Ever since “NBA 2K13,” 2K Games has been adding in more and more micro-transactions in the form of Virtual Currency, while also continuing to make it even harder to earn that VC for those that don’t want to cough up the extra cash for an already $60 game. Thankfully this does not impact the great game-play in “NBA 2K18,” which almost rids the issue of all the animations that I found myself stuck in during last years game. “2K18” returns with all the staple modes such as MyCareer, MyTeam and MyGM with solid improvements to boast, though no real new modes at all.

My recreation of Halton Arena and the 49er men’s basketball team uniforms for use on my own MyTeam. Screenshot courtesy of 2K Games.

Starting with the game’s most popular attraction, MyCareer, players begin by playing through a few street ball games in a tournament that doesn’t really have any bearing on where you go as far as NBA teams. The game lets you choose the team you go to before your start your career, which dictates what NBA scout just so happens to be checking out a street ball tournament for future prospects. After this, we are introduced to B-Fresh, one of the worst characters I have ever encountered in a video game, and one that makes me wish I still had the pleasure of knowing Vic from the “2K16” storyline. From this point you pass your teams ‘try-out’ and continue on in your NBA career as previous games. The various cut-scenes from that point onward are very much on the cringe side of the spectrum and while there are a few good self-aware jokes, they sadly don’t outweigh the bad in any way. It amazes me that they can deliver such a sub-par story-line when last year’s game with Michael B. Jordan was such a home-run. This wouldn’t be such a glaring negative if it weren’t for the fact that 2K does not even let you skip the cut-scenes at all, unlike last year’s game as well. The new progression system means it will be a long road to 99 overall, though the upgrades along the way are cool such as the custom jump-shot creator, getting a bike to ride around the neighborhood, or even the ability to influence your teams GM once at 90 overall. One unlock that I do think is quite outrageous is where you get to kick people out of line for a park game regardless of how long they’ve actually been waiting in the queue for.

Part of the appeal to this year’s game is ‘The Neighborhood,’ an open area in which you can visit stores to pick up clothes, play some pick-up games with other players on the courts, practice at your team’s training facility and a variety of other things. This is quite a cool feature as it expands the game a bit in realism, though the novelty wears off and becomes more of a nuisance to have to run to the barber shop every time you want your hair cut. The game has numerous product placements throughout, such as Mountain Dew or Reese’s Puff Cereal plastered, and even the stores you go to for in-game clothing like Footlocker. I understand it originally was for the aspect of realism as your player gains endorsements from various companies, but now 2K seems to have gone overboard which doesn’t sit right in a $60 game that is already asking for more money through VC.

Screenshot courtesy of 2K Games

MyTeam returns this year with quite a bit of improvement when compared to the game’s other modes, rewarding players who decide to grind for their cards as opposed to buying VC and ripping open packs all year. In previous games, there were always exclusive cards, like 99 overall Kobe Bryant, that required a large sum of cards in your collection in order to unlock, meaning only those who bought VC would be able to acquire them. These requirements have been thrown aside for a list of goals that are actually achievable without micro-transactions, as long as your willing to put in the large amount of time that is necessary for that final Pink Diamond Shaquille O’Neal card. MyLeague and MyGM are also good escapes from the spread of VC, allowing you to get deep into controlling a team and the responsibilities that come with it. MyGM was specifically a treat to play this year as it features a short intro story that sets up how you become the GM of the organization, an already improved tale when compared to MyCareer.

The series also makes its return to Nintendo platforms with the (almost) fully-featured Switch version, and while I did not get my hands on the game, the consensus online seems to be fairly positive. The only real features the game is missing right now are the custom logo option for MyLeague and MyTeam, and the face-scanning feature used in MyCareer. The game is graphically scaled down a bit to compensate for the lesser hardware, which is really only noticeable if you’re playing docked as opposed to on-the-go, which is the only real appeal for the version. Also a fair warning to MyTeam players looking to buy the Switch version, the in-game auction house is pretty barren due to the low install base of players the console has so far, which is understandable given it just came out six months ago.

Overall the game features solid improvements that warrant a re-purchase at full price for those that aren’t interested in MyCareer, because while the Neighborhood is a neat addition, it fails to serve any real purpose other than to add time on to having to buy a new outfit and then show it off to others online in the neighborhood. I do commend 2K on their server reliability this year, as around launch in previous games, you were lucky to even get on the main menu for MyCareer. The game-play is also the best its been in years, with the dribbling system and your ability to chain moves together feeling especially fluid. Despite its obsession with micro-transactions, that feels like is present in all games now of days, “NBA 2K18” sets the bar high for modern sports games with its excellent game-play and game modes that have a wealth of depth to back it up.

Noah Howell is the Arts & Entertainment Assistant Editor for Niner Times. He is currently majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Journalism. He is a fan of all things "Star Wars" and "The Muppets," and spends his free-time playing too many video games and watching the Oklahoma City Thunder.