had the deepest collection of virtual shoes and gear. LaVar Ball’s inclusion in MyCareer means we’ll probably see some Big Baller Brand kicks in the game at some point.

The one complaint players have had, for years, was the lack of hairstyles. 2K has finally answered the call on that front, giving you plenty of options from which to choose. The Odell Beckham (for NBA purposes, the Allen Crabbe) is in the game this year, and I can’t tell you how many players I’ve seen with that style online.

The ability to create custom rosters and draft classes are still available. One odd thing that’s missing is the ability to alter wingspan when creating a player; that feature is only available in MyCareer. However, the custom shot creator is now fully available, as opposed to being a MyCareer-only feature last year. As a roster creator, I can’t tell you how helpful that feature has been for creating the most accurate roster possible.

One thing NBA nerds like myself will enjoy: the ability to build custom rotations across the board. It was strictly a MyGM/MyLeague feature last year, but it’s also available in the “edit roster” section. If you’re someone that doesn’t like dealing with manual, in-game substitutions (like me), this is an easy way to bypass that.

Gone are the days of Doc Rivers-like platoon swaps, going key stretches of games with all-bench lineups. If you have a team with multiple stars like the Warriors or Thunder, you can stagger your stars:

If there’s a downside to this feature, it’s that it takes a little while to get used to it. There’s a paint mode (manual control of minutes), position mode (pretty self-explanatory), role mode (can basically swap minutes/positions of two players) and a substitution mode (can control when each unit comes in). I found it easier to go into paint mode, clear everything and start from scratch.

VERDICT: A-

There are things to nitpick, but overall, 2K18 is a phenomenal experience for both casual and diehard NBA fans. They catered to the entertainment-based fan with story modes while also giving nerds more control with detailed rotations and more CBA rules to follow.

Just in case it needs to be said: 2K18 blew Live 18 out of the water, again.



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