Review – NBA 2K18
Visual Concepts has been nailing it on their annual NBA 2K release since all the way back in 1999 when the very first game hit the Dreamcast – that’s right, the first two games in the series were exclusive to Sega’s ill-fated machine, and didn’t hit the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox until 2001 – but NBA 2K18 might be a tipping point for the franchise.
There’s no problems on the gameplay side of things, and those who are looking to try out the best-playing basketball game ever will find it more than up to the task. Whether playing solo against the AI or with friends in same-screen on online multiplayer, NBA 2K18 provides smooth animation and as close to a 100% true-to-life simulation of the NBA talent as you’ll find anywhere.
The new movement engine does away with canned animation sets, which – in past 2K releases – frequently left players feeling as though they didn’t have the level of control they wanted. Now the animation engine uses the player’s stats to select needed animation and combine them on the fly to create a more natural and fluid experience. This also extends to dunks, layups, and shots, which offer a slew of new animations for open looks and contested shots. Even the big man’s bread and butter, the post game, benefits from the new animations, as stronger and heavier players can back their opponents toward the basket for easier finishes.
Where the franchise finds itself on thin ice is pretty much everything away from the court. In the past few years Visual Concepts has increasingly pushed the concept of using VC – a virtual currency earned while playing or purchased using real money – to improve players created to use in both the single-player and multiplayer game modes. In past years this hasn’t felt all that punitive – VC was a stand-in for the classic ‘earn experience to get better’ system that roleplaying games have used for years, and modes like MyCareer have basically felt like a roleplaying game, so it seemed a natural fit.
This year, however, it feels like a line has been crossed. Doing almost anything requires VC, including changing your hair style – something past years allowed gamers to do for free – and there are prompts to spend (and buy) VC at every turn, in almost every menu. It also feels like the rate of progression has slowed, with it taking a little over two full seasons of earning VC to increase the stats of a created player to the point they’re the equivalent of a full-time NBA player’s stats. If you want to be the next Lebron James or finish the game’s ‘Road to 99’ challenge, prepare to put in serious time on the sticks before that’s a possibility…or shell out another $40-50 in addition to the game’s $79.99 price tag.
In a lot of ways, NBA 2K18 feels like a free-to-play title that got merged with a full price release. It’s a pity, as that drags down the overall experience a considerable amount. It’s a profitable approach for series publisher Take-Two, who saw net sales of microtransactions grow 52% year over year from 2016 to 2017, raking in over half a billion dollars in the process – but it might prove to be a dangerous game for the long-term health of the franchise, especially with EA Sports releasing a well-reviewed resurrection of their NBA Live line.
Available now on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.