Developers: Visual Concepts
Publishers: 2K Sports
The NBA 2K series has been so good over the last few years, that they've actually managed to dismantle their opposition. 2K Sports' franchise has been so utterly capable that EA Sports have refused to muster the anything more than the faintest of whiffs of competition. NBA Elite disappeared into the ether, presumably because it would have cost too much, the risk would have been too great, to even consider taking on possibly the most comprehensive sports series in gaming. NBA Live '13's return was pulled due to "disappointing" development.
But a lack of competition can breed a bit of complacency, and while this might well be the best basketball game around - possibly even the best sports game, full stop - it rests heavily on the laurels earned with past glories.
There are some changes, though. Basketball is a deceptively technical game, particularly if you want to provide a true simulation of the game. 2K Sports' efforts in the past have usually come with a PES-like bible of button combinations to etch into your memory. This time around, however, Visual Concepts have taken a leaf out of EA's book and mapped a host of dribbling and playmaking functions to the right stick. Deft sweeps and nudges of the right stick, particularly when used in conjunction with motion instructions of the left stick will paint a tapestry of spins, fakes, crossovers, and fadeaways.
Posted up outside of the paint,in between the key and the baseline, holding LT and sweeping one or the other will initiate an evasive break in the desired direction, leading into a shot. As you would with a button, you just release the right stick at the top of the shotmaking animation to ensure maximum accuracy.
For the most part, the stick combinations make sense in terms of directional execution flicking from side to side to crossover, and sweeping the stick in a rear half circle to execute a behind-the-back dribble. However, occasionally results are slightly different. Arcing around to the baseline, for example, can yield a perfect shot opportunity one minute, and send you pinwheeling behind the line and obstructed from the basket the next. The inputs need to be incredibly precise, and on several occasions early on, I found my player executing moves that I'd rather he hadn't. Worse still, it seems possible on occasion to queue up a bunch of canned animations, with a button press the only way to abort with a shot attempt. When things come off, it's outstanding, particularly when driving for the basket, but the imprecision can occasionally be a little galling.
That said, the two input methods run side by side, so there's nothing stopping players picking and choosing their approach as they like. The on-court action is still tremendously engaging, helped along by commentary that puts the attempts of other sports games to shame. The players have a pleasing solidity to them that makes for some well-worked setpieces when the D gets cluttered with bodies, and the animations are wonderfully rendered, although the cheerleaders do look like hideous fembots from time to time. The authenticity of everything, though, combined with a rich gameplay engine and superlative AI, creates a match experience that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the entire sporting genre.
It's a shame, then that the same can't be said of the off-field options, which could have used a lot of polish. My Team comes across as a lazy mirror of FIFA's Ultimate Team mode. You purchase a deck of player cards with the game's virtual currency, and then use VC to upgrade your deck, boost your players' stats, and gradually mould your set into a dream team. But it seems underdeveloped, and doesn't hold the addictive quality of EA Canada's effort, particularly in this year's FIFA. It's also completely outshone by NBA 2K13's own career mode.
This time around, My Player has been brought under the umbrella of My Career, though the principal remains the same. You design your player, and then jump into the pre-season draft, with one rookie match giving you a chance to showcase your talents and leap up the draft ladder before becoming a fully-fledged NBA league player. It's still a ferociously addictive game mode, with the standardised VC - earned throughout every single action you take across NBA 2K13's various modes, and the Facebook and iOS companion apps - used to upgrade your stats unlock Signature Moves for your player, and engage in Legend Training Camps, where you'll engage in mini stat-boosting tutorials hosted by the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.
But there are certain features that fall flat. The limited number of drills you can run between each payday give out a pitiful amount of VC, and there's no option to retry immediately should you fail, leading to more loading screens and wasted opportunities. Actually accumulating VC as a whole is a marathon process, and progression can be slow if you aren't prepared to put in the time on the somewhat uninspiring apps. The wider interactive features, such as the press conferences that can serve to increase or devalue your standing with fans and teammates alike, are ugly and clunky, so too the Meet The GM feature, which seems almost pointless in your first couple of seasons.
But My Career is still where you'll spend most of your time. It might not have come on in leaps and bounds from last year's effort, but that's because it was pretty damn good to begin with. If we're being picky, it's only because there are a few hints this year that perhaps Visual Concepts are flagging a bit. The foundations are excellent, as always; it's just a shame that there's little there to spur the franchise even higher. It's easy to ignore the matchup between Jordan's 1992 Dream Team vs. Kevin Durant's 2012 Olympic squad, for example - a pale shadow of NBA 2K11's Jordan Challenges - and something that could have, and should have, been a little better.
I'm loathe to comment on the plastering of Jay-Z's name everywhere, but I wouldn't e doing my job if I didn't. The hip-hop megastar is absolutely everywhere in this game, having served as an "executive producer". Music video clips abound, his face is littered about menu backdrops, and the tracklist has been hand-picked by him. Personally, I rather think it ruins it a bit. The lashings of blingtastic gold make the already convoluted and cluttered menus seem gaudy at times. The tracklist is hopelessly short, crushingly repetitive in places, and frankly explains why Jay-Z needed producers like Just Blaze and Kanye West all along. It's a name drop that will no doubt help shift copies of the game Stateside, but it might make you reach for the mute button every once in a while.
NBA 2K13, then, is still a fantastic sports game, and undoubtedly the best basketball game around. But that's by default, and it shows. Running unopposed for three seasons straight means that this game seems a little undercooked, if we're being honest. There's still a lot to like, maybe even love, here; but it's generally the product of the past rather than anything particularly fresh that makes us feel this way.
- My Career is terrifically engaging
- On-court action is fantastic
- Commentary is the best in the business
- Almost identical in some ways to last year's game
- My Team is woefully mediocre
- Risk of stagnation
The Short Version: If you loved NBA 2K12, you'll love NBA 2K13, but that's because they're terribly similar. The new control system is welcome, and so too the little upgrades to My Career, but NBA 2K13 spends too much time resting on its laurels to be considered truly great.