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Review: ‘NBA 2K18’

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As the start of the 2017-18 NBA season approaches, there are plenty of question marks around the league.

How will Kyrie Irving fare in Boston?

Can the Cavaliers remain dominant in the Eastern Conference without Irving?

Will the Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony be enough to lift Oklahoma City into contention in the Western Conference?

Is this the year New Orleans or Minnesota take the next step and challenge for playoff berths?

Despite the unknowns, there are a couple of sure things this season — LeBron James is the best player in the league, the road to the NBA championship goes through Golden State and “NBA 2K18” is the best basketball sim on the market.

There’s no debating that “NBA 2K18” is another high-water mark for the franchise. And with the return of EA Sports’ “NBA Live” series to the virtual court, developer Visual Concepts needed to deliver their best effort — and that’s exactly what “NBA 2K18” is.

The most-talked about new feature for “2K18” is the debut of The Neighborhood, an online game mode that blends elements from MyPark and MyCareer. And spending time running around a virtual city with your created player — purchasing new gear from Foot Locker, getting haircuts at the barbershop and running into the occasional NBA superstar, among other things — is certainly a cool way to kill time between competing against other players on the court, and a natural evolution for the series’ popular online modes.

Though it didn’t generate the level of pre-release buzz as The Neighborhood, MyTeam, the series’ popular card-collecting game mode, also received a new addition in the form of Pack and Playoffs. Functioning similar to the Draft Champions mode in “Madden,” Pack and Playoffs sees you select five NBA players from random packs and taking that team online to challenge other opponents. I don’t spend a lot of time playing online, but I kept coming back for more of Pack and Playoffs. I’d love to see Visual Concepts make this mode playable offline locally next year.

As someone who spends most of their playing offline, I love the addition of all-time teams to the lineup of current and classic squads. There are still some rather noteworthy omissions to the collection of NBA legends included in the game — can you really have an all-time Pacers team without Reggie Miller or an all-time 76ers team without Charles Barkley? — but overall it’s a welcome addition.

While new modes are nice, what continues to separate the series from the competition — and yes, there is now competition — is incredibly realistic game play, both from individual players and on a team-by-team basis. Taking on the Warriors is a completely different experience from taking on the Spurs. And facing the Spurs is totally different than facing the Bucks. Year in and year out, I’m consistently amazed by how well the “NBA 2K” series accurately recreates the nuances of the league and this year is no different.

“NBA 2K18” also maintains the franchise’s history of excellent presentation. Graphically the game has seen a significant overhaul to player models, both in terms of the level of fine detail and the variety of body types. And the audio, especially the commentary, continues to set the bar for sports games of every genre — hearing Kobe Bryant discuss balancing fatherhood and basketball while Kevin Harlan and the gang called the game action around the conversation sounded like something ripped straight off a TNT broadcast.

Fans of basketball video games have long been spoiled by the consistent greatness of the “NBA 2K” series. And with “NBA 2K18,” users are in for a real treat. The players look better, there are more ways to play and the on-court action is unrivaled. Indeed, “NBA 2K18” is another slam dunk.

“NBA 2K18”
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One ($59.99)
Rating: E+10 for everyone 10 and up
Score: 9.0/10