In many ways, at this stage of it's life, the team at 2K Sports and Visual Concepts could play it safe every year and make a few minor adjustments, update the rosters, and still churn out the best console basketball game on the market. While playing safe would not harm them in any way, given the commercial and critical success the franchise receives annually, NBA 2K18 contains a number of adjustments across multiple modes. While not all of them work out, this year's installment proves that this franchise is still king of the court.
The heralded gameplay of the NBA 2K franchise is just as strong as ever, but still in need of minor tweaks here and there. While teammates will still inexplicably leave their man wide open, or run into every screen thrown at them, the game still has an innate ability to capture the talents of specific players. LeBron is near untouchable once he makes a few baskets, Russell Westbrook's athleticism is off the charts, James Harden's all-around shooting game is as present as ever, and Hassan Whiteside blocks everything. It also does a great job of making you feel absolutely silly on defense if you overplay a possession, or get beat by the ballhandler. While I am far from a pro at this game, with each installment I appreciate that when I go to play the game for the first time, I find it easier to be blown out, than it is to blow out my opponent. That ever present learning curve, while frustrating at times, is enough to remind me that each year's installment is more than just a roster update and a coat of polish.
I can't gush enough about the look of this game. Player models are more consistent, and it captures the feel of watching an NBA game on television. Commentary is incredibly deep, with multiple combinations of broadcast analysts that keep each game feeling fresh. The occasional inclusion of Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant on commentary is a wonderful edition to what is already some of the best commentary in sports games. A small area where the game improved this year is in the crowd. While they don't look particularly great (no sports game crowd ever does) they react appropriately and move well. The best examples of this come when you're on the road and run up a big lead late in the game, you'll start seeing the crowd disperse as the arena becomes quieter and emptier. While that isn't wholly new, watch them when you hear a crowd chant. You'll see them stomp their feet and clap their hands in unison and at the right times, really hitting home a small piece of the game that shows an attention to detail that is often overlooked.
That's not to say that while running primarily unopposed in years past, the 2K franchise is flawless, and 2K18 is no different. While the on court game is as tight as ever, some game modes were repackaged. While it's great to see a franchise like this still taking risks, they don't exactly pay off in the end. MyGM now comes in the form of MyGM/MYLeague; two separate iterations of the same game mode. MyGM: The Next Chapter is a repurposed GM mode where you're responsible for taking the reigns of a franchise of your choosing, but includes a paper-thin, text-based story that is appears more as between game interruptions infused with brutally poor humor throughout the season. Within the first month of my tenure as GM, rumors began circulating of the franchise being put up for sale due to multiple failed tech ventures by the owner. While the owner denied these rumors, I was tasked with acquiring a specific player to increase the value of the franchise, and then have the franchise be sold to a new owner who immediately wanted to work on relocating the team, as well as hiring his son. Despite any choices I made given the options provided, I had no effect on how anything actually played out in the story. For anyone looking to still manage an NBA franchise without a lot of nonsense, MyLEAGUE is the much more familiar GM mode from previous iterations, without the extra fat of a nonsense story.
Another change comes in MyCareer which has become more of an amalgam of MyCareer, MyPark, and Pro-Am. As opposed to moving game-to-game and advancing the story, you're placed in an always-populated open world knows as, "The Neighborhood." The benefits are ample, as it allows your player to take part in park games to level up, participate in trivia, or just jog around and explore the environment. The biggest issue is the intrusive use of microtransactions. While this is the era of gaming that we live in, persistent issues, like not being able to preview items on your player before you purchase them, or for those that didn't purchase one of the higher end editions of the game and received a massive Virtual Currency boost to upgrade your player, is a tragic flaw that limited my desire to pursue the mode beyond its introductory phases, as I would have to grind out games to get to the level of those with inflated ratings thanks to the VC boost given (100-250 thousand VC) to them for shelling out more for the Legend Edition or Gold Edition.
It's another year of dominance for the NBA 2K franchise. It maintains its throne relatively effortlessly with it's stellar gameplay, tight mechanics, and ability to capture the NBA broadcast aesthetic, making it not only the best basketball game, but one of the best sports games on the market this year. However, NBA 2K18 takes a few risks that feel mismanaged and the game goes way out of bounds with microtransaction inclusion that borders on pay-to-win.