The NBA 2K series basketball simulation game has virtually no peers in recent years. But the latest NBA 2K18 feels like a case of one step forward, two steps backwards.
The MyCareer mode has become the highlight of the NBA 2K games. This is the mode where I always check in the moment I start the game. You create an avatar known as MyPlayer using a preset face (or you can try scanning your own face), set up his physique and play him from rookie to legend. It is like a role-playing game within a basketball simulation game.
But, unlike past iterations where you start out as a college student before entering the draft, you play as DJ, a former musicianwho is scouted while playing in a street basketball tournament.
The storyline is quite a stretch and the voice actors did a pretty cringeworthy job (or blame the script). And there are also cringeworthy cutscenes that cannot be skipped.
Anyway, once you get into an NBA team roster, you can access "The Neighbourhood". This is a new central hub where other players congregate before they start on the MyCareer mode. However, players cannot talk to each other.
Your avatar can walk around this virtual neighbourhood to visit stores to buy shoes or clothes, go to the barber to get a new haircut, visit a tattoo shop to get inked, or go to team practice facility to participate in training drills.
PRICE: $84.90 (PS4; Windows; Xbox One, the version tested)
GENRE: Basketball simulation
The biggest problem with MyCareer mode is the amount of micro-transactions needed. The game uses Virtual Currency or VC. The review copy I received comes with 200,000VC.
Whether it is getting a haircut or buying new shoes, you need to use the VC. More importantly, you want to increase your avatar's attributes so he has a higher chance of nailing that jumper or getting a rebound. Yes, this requires VC.
After maxing out the attributes of MyPlayer, I was left with around 75,000VC that costs $24.90 in real money. Even if you play well and win a match, you will earn only around 2,000VC each game.
This means you will need to grind for a long time to up the level of your avatar, unless you fork out for the VC.
This is a shame, as NBA 2K18 improves on the series' famed game realism. Other than mastering the shot meter where you release the button or stick at the right time to get the basket, there are a lot of factors that affect whether you make the mid-range jumper or deep downtown shot.
You need to move the ball around to make spaces for yourself or your teammate to get clean or lightly contested shots. Even a perfectly released shot can be missed if it is a hotly contested shot.
The artificial intelligence of your teammates is smart enough to fill the lanes correctly whether during offence or defence transition. And the opposition will adjust tactics to your strategy, like beefing up the perimeter defence if your team is full of perimeter shooters.
Graphics continue to be stellar, with the new Nike NBA jerseys and the teams' respective shirt sponsors authentically reproduced. All the players are realistically replicated in the game, down to their scars and tattoos.
The presentation is like a TV broadcast with pre-game and post-game shows hosted by veteran sportscaster Ernie Johnson and NBA legends Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith.
On the downside, the commentary is not as varied as its predecessors. They sounded like a broken record by the time I played my 20th game.
If MyCareer mode does not interest you, you can try other modes such as MyTeam, MyGM or MyLeague.
As its name implies, MyTeam lets you create your own NBA team starting with its name and city of origin. But whether it is the court, badge, jersey or players, you get them by collecting cards. The more matches you win, the more MyTeam (MT) currency you get. Or, if you want to speed up the process, use VC to buy more packs of cards.
The MyGM mode lets you be the general manager (GM) of any NBA team. But now, there is a storyline. Your avatar had a career-ending injury and becomes a GM. So, you will see cutscenes of you joining the team, having press conferences or being confronted by players about your decisions.
In MyLeague mode, you can play as any NBA team through a regular season, or just the Playoffs. This is one great way to practise your skills. You can also customise your roster and trade your players.
•Verdict: NBA 2K18 continues to be a superb and realistic basketball simulation game, marred only by its aggressive micro-transaction needs and the contrived MyCareer mode.