The NBA 2K series has dominated the genre for many years, and EA's NBA Live Series has been out of the game too long to be able to catch up anytime soon, but this year we actually get two official NBA games. Here, though, the focus is very much on NBA 2K18. Our reviewer played last year's edition, NBA 2K17, a lot. We awarded it a 9/10 in our review, but what we didn't really like then was the career situation that had a proper focus on a story that never felt particularly good. MyCareer is obviously back and it's disappointing that it's actually a bit worse this time. In addition, it suffers from some horrid problems - new and old.
In the role of our own character, DJ, it became our job to perform well enough to succeed in the league, but before you hit the court you have to decide how your young star will look. There are two ways to do this; build a character from scratch or scan your own face with the associated app and then import the picture into the game.
The first new feature is the open hub world. Instead of boring menus and lines of text, you have instead a small area that you can move around in, called The Neighborhood. There's everything from training rooms, barbers, tattoo studios, and shops in here, and the atmosphere is good, especially since the spaces are stuffed with other players in real time. Here you can easily play against other players, participate in a quiz contest, and show off your new threads.
It's also in this section where most of the game's story takes place and, just like last year, it's silly, boring, and painfully slow. Our player-character behaves like a spoiled mega-superstar almost all the time and it's hard for us to even try to relate, and that's without mentioning the obligatory girlfriend, the pointless agent, and the stereotypical rivals, which also failed to keep us interested.
That's not the worst part of this game mode, though. Microtransactions are. Giving players the opportunity to spend money in the game can be a good thing - it's good for the developers (who have to make money) and it can be good for players who may want to buy certain cosmetic items. The keyword here is "cosmetic", thus not being able to buy success in the game or otherwise shorten its playing time compared with other players. In MyCareer in NBA 2K18, however, you can pay for experience points, which in turn makes your player better, and that completely destroys MyCareer.
If you don't want to put some real cash into the game, you're essentially screwed here. Progress without microtransactions is so tedious and slow that we found it incredibly boring. It's all made to force you to spend money, and more money, and because of this we'd actually recommend that you never even touch MyCareer.
The NBA 2K18 basic gameplay (hitting the court, slam dunks, crazy three-pointers), is still brilliant. 2K had already made it near perfect last year, and although the differences are very small, it continues to entertain and impress. Above all, the defensive part of the game feels improved this year, both in terms of our own defending and that of the AI. It feels tight and the defenders really hold their positions in a more natural way than they did before.
In addition, the stars seem to have gained their personal strengths in the game, which allows you to make incredible plays as long as you know who you're using and how to play. You kind of need to know how to pick and roll in a certain way to get players to move as they want (and should), just as you need to know how, for example, Curry wants to shoot his threes, so you can position him in the right way. This part of this game is superbly executed and makes for the very best basketball simulation of all time. By a stretch.
The dribbling system has also received a minor update, and now it reminds us of the Skill Stick system from the NHL series, as after a couple of matches we can throw the ball between our feet and behind our back as if we were born to do it. For the free throws we also now get a meter that shows when to let go of the ball, and if you have the vibration of your hand control, you'll get the appropriate vibration when you release the shot so you can always do it as effectively as possible. And it all works perfectly well and balances the dynamics of simulation with the easiness of something way more casual.
In addition to MyCareer, NBK 2K18 comes with some pretty deep game modes. Fantasy power in MyTeam is back, as well as MyLeague, Playoffs, and Start Today too. Even MyGM is included, of course, although it still doesn't feel completely perfect. Many of the choices we face almost don't matter in the end, and the fact that the film sequences don't contain voices is a bit disappointing. On the other hand, the simulation itself is as good as usual and for those who like to keep track of statistics, MyGM is still a good game mode. That said, we'd still like to see some proper improvements in this department for next year's game.
Like we've said, as a basketball simulator, NBA 2K18 is almost perfect. The graphics and audio are wonderful, and we've enjoyed the game on the PS4 Pro in 4K and 60 FPS, loving how smart and dynamic the AI is. The commentators, pre-show, and player information in the middle of the games are also incredibly well made, even though long loading times can get a bit frustrating.
If you're looking to pick up a basketball simulator to play with your friends, online or offline, then this is the game for you. NBA 2K18 is an excellent basketball game that simulates the sport in a wonderful way, but it's the MyCareer mode and all the tasteless microtransactions that come with it that that sour the experience, ruining what should have been the centrepiece of this otherwise excellent digital interpretation of the sport.