The great show of the NBA
The most beautiful sport in the world, at least for a basketball fan like me, is about to return to the spotlight in just over a week. The Golden State Warriors are called to defend the ring won a few months ago against, once again, Lebron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Unlike the 2016 final, this time for the San Francisco team, the victory was never in question, thus obtaining, quite easily, the ninth triumph in their history. We are almost at the starting line for the new season and be ready to see some good ones, with an extra Isaiah Thomas for the Cavs and a Kyrie Irwing for the Boston Celtics, who have not won a ring in almost ten years. It will be a crackling season, rest assured.
Like every year, however, among the various FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer and other sports, there is one in particular that manages to thrill like no other. We're talking of course the NBA 2K series. After being awarded with chapter 17 as the best sportsman of the year, the series has now reached its eighteenth birthday and 2K Sports is called, also thanks to the arrival of the direct rival of Electronic Arts, or NBA Live, to a test of very difficult maturity. There is no shortage of news, starting with a more structured career mode that promises a more complete gaming experience than ever, then passing through the already known, my Team, my GM and my League, three modes very appreciated by the community.
But stop the chatter and find out in our review if NBA 2K18 has convinced us or not.
Basket isn't a game it's an art form
Before analyzing the real news of this edition, without dwelling on the gameplay, which remains structurally unchanged, we want to start with a premise. NBA 2K, unlike its direct rival, it pursues a path, as historical fans of the brand will know, more oriented towards simulation. So forget about getting into the area, between skills and very quick changes of pace; as every year we tell you that NBA 2K18 must also be approached with the awareness that, especially for beginners, it will not be possible right away to be a real “pro player” of the parquet. The reason is simple, there are too many elements to assimilate, including movements, passes, shooting methods, tactics and therefore it will be necessary to spend a lot of hours training.
Having said that, let's move on to the facts. After the exciting and much discussed story mode written and edited by the good Spike Lee himself for NBA 2K16 and then continued practically in full or almost in NBA 2K17, but with a Hollywood star like Michael B. Jordan, let's say that the appeal for this mode it was beginning to shrink. Not that they were bad ideas, mind you, but that extra something was missing that could make them truly complete. Here is that 2K and Visual Concepts, have decided to listen to the large community of fans and therefore revolutionize, not entirely but in large part the career mode. So what's new? First, after creating our virtual alter ego or using NBA 2K18's not-so-brilliant Face Scan Companion App, we'll be ready to go. My Career will see us in the role of DJ, a street kid, with a great talent, ready to make the big leap on the fields that matter.
Forget the progression made up of seasonal matches, interspersed with videos, even at times rather long, this time the story has changed. The new career mode has been called "Neighborhood Life", so we will have to experience every aspect of our player precisely with his neighborhood, which in a sort of small open-world is completely explorable. The game environment is full of things to do, including shops and activities, sports and not, such as going to the barber or getting a new tattoo, buying new clothes and accessories at the NBA Store or at Foot Locker, going to the gym to improve our skills. We will even be able to face real street challenges, on the pitches surrounding the neighborhood, in 1-on-1 or 3-on-3 matches.
It is to be understood, in the course of the months whether these activities will be able to keep the user glued to the TV or not. Here we can tell you, at least after 1 week of play, that it is a lot of fun to carry out "leisure" activities such as going to the games room, or seeing what other real users are doing in the neighborhood. However, what interests us is to improve our skills, the so-called “Road to 99”, thus reaching the maximum level. Each activity will allow us to acquire XP, some, like going to the gym or to the hall of our NBA franchise, will give us more XP, others less.
The progression is still quite fast, it was not difficult to meet users already with a level that touched 90. Furthermore, during our hard training with the team, it will be possible, as in other sports titles, to face challenges (cards), which rather than being an end in themselves, they will give us the opportunity to improve our fundamentals, I know, by facing a shooting session in different areas of the bezel and therefore also acquiring XP at the same time. If the challenge has been passed, the next version of the challenge will be unlocked. The peculiarity of this player growth system is that everyone can decide what to do, there are no constraints. If you want, you may never set foot on an NBA field in an official game and still reach level 99.
The freedom to do what we want will of course not prevent you from playing only official matches and not doing other activities. Just take your smartphone and go to the next game. Here, before each match, we will be able to attend nice curtains between our DJ and teammates. There will be jokes and jokes of various kinds, especially on the part of the team warehouse manager, but there will also be “crucial” moments for our career and which will also be managed thanks to the help of the team's PR. Of course, the choice to make the narrative less linear, on the one hand, seems to be spot on, especially if you approach My Career by carrying out all or almost all the activities present. If, on the other hand, we consider a more “classic” choice, that is, playing only NBA games, the narrative takes on a fragmented aspect, sometimes lacking some connections and oriented more to what happens in the locker room than on the pitch.
What do the other modalities offer?
In addition to the usual quick games, the significant additions concern the presence of some historic teams defined as "All Time", that is representative of the best players of all time. We will be able to play in a practically monstrous team and touch, albeit virtually, what the NBA would have been if the Black Mamba had played with Chamberlain… One word: FANTASTIC. Also we find, my League, my GM and my Team. As for the first, there is nothing new, we will be able to take over an NBA franchise and manage it for 50 seasons. In my GM mode, Visual Concepts added a “dramatic” narrative part before starting our career as GM, Our player has suffered a devastating injury and unfortunately will no longer be able to set foot on the court at least wearing the tank top.
Here, however, we will be able to become General Manager of the team and manage every aspect of the same. It does not change much, but the additions concern the possibility of modifying the overall management difficulty. By increasing the ease with which players may leave, or by increasing the rate at which injuries will occur; we also find some more tools to analyze the statistics and a more “massive” presence of the coach. In practice, each manager will have their own style of play and therefore will reflect on how the team approaches the matches. To make the most of it, we will therefore need specific players who cover certain roles and improve the overall understanding. Lastly for the third game mode, there has been a change to the game menu and the introduction of the Pack and Playoff mode, which in a sort of FIFA-style Ultimate Team, offers the possibility of building your own team according to the players proposed to us in the packages. Roughly speaking, the three aforementioned modes therefore maintain their characteristics unaltered.
Parquet or asphalt?
Coming to the technical aspect, the improvements are not very evident but there are. First of all we were present for the launch event of the game in Milan and Rob Jones, producer of the title, said that he had been trying to hire a special effects supervisor coming directly from Disney Studios for six years. In the end he succeeded and thanks to his work, the structure of the faces has been changed, which now appear to be less "funny" and more realistic, and of the game uniforms, more accurate especially as regards physics. Further improvements have been made on pre- and post-race presentations and on the “shows” that take place during the time out.
The negative notes concern some elements. The grueling uploads, sometimes it was necessary to wait about 10 minutes to access the game menu, still better than what happened last year in the Xbox One version, in which the game did not want to know to start. Solid 30 frames per second, however, interspersed with some slight drops. We would like to close the review with a reflection, the attention to detail achieved during the matches, whether on the street or on the parquet is truly extraordinary, well beyond what we are used to playing other sports titles. Instead, what we have to "criticize" is the obvious difference that appears graphically between the action on the pitch and the cutscenes. Perhaps it is good that 2K and Visual Concepts take their cue from FIFA's “The Journey”, because we don't like the approximation at all and we would like the care placed between graphics in the game and graphics during the intermission scenes to be almost the same.
NBA 2K18 is a great basketball title, there is no doubt about it. There are not many additions to this year's edition, quite the contrary. We have a Career mode almost totally rewritten from scratch, which allows us to do a lot of things, at times sacrificing the narrative. The other modes present have remained practically unchanged, they work well, mind you, but certainly something more will need to be done for the future, also because the direct rival, branded Electronic Arts, is not standing still, but is working hard to get back in shape. . Our advice is to buy NBA 2K18 if you are used to pure simulation, otherwise turn your attention elsewhere.