I feel it only fair to preface this review with the statement that I am not a basketball fan. I’ve seen games before, but it isn’t something I typically watch or follow at all. I like playing the game (not with so many rules though), and don’t mind basketball video games. On that note though, I haven’t played the previous versions of the NBA 2K series, so I can’t speak as to what’s changed and how it’s improved (or what’s gotten worse). In fact, the last NBA sim that I owned and played a ton was… NBA Live ’99 for PC.
While playing my first of many games the first thing that stood out to me was just how polished and crisp the presentation is in NBA 2K13. They’ve really nailed that broadcast presentation look and feel. Everything about it looks and sounds like what you’d see/hear if you tuned into an actual NBA game. Other sports games have come close; MLB The Show nails the realistic look, just as Madden NFL 13 carried a legit CBS broadcast feel, but none have the complete package the way NBA 2K13 does. It’s not just the sights and sounds; it’s the commentary that helps propel it above the other sports games on the market.
Seriously, the commentary from Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg, and Steve Kerr is the best I have ever heard in a sports video game before. It sounds like the kind of dynamic commentary you’d hear actually watching the game, not scripted lines being poorly read for a video game. I really can’t say enough good things about the commentary; I wish Visual Concepts would teach others how to properly do commentary in a sports game, because it just completely blows every other sports game out of the water. Even the sideline reporting by Doris Burke is phenomenally executed, and the end result of all of this is a commentary package that is dynamic, entertaining, and informative. It’s as tightly polished as I think video game commentary can ever be.
Of course the commentary, while important, is just something to listen to while you’re focusing on playing the game. The good news is NBA 2K13 plays just as good as the commentary sounds. They’ve introduced right thumbstick control, called the Dribble Stick, this year which allows for better control while dribbling the ball and using the modifier button (L2 on PS3) you can shoot the ball with the stick too. I use the stick when running down the court dribbling the ball; it feels good and it works really well. Plus there’s some sweet dribble moves. But for shooting, I use the classic button (square on PS3) approach.
Shooting the ball is easy while maintaining a level of skill, and of course you’ll need to know the capabilities of your players (which is helped with a yellow bar under them when they have the ball). When you get to the highest point of your release, release the button to shoot the ball with the best accuracy. The better your release, the better the chance of the ball actually going in the hoop will be. Players have different shooting styles, so the release points will be different for a lot of the players, so you’ll want to pay attention and make sure you’re not releasing too early (or too late). The game plays and feels great though, whether you’re on offense or defense.
NBA 2K13 is packing all the modes NBA 2K (and pretty much all sports games) fans have come to expect. There’s the Association/Online Association mode (franchise), Season, MyCareer, Exhibition, Blacktop, etc. I had some issues trying to start an Online Association; I couldn’t connect to the 2K servers the couple of times I tried it (which was odd considering I had no issues setting up MyPlayer or having my VC saved to the 2K servers). I quit trying and just set up an offline Association using the Atlanta Hawks. I’ve not seen any issues during my time with it; it’s ran flawlessly offline. Like franchise in most games though, it isn’t my favorite mode.
The bulk of my play time has actually been split between two modes: Season (as the Lakers) and MyCareer. Season is standard stuff; take a team and play a season with them. I chose the Lakers because it’s the team that’s 1.) great and 2.) features the most players that I’m familiar with (Kobe, Nash, Howard, World Peace [Ron Artest], etc.). I’ve actually been playing a ton of my season (using 12 minute quarters) because it’s the fastest way to earn VC (virtual currency, I’ll get to this soon) that I’ve found.
It’s the MyPlayer/MyCareer mode though that has gotten the bulk of my playing time though, at least initially. When you first get into the game you’re asked to set up a 2K MyPlayer profile. I created myself of course. You then take your MyPlayer character into MyCareer mode where you can further customize him. Play in the showcase game and then get drafted into the NBA. This has been a hugely addictive mode for me, and I can’t really figure out why since I typically don’t like sports modes where you can only control one player. And I suck in the mode. Seriously.
MyCareer includes a fake Twitter like social media service, and the fans on there are relentlessly trashing my game. My guy can’t get a rebound to save his life, doesn’t make many of his shots, doesn’t get many assists, and gets called for a “reach in” foul every time he tries to steal the ball, and yet I absolutely love the mode (though the game itself usually grades my performance as either “poor” or “fair” and the fake Twitter people do nothing but trash my playing).
The MyCareer mode is very RPG like. Everything you do (in and out of the mode) earns VC (although in MyCareer I have frequently earned none after a poor performance). You can spend VC to upgrade your attributes, purchase special skills, train with legends, and even buy clothing and accessories. I had to start playing more Season and exhibition games just so I could start accumulating a lot of VC to be able to spend on pumping up MyPlayer’s attributes to hopefully make my guy better in MyCareer.
I even like the aspects of MyCareer that take place off the court. I mentioned the Twitter-style feed, but even things like sitting down with the GM and post-game press conferences are initially entertaining. The only thing I don’t particularly care for with the press conference interviews is sometimes the answer I choose doesn’t sound like what I thought it would, and as a result I’d lose team chemistry and fan support. That’s only sometimes though, other times it’s blatantly obvious that a response will throw your teammates under the bus while simultaneously pumping yourself up as the greatest thing that ever happened to the game, which is particularly humorous to do after a poor player performance. When playing a lot of these games in a row though, the post-game press-conference bit can become a bit repetitive and boring leaving you wishing you could skip it.
That’s all post-game stuff, but the pre-game (in all modes) consists of very well produced video package music videos set to a soundtrack handpicked by Jay Z, who is the executive producer of the game. Jay Z’s involvement also gave us my favorite team to use in exhibition games, the 1992 USA Dream Team (the 2012 USA team is also in the game, so you can pit USA 1992 against USA 2012). That 1992 team is an absolute blast to play as though as it contains the biggest and best legends of that time period; Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing, amongst others, make up that legendary team.
In addition to those two teams, there’s a host of old classic teams (even dating back to the 60s) and even a celebrity team. Well that’s what they call it; I’d say the term celebrity is a bit of laugh. The team has ridiculous stats considering it features the likes of Justin Bieber and Pauly D. I wouldn’t play as this team, but I did play against them as the Dream Team. I suppose there’s something satisfying about dunking on Justin Bieber and knocking him on his butt. I don’t really see the point of having these guys in the game though, as I just can’t see the games target audience being big fans of either individual (or most of the others on the team).
Everything about the game isn’t fantastic though; there are some complaints to be had, even if they may be minor in the grand scheme of things. For starters, the games menus are horrible and outdated in design. For a game that is as crisp and polished as NBA 2K13 is in its presentation, the menus are just disappointing. They can be slow and sluggish, and they’re hidden (you have to bring it up with the right stick). It’s not a huge complaint, obviously, but it is ugly enough to warrant mentioning.
Another issue I have the game is the load times. The loading to get into a game can take a while, the loading to exit the game takes a while, and anytime you purchase something with VC takes a while. It’s just a slow, boring wait to do anything in this game. Thankfully, once you’re in a game, the pace is never broken even when the halftime show (which is well done) begins or during the upcoming games commercials. It’s just the getting into and out of a game that can be a lengthy wait.
A third issue is with the online connectivity. Now I’ll admit that I have no desire to play NBA 2K13 online against other players; I simply don’t play sports games online (I will run an online franchise as a single player experience for added web benefits). However, I know that the online play is important to a lot of gamers. I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t create an Online Association, despite multiple attempts. I eventually quit trying. It would seem the game has poor online servers. Looking around the Net at previous versions of the game, I’ve found plenty of gamers complaining about online with the series. Based on that, it doesn’t look like NBA 2K13 has done anything to improve the online aspects of the game, and that’s unfortunate.
I can truly say that NBA 2K13 is the best basketball sim that I’ve ever played, but I can’t say if those who bought last year’s game should run out and purchase this year’s version. I can say that I’ve had a ton of fun and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time spent with the game thus far, and will continue to play my season and MyCareer for quite some time. I’ve gone back and forth trying to decide exactly what score to give the game, and I’ve narrowed it down to what I think is the most fair and accurate score given that I can’t judge what, if any, improvement it has over previous versions.
If you were to remove any one of my three complaints about the game, then this would be an easy 9.0 “superb” title. Remove two or all three and it becomes an instant 9.5 (on our review scale a .0 means barely, or on the low end of, and a .5 means solidly). However, given that I do have three complaints/flaws with the game, I have to knock off a little bit and give this one an 8.9 (which is the highest level a “great” game can get, it’s almost a 9 after all). It really is a superb game with a few issues that knock it down just a tad. But make no mistake; a great game is still a great game that every fan of the genre should own. So NBA fans, you really can’t go wrong with purchasing NBA 2K13, there’s a ton to love about it and a lot of fun to be had. Besides, where else are you going to get to play as the 1992 Dream Team? Or create your own shoes for that matter (yes, you can do that in this game)?
* A copy of this game was provided for review.