When we throw on a video game and start to play, we’re looking for the all-encompassing experience; fantastic graphics, a connection to the story or the realism we’d come to expect if the game is a sim title, and challenging gameplay.
That last point, gameplay, is the most important quality that will define a game as either a failure or a success. In the realm of sports gaming, due to the very linear nature of the majority of sports themselves and the gaming titles that try to emulate them, gameplay will make or break a company.
Since 1999 Visual Concepts has understood the concept of solid true-to-life gameplay down to the core of its essence; they redefined and set a trend that arguably changed the sports gaming genre as a whole.
NBA 2K, published by Sega Sports in unison with Visual Concepts, was released on Sega Dreamcast consoles as a launch title in 1999. One of the greatest Guards to ever touch an NBA court, Allen Iverson, plastered the cover cornrowed and tatted up. This was the beginning of an evolution in sports gaming and the start of a yearly trend in attempting perfect gameplay down to the most finite detail.
Now in its 19th year, NBA 2K18 is the best basketball game ever released by the franchise and the best basketball simulation game…ever. You’re probably now sitting, after reading my last statement, and thinking that I’m either a complete moron or a 2K lackey.
The game does, like any other video game to come out, have its share of problems. That being said, this year’s iteration of the game has, hands down, the best gameplay the series has ever seen. I’m also very tempted to say that the game has the best gameplay to come for a sports game, period. Let me hit you all with the slam dunks and (very few) air balls that put the gameplay and NBA 2K18 as the GOAT for NBA basketball games.
Dunking Like Vince Carter
Right from jump street, NBA 2K18 plays better than any basketball game in recent memory. The team at 2K Sports/Visual Concepts manages to somehow, year after year, improve on a game that sets the standard for how a complete sports gaming title should look and feel. The team stays involved with their community, looking at all criticisms from fans (sometimes to a fault) and takes these things and improves them (also, at times, to a fault) to ensure that the game plays at its best at all times.
This year, the work that was done on NBA 2K18 gives us a game that plays almost 100% true to the real NBA to the best of the capabilities and limitations that the technology of today will allow. In terms of gameplay, I don’t feel that there need to be any changes made. The game plays a true and organically beautiful game of basketball while offering a challenge to even the most experienced. Breaking down some of the changes this year, you’ll quickly see and understand why 2K18 is in a class of its own.
2K18 Motion Engine – The newly implemented movement system is absolutely divine. Clunky and extended canned animations have been removed, and in tandem with the free flow that the 2K series is known for, plays out like a well-tuned supercar. The fact alone that canned animations have been removed and movement has been retuned and refined to allow free-range motion based on the attributes of each individual player working in tandem with the stick skills of the person playing the game is a feat in itself.
Player Collisions & Weight/Strength Balance – Player collisions this year are frustrating to see as you play, but understanding how it relates to the realism of the game is fantastic. You’re never going to see Isaiah Thomas roll over Lebron James and finish at the rim after doing so. When dribbling the ball, if you try to pass your defender but are a smaller player, running into the defender when attempting to cross them over and drive by them gets you pushed back. You don’t get a nudge back; you noticeably get knocked back some steps, either almost or at times completely losing your dribble. You can see that the weight and strength of players actually matter this year, and can feel the difference. You’ll also see obvious strength differences in loose ball battles as well.
Shooting/Layups/Dunking – While these areas on offense this year are under a lot of scrutiny and debate early in the release of the game, as it stands for gameplay, I think that they are working great. In terms of shooting it seems that, more than ever, shooting is really going to depend on the skill of the player. The 2K team redid the whole shooting mechanic of the game and has now shifted the focus on taking better high percentage shots and learning (and trying) to perfect the release of your player. I can’t lie…I’m still struggling with this myself. Layups were (and still kind of are) a pain in the behind. Missing wide open layups is infuriating to say the least, but Czar dropped a tweet with a helpful video to the masses to give everybody a heads up on how to get your layups down.
I can say that my percentage has increased a bit, but I’m still missing layups that I shouldn’t…the struggle is real. I’m getting better the more I play. Dunking was apparently an issue as the first released patch did fix the dunking issue for players that couldn’t manage to dunk despite a rating high enough that should have allowed them to do so. I luckily didn’t have this issue and it doesn’t seem that it’s a problem anymore. Shooting and layups this year are more dependent on the player and I think that that is a good way to have it be. It forces players to understand shot timing and repetition to lock in on shooting form; this is exactly a couple of pieces that go into shooting mechanics in real life. Practice makes perfect. The new layup packages this year are also well done and really make you think about your player and what would work best based on your playstyle.
Dribbling – Fans this year are salivating at the fact that dribbling is back to streeball-like status. Thanks to the changes made by the Motion Engine and new free flowing control with the sticks, players can cross their defenders up like Allen Iverson and Kyrie Irving. Inexperienced players can use the Post Up button with a tap or double tap to pull of dribble moves to try and beat their defender, while more experienced users have a lot more freedom with the Pro Stick. Walking size-ups and combos are a new addition this year and are sweet to pull of to throw your defender off-balance. Dribbling in NBA 2K18 does have a reduced amount of ankle breakers in comparison to NBA 2K17, but is very gratifying.
Defense – To me, the suite of changes made on defense is the most gratifying bit made this year. I’m pretty good on the offensive end, but defensively I really pride myself on being able to shut down an opponent. Being suffocated and having to pick up your dribble makes me smile like a six year old being given a bag of candy. The improvement of the dribble drive game this year is great. I always try to shut down my man as he makes his first dribble, but sometimes they might be stronger or faster than me; tying in with the collision, weight and strength balancing, you’ll notice that you might be able to keep up with your man as he tries to dribble past you while you shift your feet, but he’ll overpower you and get off a contact layup or just blow by you altogether.
You’ll also notice the hand checks and “hip ride” contact you’d see in a real NBA game as the defender tries to reacquire a dominant position in a dribble drive battle. It’s beauty at its finest to watch. Another welcomed improvement was the implementation of the “You reach, I teach” mantra. Continuous attempts at stealing the ball will lead you to having to watch your man drive the lane or get a wide open jumper; you’re really penalized this year for not being patient and going for a steal at the right time. Playing strong defense on a player and contesting their shot this year is all about your skill on the sticks.
If you shut down a dribble but don’t close out on a step back jumper, chances are the shooter will hit the shot if you keep your hands down; you’ve got to contest on your own now. No more automatic shot contests. This one change is a huge game changer and one that I welcome with open arms. The changes made defensively this year force you to play defense from start to finish. You’ll get rewarded for your efforts if you play defense the right way, and burned if you slack or get lazy.
ACE System and AI – NBA 2K18 is deep. A full-fledged basketball game with the intricacies and nuances of today’s NBA. This year the team took the ACE system to a new level and you will see this every time you’re hooping on the court. Teams play as they do in real life, running their sets and playing in the styles that they do thanks to the all-new System Proficiency feature. If you’re using the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich and his cast will crush you with their fantastic ball movement. Steve Kerr and the Warriors will rain on your parade with the threes and kill you on the drive if you get to aggressive in trying to shut down the perimeter. The ACE system working in tandem with System Proficiency is a marvel to witness. AI has been greatly improved as well, with players now properly recognizing a deadly shooter and closing out, or sagging off a big that is outside of his range to be in the right position for help defense. The one and two pass defensive rules are well implemented in the AI. Offensively players make cuts, read the defense and do the right things to be in position and get themselves open. This year’s game allows planning and plays to shine more and reward greatly if you run them properly.
Player Models – Player models this year are amazing. One way of expressing oneself to emphasize a point is by sometimes adding a strong swear word to your statement; choose one of your own, add it before “amazing” at the beginning of this point, and then you’ll really understand just how good the player models are this year. I can’t say that I’ve seen a bad player model for any NBA player yet. The face scans are ridiculously accurate and the player bodies are pretty much all looking near perfect, with players being the right size in muscle and bulk. 2K really hit it out the park this year.
Shooting Air Balls Like Chuck Hayes
With all the fantastic changes made this year, there are still a few things that are an issue right now with gameplay:
The Playground/Pro-Am Walk-On (Team Play) – This is a personal frustration but I’m pretty sure it extends to the community, and some of the blame can indirectly be placed on the Road to 99 itself. A brief discussion with some of the other writers here at OS brought up valid points. What we’ve seen over the last few years in Pro-Am walk-on and the Park/Playground is a penchant for greed. Basketball is a game that requires not only individual skill but a heavy dose of teamwork. Player still find the need to drive on three defenders, put up absolutely awful shots and play little to no defense. With the ability to know earn badges in all facets of the Neighborhood, including Pro-Am and Playground, you would think that players would do everything possible to play at their best at all times. Instead, players take on an “I” approach instead of a “We” approach. This like mentioned above and more so this year, has a lot to do with the Road to 99. Something said by fellow OS writer Brian O’Neill was that “…people have to get theirs at the expense of their teammates, and that’s the way that people think they have to play this year.” I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve played about 15 Playground games and roughly 15 Pro-Am walk-on games and can say that I’ve only ever been passed to out of necessity, not because of a good basketball play. I managed to find a good team to roll with on Playground one night and we ran off four consecutive wins before I had to call it quits; the ball movement and teamwork was fantastic and we all padded our stats and earned a good deal of points towards our badges and CAP Breaker bar each of those four games. I’m not sure how and if this problem can be remedied, and I realized that playing NBA 2K18 is about having fun, but there needs to be a level of seriousness brought in, especially if people are actually trying to work towards their badges and CAP Breakers; I can tell you right now that playing the right way and as a good teammate will get you more XP points as opposed to playing as a black hole.
Writer’s Note: I have to give a shot out to ShonnyBabyyy, kendrick2k15, DylanLeath10 and VictorBoston for being wicked teammates in the Playground. These dudes play the right way, and were players that I played with where we all benefited from proper team play and distributed stats.
Servers – I can’t say that I’ve experienced it yet really, but the one issue that just can’t seem to go away is the server stability problem that has plagued NBA 2K for years. On September 19, official worldwide release day, it seemed that the servers were having major issues as many players (myself included) were loading into Neighborhoods that resembled a barren Walking Dead town. Loading into different instances of the Neighborhood yielded the same result. I didn’t manage to get into a working Neighborhood until about 11:30 PM EST and by then it was time for me to hit Dream Land; I did decide to play a couple Playground games and they were spotty and laggy. Besides this instance, I’ve otherwise had a smooth experience, but can’t say the same for others.
One Playground game I was in had my teammates complaining about not even being able to pass or play defense because their games were lagging badly. There is also the ugly and problematic issue of players losing their Neighborhood/MyCareer characters and VC altogether. This is a problem that could turn a lot of fans off of the game and lose players this year. Because a large part of NBA 2K18 is heavily reliant on being online at all times, if servers are still an issue that the 2K staff have, they’re going to need to figure out a way to fix the issue…and fix it fast.
Presentation (Mode Specific) – One thing I’ve noticed is that despite the great improvement on presentation this year (Kobe and KG do a surprisingly good job when they sit in on commentary), there are still some discrepancies that need to be addressed in terms of mode specific presentation.
There needs to be more of an emphasis on actual in-season events when it comes to playing MyGM and MyLeague, which are two modes where I’ve noticed the commentary and various color and shows to be very generic in nature. In MyCareer, I saw the same in-game player interview about the same topic four games in a row. That’s just not acceptable anymore. 2K has done a good job at improving commentary each year, but they need to ensure that this area matches the realism that they’ve implemented in so many other ways.
I think that it’s easy to say right now that NBA 2K18 is the best playing game in 2K’s history, and possibly the history of basketball games. So much is properly done and not needing of change this year in comparison to years past. There are the few ugly issues that are trying to take the limelight away from how good this game plays, but NBA 2K18 just plays an undeniably solid game of basketball. We really need to appreciate the hard work put in by Mike Wang, Scotty OG and the rest of the 2K and Visual Concepts team this year.
They’ve blessed us with a gem.