Developer: Visual Concepts / Publisher: 2K Sports / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone
The NBA 2K franchise has had very little in the way of competition in recent years. As EA continues to delay and cancel their basketball offerings, 2K not only shows up for the opening tip off, but they also manage to bring new style and depth to their brand of pro hoops. NBA 2K13 is once again the only console basketball game released for gamers this season, but that doesn’t mean they settled for the easy lay up. Throw in a new mode or two, and make some necessary improvements in the tried and true, and you have a basketball game that is ready for the challenge of an entire NBA season.
NBA 2K13 does a nice job of introducing new and interesting game modes as well as tweaking and improving existing modes that have become fan favorites. Among the new modes this season is MyTeam, a card collecting game that is similar to Ultimate Team in the Madden and FIFA games. You are given a set of players, uniforms, a coach, an arena, and some skill upgrades to start your MyTeam. Then it is up to you to earn virtual coins to purchase players who will upgrade your roster. Coins are earned in every game mode this year including MyTeam, MyCareer, Online and even exhibition games. Virtual Coins may also be purchased in the Xbox live marketplace if you want a head start on building your team. The MyTeam mode features both offline and online games for you to advance your squad.
Returning from seasons past is the ever popular My Player mode, which has been beefed up and renamed MyCareer. Now not only do you control the on-court action of your created player, but you get to earn upgrades to your character’s accessories, clothing, and more from an extensive offering of items. You want to get your player that really flashy suit for his next press conference? Go for it! The clothing you buy will not really affect your play on the court at all, but you sure will look classy coming to and from the arena. You can even purchase new pre-game routines for your player to perform in opening game cut scenes. This is a very nice addition to the mode which gives it more of a role-playing feel than ever before. Also new to MyCareer mode is the ability to sit down and talk with your teams’ General Manger and let him know if you aren’t happy with an aspect of the team. This covers anything from playing time to trying to get your coach fired. The GM conversations are a nice touch, but they play out rather awkwardly and could use some polish for next year. I’ve already logged a considerable amount of time in this game mode and don’t plan on stopping any time soon with all the new player customization I will be doing.
Blacktop mode has also returned this year after being absent from last year’s game. This time around it features half court games consisting of anywhere from 1 vs. 1 to 3 vs. 3. You will have to use even more of those virtual coins you earn from each and every game mode to unlock the better NBA players in blacktop mode. Still, it is fun to take your favorite NBA player or even your created MyPlayer outdoors to play some hoops pickup style.
Classic teams are still in play this year, so you can go ahead and play games with your favorite NBA legends such as Jordan, Bird, and even Allen Iverson. You can even use the 1992 USA Dream Team for the first time ever. Go ahead and match them up against this year’s gold medal squad, or for some good laughs, go ahead and use the celebrity team consisting of Justin Bieber and friends. Bieber ballin in a 2K basketball game? Yes, unfortunately he really is in the game and not the daydreams of your 12 year old sister.
The online offerings for 2K13 are fairly basic, but the servers at least seem to be more stable this year in my experience. You can play the blacktop mode and also play with the legendary teams online this year, as well. These are all one-off games, however, as there is no tournament mode to speak of. MyTeam factors into the online experience for the first time by allowing you to take your assembled squad against others in the road to the playoffs mode. Road to the playoffs consists of a series of games in which your team needs to win 3 out of 12 online games to qualify for the 8th playoff seed. The ultimate goal of the mode is to become the number 1 seed and win player cards and coin rewards along the way.
Sadly one mode that was omitted for the second straight year is Crew mode, where you can play with a squad of five friends against 5 other online players. Crew mode was a favorite of the basketball gaming community in NBA 2K11 and many hoped for its return in 2K13. I guess just like Charlotte Bobcat fans, we just have to wait for next year.
Significant changes have been made in NBA 2K13 as far as gameplay is concerned. Dribble moves such as behind the back and crossovers have now been moved to the right stick. Now if you choose to shoot with analog sticks, you hold down your LT as a modifier while you make your shot motion. It took a few games to really get the control layout to feel natural, but from that point I was really happy about the moves I could pull off using the right stick.
Also at your disposal this year is the bounce pass. This sounds like a really basic addition but it makes a big difference in the way you can distribute the ball to teammates. Too often in previous editions of the game wound I find myself throwing passes that would be picked off by a waiting defender, a result that I can now avoid by using a simple bounce pass. Beware, however, as the risk/reward here is high as many bounce passes will end up hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the backside if the passing lanes are too crowded.
While playing MyCareer mode I encountered yet another gameplay improvement: last year the teammate AI was horrendous, costing you many opportunities for easy assists when your teammate would brick a shot after you gave him a great feed all alone under the basket. This year your teammates are much smarter with their movements both with and without the ball. Passes that were previously a waste of time are now fair game again, and playing a team style of basketball is once again rewarding.
I’m also noticing a new fluidity in certain aspects of the gameplay. For instance while driving to the hoop I was called out of bounds on the baseline, but instead of stopping immediately and ending the animation, my player continued his lay up animation and then looked around to see what the ref had called. Defensive blocks look a lot more realistic this year, with some being emphatically swatted right into the stands. Simple little plays like this go a long way in immersing you in the game.
NBA 2K13 has no shortage of presentation elements to be discussed. One look at the game cover and you know this game has Jay Z’s thumbprints all over it. He is the executive producer and lends a distinct style to everything from the soundtrack to game loading screens. I really liked the spice that was added in the game intros that gave the game a fresh visual coat of paint. Many of the intros now have a music video quality of production to them. Jay Z himself appears in many of the opening cinematics along with Rihanna and others from the game’s soundtrack. One of my personal favorites occurs when you play a game at the brand new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. Jay Z gives these games in Brooklyn special treatment, as by the way, he is a part owner of the team.
All of the graphic overlays in the game have been swapped out for a brand new look, and it’s sharp. Your My Player character will now receive tweets from other NBA players as well as fans and celebrities, taking a page from Madden 13’s Connected Careers Mode.
2K13’s game menus have not changed at all this year and they continue to be hard to navigate. I would have really liked to see these get an overhaul as well.
The overall feel of the game presentation is slick and really carries the feeling of an actual NBA game broadcast. The replay packages are better than ever and really capture the best plays from every game. The announcers are great once again and will actually talk about specific things your MyPlayer has done off the court, such as host a charity event or a team dinner, and how it affects team chemistry.
NBA 2K13 improves upon its already solid foundation of basketball gameplay and presentation, and turns it up a notch. Improvements and additions to MyCareer mode as well as the addition of MyTeam mode will provide for great depth this season. Beefed up presentation elements and always stellar play-by-play make this game really shine. NBA 2K13 may be the only sim basketball title on the console market, but it easily steps on the court to challenge for best sports game with its realistic depiction of the NBA.
9 / 10