Games Review: NBA 2K18 retains its crown as the king of basketball simulation

The NBA 2k series has dominated the basketball simulator landscape for about a decade now and, with NBA 2K18 finally on our shelves, it’s safe to say that this series still holds the crown. Quite simply, this is the best NBA game you can play right now. Coming up against the NBA Live series for the first time in a while, NBA 2K18 understands its roots and mechanics, and doesn’t stray far in order to change what’s succeeded for the past couple years.

NBA 2K18 is the gold standard for basketball simulators. But this comes at a cost. Gone are the days of game-changing mechanics and over the top stories. NBA 2K18 knows what makes it king and sticks to the plan like glue. It’s safe to say that this year, NBA 2K18 is more of an evolution rather than a revolution, proving the old theory, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Out the gate though, NBA 2K18 shines through and through. It’s graphics and presentation are stellar, with eerily realistic character models across all teams, and more TV like pre- game and post game presentations. Now it’s not to say that NBA 2K18 isn’t the best looking 2K ever, but some changes are noticeably absent, like a new score board or mid game interviews. It’s not that a scoreboard change is that important, but at first glance, it looks like NBA 2K17.5 as a result.

Given presentation is still excellent, NBA 2k18 controls like a dream. Building slightly but noticeably on it’s predecessor, players feel more free on the court, gliding off each other instead of clipping through each other’s bodies, although that does happen from time to time. But being a simulator, NBA 2K18 is staring to understand and refine the perspective of individual players and their positions, forcing you to use each player to their potential, instead of racking up all your stats with a single player. Running plays is still as easy as 2K17 but an improved AI system encourages the need for your basketball IQ and running set plays may sometimes be the best option. As NBA 2K18 practically knows it’s the best, it just doesn’t change too much for longtime fans to rejoice as if a decade long issue is finally resolved here. While it controls better than ever before, it’s still not perfect and does suffer the same rare stiff animations and character clipping as NBA 2K17.

However it’s not all the same in NBA 2K18. Playing a single quick game now allows you to select even more teams, as new retro teams have been added alongside recurring teams like the 96’ Bulls or the 86’ Celtics, but a great new addition here are the all time teams. If you love having conversations about who and what team is the best of all time, this may just settle your dispute. All- time teams are the culmination of a particular team’s best players, all in the one spot. It may seem like a bonkers idea, and I wouldn’t really use these teams against a regular NBA team unless you plan on getting slapped in the face by your friends, pitting these all time teams against each other is a blast and adds a nice touch of fantasy to what is already a deep and varied simulator.

My Team is back for all you card collecting and online fans, and brings with it 2 new modes, pack and playoffs, and super-max. Pack and playoffs includes a draft system where you must draft both your players and coach, and the depth here is just awesome. Selecting players that will play better under a certain coaches strategies is key. For example, if you pick Phil Jackson as a coach, you might want to pick a range of players that are versatile enough to run the triangle offence. The latter mode, Super-Max sees you assembling a team of players that fit within a particular salary cap in an online season scenario and once again, allows your dreams and fantasies to come true.

However the newest mode here is the Road to 99, or the Neighbourhood by extension. The Road to 99 is basically your career mode and it does lots to rectify the career modes of the past. Throwing in once again a sub par narrative, you play as DJ, an upcoming baller on the street competition scene, who then gets noticed by a scout and asked to come to a training camp for whoever you’ve selected as your favourite team. The first thing I noticed here is that you actually get to start playing with your favourite team instead of going through the draft system. While the story and supporting characters are forgettable as always, they are voice acted well enough, but sometimes go a bit over the top.

The newest addition is the neighbourhood as it presents players with an MMO like wide open space for you and other online players  to roam around in, doing whatever you please. Gone are the days of required training and scheduled practices, you can now level up however you want, whenever you want. Hit the gym for a workout, or play on the blacktop street mode for some extra VC. It works much better giving you the freedom to do all this stuff, but your character however, has attributes that are now boosted by NBA 2K18’s Virtual Currency system, which can be a huge grind to get through in game means. But if you had bought the collector’s editions, a VC boost of 100,000 can instantly make your player a star, and this just doesn’t seem fair as it promotes a pay to win scenario as no matter what edition you bought, you can still buy VC through micro-transactions. It just seems a little unfair that players can be rated mid 80’s overall on the first day while you’re stuck at 60 unless you decide to pay.

However while the Road to 99 offers some new if slightly flawed ideas, there are still a plethora of recurring modes like MySeason which takes you through a team’s regular season, or MyGM which sees you in charge of an entire team’s proceedings and business.

NBA 2K18 is like an ageing superstar. Sure, they are still the best in the league, but they’re just not doing anything flashy enough to stand out like they once did. Their stats may be the same, if not better, but as they’re the best in the league, they might not have anything to prove anymore. Given the NBA 2K series is still king, this doesn’t feel like a completely new experience, but a slight rebuild of what was given to us last year. However, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Stellar controls and presentation, The neighbourhood, new MyTeam modes.
Lowlights: Sometimes feels like NBA 2K17.5, bland career story, pay-to-win.
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games, 2K Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4