Just a year ago I was sitting in the same room at 2K hearing about all of the additions to NBA 2K17. Well it’s a year later, and the team at 2K Games and Visual Concepts have been busy working away on the much anticipated NBA 2K18.
Thursday was an event with an exclusive focus on exhibition gameplay — nothing more was available to choose from in this build — and it allowed a select group of NBA 2K’s top players (@DatBoyDimez @timelycook @MarioHTXX @DmanUnt2014), some members of the media (@mattbertz @UniqueMazique), and me a chance to sit down with the sticks and get a first impression on what gameplay tweaks we can expect to see in early September.
There were no big speeches, no big presentations; we were told to dive in and start playing.
What I noticed first was the responsiveness and fluidity of the players when I was playing defense. As a group, some of us felt defense was tougher to play, and others felt it was easier. After discussing, it seems a lot of these differences came from the actual player matchups. Kyle Lowry made playing defense seem much harder when going up against Russell Westbrook, yet you’d have an “easier” time when using Chris Paul — both are solid defenders, but Paul is all-NBA on that end and so it fits with the concept. A subtle, yet effective change.
And thus a theme for Thursday’s event was born. Subtle, yet effective.
I had a handful of development team members tell me that a focus had been placed on “feel” for NBA 2K18. It wasn’t an official motto, and it wasn’t printed on a bunch of team-building t-shirts; it was just present within the team. The word feel plays very nicely with subtle, and it makes for some very effective improvements to gameplay, including:
(Disclaimer: I played numerous games, using different teams each time. I played on Superstar, All-Star, and Pro for different games, and sometimes even switched difficulties mid-game. Sometimes I played a sim-style following coach plays, while other times I just button mashed while failing miserably to multitask while talking to devs.)
So anyway, those improvements to gameplay I noticed:
- AI demonstrated a noticeable improvement to their ball movement on offense, including the use of realistic and varied tempos.
- The AI showed to be smarter on defense as well. For instance, last year it seemed I could always generate one of two scenarios in a traditional pick-and-roll. This year, I would call for it, and the defense would really force me to improvise some at times. This provided for a lot of unique scenarios which kept even running a vanilla offense interesting.
- The best graphic (not necessarily graphical enhancement) I saw was 2K has added what is simply called “contested shot feedback.” This appears directly next to your shot timing feedback at the top of the screen, and it’s great — I was definitely one of those people last year who probably yelled, “Oh come on! He was open!” only to now realize, meh, not really. I chatted with Scott O’Gallagher about how I’d love to see this appear when playing defense too (in this current build, it does not), and that idea seemed to be very well received.
- You can now choose the color of your shot meter. Too many colors to list, but you can also choose “team color.”
- Speaking of the shot meter, this now appears up around your player’s head while shooting, and it’s much more natural to keep your eye on while still staying immersed in playing the game.
- There is a new “Coach Communication” option that I stumbled upon. This is a visual that you can turn on in the Coach Settings menu that will help you on defense with visual shout-outs such as “Switch!” “I got ball!” “Ice!”
- I also noticed some new screens in regards to your team strategy settings. Gone are the simple labels of “hedge” and the like with very little descriptions. Now we see a very vibrant screen packed with information and visual aids that update as you toggle through your different options. This should hopefully help out those looking to see more tutorial options.
- I loved hearing the crowd cheering loudly at Little Caesar’s Arena on an and-one foul. I was playing with headphones on, and I heard no issues with major crowd sound, or the sound the ball makes, or the sound of the net, etc. The game sounds great right now.
- Another favorite improvement is pressure-sensitive passing. As someone who always felt the need to use icon passing, this was a really nice change. Now, this isn’t necessarily the speed of the pass I’m impacting with the longer hold of a button, but it can be indirectly — at least from what I understood. Admittedly, I wasn’t 100 percent clear on how this system works, so perhaps someone from 2K can chime in to clarify. I know this was a big wish for a lot of folks, and I don’t want to misinterpret what I think I may have seen. My best guess would be a scenario such as this:
If I’m starting a fast-break and there are two teammates in front of me — one about 5 feet away, and the other 15 – -when I hold the pass button for a little bit longer than I normally would for a pass, the pass will go to the player further away. I’m not entirely sure what would happen if I wanted to pass to the guy 5 feet away but with added velocity, and that’s what I want to make sure we’re clear on. Check the comments, or I’ll update this story later if I can get full clarity on that.
- Errant passes have been tuned. They will now include passes missing low and wide, but this does not just mean more errant passes, necessarily, just more variety.
- Outlet passes have also been tweaked in a way that balances any cheese that may have existed in earlier years (cherry-picking), while also allowing guys with the Break Starter badge to stand out. In other words, it’s not going to work every time, and there is some added risked when not using the appropriate player.
- You’ll notice the game shifting away from animations, and instead utilizing a new branching system (purposefully unnamed) that will allow for far more movement creativity. When I was watching the guys who are insanely good at the game, I could really see some creative gameplay that never looked repetitive. Very impressive.
- There are now individual movement sliders to control ball handlers or players without the ball. This all works in conjunction with the improved movement system mentioned above.
- There is some “artificial stupidity” (unofficial term!) in which lesser defenders may not be as useful in help defense situations. Of course, better defenders will be better helpers.
Overall, I actually enjoyed that I didn’t see anything too flashy in the demo time I had. I thought the subtle enhancements complemented what is already the industry measuring stick when it comes to sports gaming. I enjoyed that I felt a lot of NBA 2K familiarity, but could also really notice the polished coat it has received. Don’t take some of these subtle changes as a negative; it’s the complete opposite. It’s a cleaner, more fluid version of an already beautiful game.
And did I mention the game remains beautiful? You’ll have some visual surprises coming your way very soon, so stay tuned to Operation Sports for that. While there are still bigger features yet to be revealed (some the team seems very excited about), there was nothing outside of gameplay that can be shared beyond what has already been put out by the 2K team…but stay tuned!