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June 2023

NBA 2K18

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2017

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PS4 Review - 'NBA 2K18'

by Michael Keener on Sept. 27, 2017 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

NBA 2K18 continues the franchise's tradition as the gold standard of basketball simulation across all platforms with unrivaled realism and true NBA gameplay.

Buy NBA 2K18

Another year, another entry in the NBA 2K franchise. NBA 2K18 is the 19th iteration, and if you plan to look for the physical version in stores, keep an eye out for cover athlete, Kyrie Irving, in his new Boston Celtics jersey. Some people may feel that the cover athlete is all that changes between annual versions of sports games, since we often see a few technical tweaks, slight changes to animations and character appearances, and the story mode details change a bit. However, it feels like 2K18 received a complete makeover, as the game feels polished and pushes the boundaries of basketball simulation. 

Players who download and install the digital version of the game will be treated to a quick practice match between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, which were the two conference champions from last season. The most immediate changes are in the dribbling and the shooting, but the player models are also skinnier.

During a dribble, the ball no longer feels like it follows the player; in previous titles, you could be halfway into a move and decide to shoot, which made the ball snap to the intended hand. In 2K18, the player has more control over the ball. I dribbled near half-court and flicked the analog stick to adjust quickly. After passing to the shooting guard, I put the ball on the court for a couple of dribbles before I scored an easy layup in the lane. Previously, you'd need to anticipate the timing and acceleration of when the dribble move would complete, so you'd need to learn each player's animation, but now, you can tell when it feels right.

It's much easier to blow past a defender, but on the flipside, that also means it's difficult to defend the ball. Unless you control a player with strong defensive attributes, you'll probably need some teammates to rotate in and help. The AI has received a massive update to how the players analyze and react to these situations. I rarely saw the AI hugging the offensive matchup unless they were an established threat on the perimeter. Due to the ease of blowing past defenders, the defense will have the advantage on pick and rolls. It's easy for them to slip under or push above the screen. If they decide to switch, the game is extremely responsive, so you'll rarely pull off beautiful plays from the pick and roll unless you have a ball handler who specializes in it or a big player who specializes in bullying and screening.

The shooting mechanics are the second biggest improvement in this year's iteration.  Similar to the dribble moves, it's easier to execute the move based on how it looks and feels. The shot meter is in the top left, and it's timed perfectly with the release of each player's jumpshot. Once I realized how polished that was, I started to ignore the shot meter altogether and focused on the animation. I can't remember the last time I felt like I could play with almost any character and perfectly time their shots without needing the shot meter. Wide-open shots with no pressure are the most beautiful moments, since you can focus on the player's shooting animation. Gone are the days of "wide open" shots just because the game thinks the defender isn't touching the shooter. Shots are evaluated by two factors now — the shot timing and how open or defended you are — and both determine the success of the shot after it leaves your fingertips.

The MyCareer mode has received significant improvements, mostly in the archetype setups. In the story mode, you decide which of the five positions you want to play (center, point guard, power forward, shooting guard or small forward) and decide their height and weight. If you play a point guard, the taller and heavier you make them, the slower and stronger they will be. If you make him shorter and lighter, he will be extremely fast and have more control over the ball. It's important to match this with the main and secondary archetypes. There used to be a few ways to build a god-like character, but that seems to have been resolved with archetypes.

For a point guard, if the main archetype is "ball handler," the ball control stats will cap three-fourths of the way, but they'll be lower in the shooting department. If "ball handler" is also the secondary archetype, the ball control stats will max out. If "3pt shooting" is selected as the secondary, then your shooting receives a higher cap limit. There's a diversity of player types for you to make depending on your personal play style. My favorite aspect of MyCareer is being able to sit down and talk to the GM about where the franchise should be headed. You can suggest who stays, who gets traded, who gets signed, playing time, etc. This is such a simple inclusion and makes a massive difference for immersion.

When it comes to the neighborhood, the area where you participate in park competitions, there are plenty of good and bad aspects. Initially, I really liked the social hub feel, but I didn't care for running back and forth into different stores to get a new haircut and then look for some new shoes. The store-lined street reminded me of GTA Online, which some will think is cool, but others may find that it gets old after a while. To be fair, this is the first time the developers have taken this approach, so its future success is up in the air.

The competition online is pretty similar to the past few games, with some players who buy their way to the top with game currency known as VC, which can be purchased with real money, and it can also be earned by playing almost any game mode. The first week will have a huge gap in player ratings, but if you can battle through this disadvantage (or are comfortable spending money), then there's a fun experience here. I've seen a couple of play style exploits, but it can't be avoided. It's a competitive world, but it can be worthwhile if you have a couple of good friends to join in the fun.

You can play another story game mode in MyGM. It's not as exciting as MyCareer, but it's pretty fun. The story explains how you were once a superstar in the league, but after a few years out of the game due to a tragic injury, you land a job as the GM for one of the NBA teams. You'll be tasked with managing the building of the team, staff expectations, and potentially relocating the franchise. Supermax contracts make for some wild and outlandish contract signings. There will be many choices that arise as you progress, and how you handle them determines the direction of the narrative.

The NBA 2K franchise still has a tight grip on the basketball marketplace. This has been the best year in regards to improvements for quite a while, and it couldn't have come at a more crucial time. With Electronic Arts reviving its NBA Live franchise, 2K needs to stay on their toes. I don't think it's an issue at the moment, but that lead may dwindle in the future if the recently released Madden 18 is any indication of where the story mode is headed in NBA games.

The changes that have occurred in NBA 2K18 are great, and everything feels more polished and confident. The dribbling and shooting are arguably the most noteworthy changes, as they feel and look more realistic than ever. The MyCareer mode is a lot better than it has been in the past few years, mostly due to the balance of archetypes. You can now safely play the way you want and not suffer any long-term setbacks. Overall, NBA 2K18 is the pinnacle of basketball simulation games, and it offers more than enough reasons to upgrade now rather than waiting for next year's offering.

Score: 9.0/10

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