NBA 2K18 is almost upon us, and as with most sports games, this represents a big shift not only in terms of graphics but also the tweaking and refining of existing features and the sprinkling of new elements among them, all in an effort to make the most immersive experience to date, and we were in London recently to get a final hands-on with the game before its imminent release.
A big new feature this year for the franchise is The Neighborhood, a social space where you can take your player and participate in all manner of things, whether that be training to get him harder, faster, better, stronger; basketball mini-games with your friends; get new sneakers for both on and off the court; or even just visit your crib to customise and accessorise. This social space is meant to bridge the gap between the game itself, and the socialising that was a separate activity, now bringing the community together in this virtual street.
Another thing that was pointed out to us by Visual Concepts was that the graphics have been improved, as expected from the new iteration of a sports game and this is immediately noticeable. Lighting is one of the core aspects of this, as the way the light reacts to skin and eyes specifically have added that extra layer of polish and immersion to what was already a not-too-shabby-looking franchise. What also helps achieve this is the level of detail as well, which has been upped dramatically too, including stretch marks, scars, clothing textures, and more, all working together to produce a very polished whole. The studio has even worked to scan all jerseys in to get just the right colours as well.
Players also look a bit better too, as proportions have refined based on feedback from previous years, producer Rob Jones told us. This means that all the heads are the right size and shape, and one specific example of a positive change applies to Kevin Durant, who looked incredibly skinny with his height last year, but this year looks way more true to his real-life counterpart. On top of this, jerseys have also been noticeably improved in that they sit on the body more convincingly now.
Gameplay is the biggest thing in any game, though, and here there have been marked improvements as well, especially with regards to responsiveness. Jones was keen to make clear to us that players now move quicker in the direction you press your analog stick, meaning that you don't have those situations where players rotate instead of move to where you want them to go. This allows you to adapt more quickly to what the opposition are doing, something incredibly important in defence.
The AI is also that bit more adaptive as a team as well, as they are able to react quicker to what you're doing in the same way. For example, if they go for one play and you read that, they will instead go for another one and adapt to the situation, making the whole experience feel that bit more immersive, as well as upping the challenge, especially if you have it on the harder difficulties.
One thing we would say about the AI, though, is that sometimes they're still a little bit unconvincing in their reactions as individuals. For example, we played a pretty aggressive style when we were on the court, swiping our hands and fouling regularly (we're not proud), but the AI didn't change their reaction based on that, standing nonchalantly while we were all up in their business.
During our time in London we also got to try the game out on the Switch, a version that's the same as the others but with a graphical downgrade. This is noticeable, and the players aren't nearly as detailed or shiny as the PS4 version, but the game itself still felt the same in how it played, which is the important part, especially considering the same features like pre-match shows make the transition unscathed too.
All in all NBA 2K18 is looking like a big step up from its predecessor in terms of visuals, and with the Neighborhood bringing a totally new and social way to experience the different strands of the game, we can see players enjoying all the different strands the game has to offer, even in the series debut on the Switch.
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