EA Sports may have dropped the ball with virtual hoops for a third consecutive year, but Visual Concepts and 2K Sports continues to push forward with NBA 2K13. The series’ latest title builds upon what NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12 established by delivering tight gameplay, hardwood classics renditions, and several overall improvement to its buzzer-beating formula. This isn’t to say that NBA 2K13 is perfect, it does have issues, but the game manages to balance its more apparent problems by serving up a jam-packed package.
Seriously, there’s so much content in NBA 2K13, from playing creating your own sneaker to playing as the original Dream team, that I can’t imagine what we’ll see in NBA 2K14. While some additions are welcome–like an improved and less tedious My Player mode–some are questionable like the new shot controls. That said, NBA 2K13 is still the only pro-basketball experience you’ll get this year (sorry NBA Live fans), so let’s just thank the basketball gods that this year’s game is as good as a posterizing dunk.
Before I dive into the actual gameplay, I’d like to dive into the soundtrack. This year, 2K Sports let hip-hop legend Jay-Z hand-pick songs that he felt fit the sport’s mood and intensity. Everyone around the office knows how I feel about Jay-Z (hint: he’s my favorite musical artist), so it was no surprise to anyone when I displayed excitement after I found out he was on board. After my seventh or so exhibition game, the excitement thinned a bit. It became annoying to see the rapper’s pre-game video performances each time. The soundtrack, however, is terrific; I never found myself skipping through any of these songs. It’s hip-hop heavy, but there are a few surprises like Daft Punk’s “Around the World” and Phoenix’s “1901.” But this isn’t a music game by any means, so let’s jump into some basketball.
2K Sports promised that you’ll receive an authentic hoops experience with NBA 2K13 and for the most part the game delivers. Players react to each other realistically by rolling off screens, boxing out for rebounds, and correctly filling lanes. Each team has its unique playbook that takes time to master, and players have all their real world mannerisms; Kobe kicks his legs during his fade-away, Manu Ginobli has his famous Euro step. Even legends have their trademark mannerisms, so expect Jordan’s tongue wagging while he crosses you up on his way to the rim. Players also wear their signature sneakers, and you can even create your own. The excellent presentation extends to the authenticity, too. Commentators Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr call an incredible game; the conversation flow is very organic, timely, and delivered without a hiccup.
This yea’rs game aims to put more control in your hands by ripping the ball handling mechanics right from EA’s grasp. This means all crossovers and triple threat moves are now assigned to the right stick; if you’re familiar with the 2K series you know that the right stick was previously used for shooting. This does create a learning curve for seasoned vets, as you now have to hold the left trigger in conjunction with the right stick to shoot. This was an unwelcome change at first, but after extended play I actually prefer it. In older games iso-motion moves were extremely complex and during the heat of competition players rarely used them. Unfortunately, 2K13 comes up short and fails to give players a proper tutorial; it gives a brief explanation during a loading screen.
NBA 2K13 is gorgeous. Players are near-mirror replicas of their real life counterparts, especially the starters. Animations are also really solid: spin moves, hop steps, runners, and dunks all look terrific especially during the slow-mo replays. All this basketball goodness is off set with a few technical issues. In a game all about high-speed intensity, slow down is unfortunately a huge issue. Things get choppy during hectic possessions, especially in the paint. This mangles what would be a flawless hoops recreation.
Online mode is much improved. It’s easy to find other opponents and, for the most part, lag isn’t a problem. However, after experiencing Madden NFL 13‘s connected careers I realize that NBA 2K13 desperately needs a similar game mode. It just seems like natural progression for the series. Solo players will be happy to find My Career has been improved, too. It’s not a total grind anymore and more drama has been added to flair up your creations story line. If you want be the go hard team player you can, but if you want to pull Dwight Howard-like shenanigans and bitch to your team’s owner about the coach, you’re more than welcomed to do so. 2K Sports has learned from players’ long and tedious grind to the top and has made it easier for your character to become the take-over athlete you want. You can now accumulate Virtual Coins in any game mode win or lose; you can even earn Virtual Coins while you’re on Facebook by playing NBA 2K: My Life.
There are extras for those not wanting to become to engrossed with Franchise Mode or My Career. You can play as the celebrity team (featuring Justin Bieber!), the legendary ’92 Dream Team, and even this years Dream Team. The classic teams also make a return, so the basketball historians can relive rivalries like Jordan and Isiah, or Magic and Bird. In all, basketball fans have a great game in NBA 2K13 albeit one with small technical problems scattered about. It’s a great sports sim that will see constant rotation until next year’s release.