Review: NBA 2K13 (PS3)

Title: NBA 2K13
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (9.1 GB)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Price: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
NBA 2K13 is also available on PSP, Xbox 360, Wii U and Wii.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

NBA 2K13 – Executive Produced by Jay-Z. Rolls right off the tongue, eh? When this partnership with the multimillionaire rapper was first announced, I was more than a little skeptical. Okay, the general demographics for basketball and hip-hop do cross, and yes, having an iconic name like his on the box will probably shift a few more copies. But is it worth risking the integrity of a respected sports simulation for?

Thankfully, my fears for the game ending up as a glorified promotional stunt have not been realised; at least not to the extent I expected anyway. There’s no doubting that Jay-Z is a huge name in the entertainment (and now – due to his involvement with the Nets – sports) industry and possesses a significant amount of pulling power. This has led to some additions to the game; he’s managed to convince certain players such as Scottie Pippen to finally feature, which is a huge deal for basketball fans.

On the other hand, the appearance of some of his other contacts in 2K13 will not be welcomed by most. There’s now a celebrity team (with extremely high skill ratings), which has received a mostly negative reaction. If you’ve ever wanted to see Justin Bieber dunk on Dwight Howard or Sean Kingston dribble past Kevin Durant, then this is your chance. Personally, I could’ve done without it.

Aside from these superficial enhancements though, how does the game hold up? Let’s find out…

Gameplay:
With the NBA 2K series leaning on perfection for the past two years, you could say the development team were left with a tough dilemma this time around. There’s no competition to push them (yet again), so what do they do – try to reinvent the wheel, or put out the same game with a new lick of paint? Interestingly, they have decided to change up the gameplay – although it’s certainly evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The main alteration comes by way of a new control scheme, built on use of the right stick, as shooting has been for a few years. Whilst precisely executing dribble moves sounds neat in theory, it often fails to work. Luckily you don’t have to use the new controls, but this is wherein the problem lies – there is too much depth to the control system and the sheer number of functions is unbelievable. Perhaps this could be of benefit to players who persevere and sink a lot of time into the game, but for the average gamer, the lack of any tutorials, training or instructions make the complicated control scheme somewhat redundant. Overall, it’s far too complex and needs simplifying. NBA 2K13 is definitely not helpful for those new to the genre.

Another feature which casual gamers may have appreciated is Move functionality, but 2K have decided to remove the support this time around. Like with some features in F1 2012, I find it somewhat unfathomable that yearly sports titles feel the need to remove options. Space isn’t really an issue thanks to 50GB Blu-ray discs and time restrictions can’t be blamed because it existed last year. Granted, the Move functionality may have not been particularly precsise, but I’m sure the casual portion of the market would have utilised it.

Two extremely popular modes from 2K11 and 2K12, ‘Jordan Challenge’ and ‘NBA’s Greatest’ have also been shown the door. By way of replacement (albeit with a lot less soul) is the addition of My Team - a copycat version of EA’s Ultimate Team, as seen in FIFA and NHL. However, unlike those two success, this is a monumental failure. As with the game in general, there is no explanation on what the mode is or what you’re meant to be doing, which isn’t the best start. Even when you get into it, My Team severely lacks the addictiveness brought about by the online community of Ultimate Team. There is no online market to buy and sell players, which removes not only that hook, but also most of the fun.

Meanwhile, My Player mode has evolved into a fantastic feature that addicts would argue has the depth of an RPG. At even its most basic level, the quality and ingenuity far usurps comparative modes on other sports titles such as FIFA and PES. Whereas in those cases it seems like playing the exact same game on a different camera angle, 2K have constructed a mode that feels unique. To start off, the level of customisation is just about right – not so shallow that your player looks generic, but not so deep that you get bored halfway through tweaking the eyebrow length and shoelace fabric.

When you get on the court, your ‘grade’ improves when you score points and rebounds and will be adversely affected if you foul or excessively call for a pass. It works well, with a very natural feel. Off-court action is in some cases more exciting thanks to the all-encompassing basketball world your player inhabits. Social media, interviews and press conferences are all high on the agenda, with them all having impacts on your game.

Say the wrong things and you’ll find yourself more unpopular than Kobe, with teammates not including you in plays as your chemistry drops lower. Occasionally, answering questions can be annoying in the same way as L.A. Noire, where you’d think the option selected is quite mild-mannered, but your character says something completely different. Tiny niggles like that aside, My Player mode is a tremendous achievement.

Finally, it’s important to note some minor changes that have been added to the already flawless on-court gameplay. Occasional issues with fast-breaks and passing have been corrected, so there’s now absolutely no interruption to the wonderfully lifelike flow that makes 2K so great. ‘Signature Skills’ have been added to the vast majority of players, meaning the uniqueness of how each player controls is further emphasised. This is a rare sports game that doesn’t conform to the cookie-cutter template of players, where each one is just given different ratings. Overall, the game still plays fantastically – never ponderous, always action-packed and perhaps more importantly, you always feel in control without any ‘scripted’ sequences.

Visuals:
NBA 2K13 is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of graphics. One major factor I love about the game is that the entire arena feels alive. Take your eyes off the hardwood and you’ll see action everywhere you look; it really is an incredibly detailed environment. One example would be the bench, where you’ll see one guy tying his shoes, one standing up and shouting, one laid back looking disinterested and another intently watching the game. On the floor, you’ll even see the reflection of advertisements that flash across the big screens, another little feature which emphasises the brilliant attention to detail 2K give to the game.

The players themselves move realistically almost all the time and you’ll notice the individual nuances for the majority of players – but every animation looks very natural. In contrast, some of the off-ball player shots come across as disjointed; almost a little blocky and last-gen. Faces are arguably more ‘real’ looking than EA’s various sports games, but the clarity is lacking. Another low-res annoyance is with the pre-game cityscapes, which look like they were taken from broadcasts in the 1980s.

They’re only minor issues though with a gameday experience that is generally superb. Stats that you are actually interested in (e.g. comparisons with league leaders/averages from last season) flash up on screen, whilst the between-quarter presentation is akin to a live broadcast. Mini-commercials for upcoming games flow naturally and look professional, whilst highlight reels and analysis also possess that touch of quality.

Away from the basketball, the UI and menus are a significant gripe from my point of view. Like some other aspects of the game I’ve already discussed, the UI is utterly unintuitive. Never has a home screen been so bare-bones and useless as in 2K13. The menu system that is actually required (accessed via the right stick) is clunky, with the options that are needed most all hidden away.

Oh, and like with some of the other features I’ve already talked about, 3D support has been removed. Make of that what you will, but from my personal point of view, this is a huge let-down from a franchise which has previously pioneered and done a decent job with 3D.

Audio:
With Jay-Z involved so heavily with NBA 2K13, I was disappointed with the track list for the game. Firstly, it’s relatively small, meaning you’ll soon get tired of some of the tracks in a game where you may well be spending extended periods of time in the menus between matches.  I also found a few of the tracks to be poor choices and thought there should have possibly been more songs from the man himself, especially some of the more mainstream hits.

Elsewhere, the commentary is nothing short of spectacular. I can’t imagine how many thousands of lines were recorded, because the references to past games and the context given to every conversation is marvelous. They’ll mention what’s been happening throughout the league, how pre-season went, what form other teams are in, how things compare to last season…the list goes on. Needless to say, this is a sports game where you actually won’t mind listening to the commentary for a few hours’ worth of play at a time.

Online/Multiplayer:
‘Basic’ doesn’t even begin to describe the online portion of 2K13. Whereas other sports titles shower the user with a plethora of various modes to keep them hooked, a straight-up quick game and a My Player pick-up match are the extent of your options. I tried a few quick games and it plays relatively well, though a fair bit of lag seemed to be prevalent in around half of the matches. Finding a game generally takes longer than you’d expect from a popular yearly sports franchise, which suggests, like me, most regular 2K players are more satisfied with offline play, possibly due to the dearth of interesting online modes.

Conclusion:
The worrying lack of competitors coupled with the inevitable switch to next-gen consoles very soon, meant that 2K were left in a difficult position. Credit to them, they at least tried a few new things rather than simply apply a roster update and should be applauded for not resting on their laurels. Unfortunately though, poor implementation of these new features and a series of unintuitive systems slightly overshadow the phenomenal gameplay and sublime matchday presentation.

I wouldn’t recommend an upgrade from last year’s near-perfect iteration, as the enhancements are minimal and certain changes have actually made the game worse; whilst the game as a whole has lost a little bit of its ‘wow’ factor. However, NBA 2K13 can’t be overly-punished simply because its predecessor reached the pinnacle of the genre – standing on its own merit, this is still a truly amazing basketball simulation.

Score:
8.5

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Journalism & Marketing student in London. Freelance writer. Gaming collector, with a slight fanboy bias towards PS. Life revolves around football/soccer (The Arsenal), but also love most other sport, especially the NBA and NHL.

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