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Is NBA 2K18 the Greatest Basketball Sim of All Time?

by Aaron Callaghan

Basketball for some doesn’t come easy, shooting, rebounding, dribbling and especially dunking. On the surface it’s a simple game to put the orange ball in the hoop then stop the opposing team from doing the same however it’s a difficult game to master hence why the NBA’s superstars are so revered. These NBA superstar idols take all these elements, master them and make it look all so easy (read: Kevin Durant’s 26 foot pull up 3 over LeBron in the finals – easy!).

So therefor shouldn’t our basketball video games be just that? A simulation of the real sport?

The Green Release 2K League Basketball Blog investigates that stance that simulators should be that … simulations of the real game. If you’ve ventured on to Twitter over the last week you’ll see an outpouring of emotion and vented frustration over 2K Games latest release NBA 2K18, some of it deservedly so however I'll save those for another article, I won’t go in to the ‘VC cash grab’, it is what it is, 2K Games prerogative as an organisation to maximise their profits, micro transaction in gaming is a larger issue requiring the appropriate discussion. The point of this editorial is to examine the very real skill gap between the great players and mediocre players (read: myself being the epitome of meritocracy) in 2K18 and discuss what we, the 2K community wants out of a game, using 2K17 as an example of the polar opposite in terms of basketball simulators.

Writing this piece one week after the games release I’m filled with trepidation for making grandiose statements as game developers have the ability to tweak and patch game play instantaneously, however NBA 2K18 will be the litmus test for 2K Games as an organisation in their ability to keep the casual online gamer, I say this because it is absolutely evident that the skill gap is enormous and gamers can only take so much of being punished in online games by better players before they quit or change lanes.

NBA 2K18 can certainly be described as realistic. Player movement and basketball gameplay whilst certainly clunky at first evolves into a fluid, realistic and purposeful blend of real basketball simulation and video game escapism. The controlled player feedback and movement is potentially as close as any game has ever been to the real sport (read: I’m willing to hear from FIFA players on this).

The issues associated with online play during the launch week are prevelant and this does detract somewhat from first impressions. As gamers in 2017 we should fully brace ourselves for the new norm which is unpolished releases to meet deadlines and specifically in the sporting genre where the deadline is yearly and of which developers must release a new iteration of the game as each major league sporting season approaches. The only way gamers are going to take back the power from game developing and publishing companies is by going cold turkey and voting with their feet, refuse to cop unfinished and unpolished releases and collectively boycott micro transactions. 

 

What does the community want from their NBA video games in terms of gameplay? Do they want hard edged realism or a softer video game feel?

 

The early complaints filtered through Reddit and Twitter throughout the week, for example players missing wide open shots, players missing lay ups, dunks not prevalent enough, glass cleaner archetypes are over powering in the paint. It’s these myriad of complaints that points part of the way to the greater skill gap that 2K developers talked of prior to release, the cream is rising to the top, unlike 2K17 the game will not drag lesser players (read: skill wise) to the top. Players will need to work on their game much like real basketball players would, double down on your players strengths. I believe the answer is blurred somewhere in the middle, perhaps even leaning more towards realism whereby the more skilled players are rewarded by the game and lesser players are able to still have an enjoyable experience online. To cite Twitter again, one only needs to look at the reponses of the pro players, using ‘DevGoss’ and ‘Dimez’ as key examples both will be drafted in the first round of the 2K League draft, both have openly stated their admiration for NBA 2K18 where as some players on the opposite end are close to quitting or the most commonly read veiled threat “I’m going to NBA LIVE”. The Green Release basketball blog posed a simple question to top NBA 2K gamer and potential (read: Top 3 lock) NBA 2K League hopeful Dimez (@datboydimez) for his thoughts on NBA 2K18.

TheGreenRelease - “Is 2K18 the most realistic basketball video game ever?”

Dimez – “Do I feel 2K18 is the most realistic game? I would say yes and no. There are a few bugs and problems 2K needs to fix, but once they do it’ll (sic) for sure be a great game”

The skill gap between great players and average players is very real. In order to catch up the pack, you will have to actively work on your game. Grind for badges. grind for Gatorade boosts. Experiment with jumpshots, find your strengths and polish up holes in your game.

The Neighbourhood

2K Games unveiled the open world style lobby function of 2K18, a vast difference to previous version involving simple menus, at the ‘Run the Neighbourhood’ event in New York, The Neighbourhood was met with reactions of awe and excitement from the select key 2K community influencers. It will be interesting to see if the community as a whole embraces this open world foray or shuns it in favour of 2K’s roots, perhaps the open world style lobby is the way of the future. The Neighbourhood confronts players with a steep familiarisation curve and it can be overwhelming at the beginning of your career (read: Put a bigger, better sign on the Pro-Am building), however the free roam gameplay can offer a deeper immersive experience and allow the gamer to buy in to their player’s lifestyle, a pseudo NBA experience on a smaller scale, going from your apartment to the practice facility and then to play games (read: Dropping 4K VC on sneakers at Foot Locker). It would certainly not surprise to see the free roam become a permanent fixture in 2K games, it certainly affords 2K games a greater periphery to advertise and introduce product placements that complement the game, you’ll have to make up your own mind if this is a good thing.

With only one week passing since NBA 2K18’s release it would be mightily unfair to grade the game on all time scale just yet, there have been three hot-patches made available for the game and more to come which will hopefully tweak a few gameplay issues. The first impression and play through certainly indicate that it has the potential to be the best basketball video game ever released. The realistic nature of the gameplay, especially online player vs player will not appeal to everyone, it’s what I and many others want from a sports video game, NBA players don’t hit every shot they attempt, I would like my video games to emulate that and 2K18 certainly does.

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