Note: We originally posted our NBA 2K18 review last month but the game was essentially broken, with a number of serious game-affecting bugs. It was so severe that we were unable to give the game a score, because we considered it incomplete. While we really enjoyed the game when it worked properly, our advice at the time was clear: hold fire. “You shouldn’t buy it until 2K Sports fixes its myriad of problems with a hefty update,” our review originally stated. That hefty update was finally released last week: later than is really acceptable, but now here nonetheless. So, with the Switch version’s physical release due next week, we’re finally able to bring you our final review and the definitive verdict on NBA 2K18.
It’s been five years since Nintendo fans have had an officially licensed ‘serious’ basketball game, the last being Wii U launch title NBA 2K13. 2K Sports’ initial support for the Wii U quickly simmered and the studio decided to focus its efforts on other formats, meaning its day one NBA 2K offering ended up being the only taste of slam dunkery Nintendo’s system received.
A lot has changed since then, however, and now 2K Sports is back for another crack at the Nintendo market. WWE 2K18’s due soon but before that we have the latest NBA 2K entry. And while it’s taken a while to get there, we’re finally happy with the results. NBA 2K18 easily provides the greatest basketball experience we’ve ever seen on a Nintendo system (yes, that even includes Mario Slam Basketball). The sheer attention to detail here is sensational.
Those familiar with the NBA 2K series will already be familiar with the sort of things we’re referring to, but those new to it will discover a level of presentation that eclipses every other sports game, FIFA included. Matches open with a (skippable) pre-game show hosted by a three-man panel, with countless pre-recorded chats that all sound genuine and not just read from a script. They’ll crack jokes, interrupt each other and generally act exactly like they would on the sort of real-life broadcast you’d expect to see on ABC or ESPN.
After this it’s down to courtside where you’ll be treated to one of a selection of pre-game routines. Sometimes you’ll see video footage of the city hosting the game, other times you’ll catch the end of the national anthem being sung, or maybe you’ll see the team mascot firing t-shirts into the crowd. This is all supported with the full TV broadcast experience with a full commentary team, sideline reporters, realistic TV-style camera angles, the whole nine yards. Those familiar with sports games may think we’re overreacting by listing all of this but until you’ve played a recent NBA 2K you can’t really appreciate just how incredibly authentic the entire thing feels before the tip-off even begins.
Once the action actually starts, controlling your team is a breeze regardless of your skill level. There’s great depth to the various types of shot, pass and tactical call you can call upon at any time, but how much you want to delve into that is entirely up to you. This game gives you the luxury of as much or as little control of the intricacies of basketball as you feel comfortable with. If you’re a relative novice and just want to go with the basic ‘B to pass, Y to shoot, A to steal’ controls, you’re more than welcome to. Things get significantly more complicated once you involve the shoulder buttons and the right stick – but you can happily play and win without ever having to worry about them.
Should you actually want to get stuck into that, the level of control you can eventually achieve with practice is ridiculous. Shimmy shots, dropsteps, post hops, hook drives, alley oops, Euro step layups... these and many more are available as and when you decide you want to push your game a bit further. Or not, it’s your call. This freedom of choice extends to the wide variety of games modes available, each of which are so packed they could easily constitute full games in their own right. For starters you’ve got MyGM: The Next Chapter, a story mode in which you play as a former NBA star whose career was ended short by a bad injury and is now a manager.
This mode plays like a standard career mode in something like FIFA, where you’re in charge of all the inner workings of the team: from training and tactics to trading and scouting, to even smaller things like jersey sales (all while still getting to control your team in each match, of course). If the story side of things doesn’t appeal to you there’s also MyLeague, which lets you play through up to 80 seasons, controlling anything from just one to all 32 teams. If you get properly invested in this it might keep you busy for the entire duration of the Switch’s life but it’s also the driest of the modes on offer, featuring little more than a schedule of matches.
Meanwhile, MyTeam is a fantasy team mode that’s clearly been inspired by FIFA’s Ultimate Team. You start with a handful of player cards and, over time, build up your team by winning and buying more cards until you’ve got a squad that can take on all-comers both off and online. Finally, if it’s more plot you’re looking for MyCareer gives you another story, but this time it’s one in which you control a single player rather than the whole team. This is one of the most popular NBA 2K modes every year and for good reason: as your player slowly builds his skills and stats you feel a real sense of attachment to him.
That said, MyCareer has a different storyline each year and 2K18’s is probably the weakest in a long time, partly because the jump from zero to hero is too swift this time. In previous games you had to prove yourself in training camps before getting drafted to a low-ranked team and slowly working your way up to something like the Cavs or Warriors. This time though the story begins with your player competing in a street basketball tournament and somehow making it to a pro NBA team without going through a draft or anything. Within less than an hour of MyCareer mode we were coming off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, which sort of undermined the whole idea of putting in hard work to reach the big time.
The mode also has a heavy emphasis on microtransactions. As you play you earn VC (virtual currency), which is spent on improving your stats and customising your character’s look. While you can earn VC through playing the game, you can of course also skip the grind and pay real money for it. While this won’t be new to anyone who’s been playing NBA 2K games on other systems over the past few years, do be aware that if you want to build your character naturally without spending any extra money you’re going to have to be in it for the long haul: this mode is a marathon, not a sprint.
Regardless, despite the constant spectre of microtransactions looming it’s still a great time, and when you combine all four main modes – MyGM, MyLeague, MyTeam and MyCareer – there are countless hundreds of hours of gameplay here that will keep you hooked, whether you’re an NBA die-hard or just a casual basketball fan looking for a sports game for their Switch.
Until recently NBA 2K18 was suffering from a number of huge game-breaking bugs. Our game saves were being reported as corrupt, cutscenes were playing at a snail’s pace, dialogue regularly sounded crackly and parts of the environment disappeared during MyCareer mode. Thankfully a large patch – albeit one that turned up far later than it should have – has removed the most serious ones. There are still some graphical glitches in there, with the likes of flickering shadows still present, but the big ones are finally gone and the game’s far better for it.
As a result, we’re now comfortable that we can finally recommend NBA 2K18. 2K Sports has delivered a game that comes fairly close to its performance on other systems (it runs at 30 frames per second instead of 60 but other than that it’s remarkably detailed), and unlike FIFA 18 it’s missing absolutely nothing in the Xbox One or PS4 modes (except for a face-scanning function which is apparently coming in a future patch). It’s still silly that it’s taken a full three weeks after the launch of the digital version to get to the stage that we can finally consider this game playable, and hopefully WWE 2K18 won’t suffer from a similarly calamitous launch.
For those who took our previous advice to hold fire until we were happy the game wasn’t a broken mess, you can finally pull the trigger: NBA 2K18 may not have been a great sports game at launch, but it’s certainly one now. This is effortlessly the best basketball game we've seen on a Nintendo system in years, and a must-have for Switch-owning sports fans.