Let’s be realistic, the NBA 2K series needs little introduction. Visual Concepts and 2K have more than made an emphatic statement with the series since it burst onto the scene more than a decade ago and especially over the past couple of years; their games have gotten so good that they have eliminated the competition which reigned supreme in the market for most of the last 2 decades (NBA Live). Each of the past two years in particular have brought new editions of the game that have been labeled the “best sports game(s)” ever. You would think that after a company earned that label once, they would be content with their accomplishment and fall into an endless pit of complacency, as many other developers have done. That isn’t the case here.
With a solid foundation and near-perfect gameplay already in the bag from their previous creations, the only option for the developers this year is to got out on a limb and try some crazy new ideas. That is exactly what the developers have done. There are two “big” additions to the series with this year’s installment and both are what I considered “shots in the dark”. When I heard about them, I felt they could go either way: drastic alteration to the game’s presentation style and the introduction of the dribble stick. Although both are solid additions to the experience, they leave quite a bit of room for improvement.
On the presentation side of things, the game was handed over to the man whose name appears under the title of this year’s game, Mr. Sean Carter himself: Jay Z. On one hand, the new style lends itself perfectly to the NBA culture and experience; it’s flashy and upbeat, getting you excited for the game itself. On the other hand, the creation of the new atmosphere causes the game to lose a bit of its identity as a video game. Everything is presented as a giant highlight film now, mixing both modern and classic hip-hop, music and music videos, with footage throughout the game. If you have ever seen a promotional video for the NBA Playoffs or Finals, then you should know what I am talking about. Everything you do is “hyped” by this new style which keeps the entire experience moving at a fast pace. it always feels like you are going into the biggest game of your life, even if it is just the first preseason game of your simulated career.
The new presentation style is great for the eyes but anything but (great) when it comes to maneuvering through the game’s menus and options. It is almost as if the game loses itself in the moment; it becomes more apparent that the presentation and environment that it creates is more important than ease of use. This can become quite frustrating at times, especially when you are trying to navigate all of the options of the more in depth modes such as the Association. This is definitely the one area that needs more improvement for next year’s game than any other. Here we are, with all of the options and modes that we could ask for but inhibited in your ability to access it all. You will struggle through it however because the content itself is just SO good.
The other major addition, the new dribble stick, is an incredible addition to the series but doesn’t get a proper implementation into the game as it so rightly deserves. As I am sure that you have heard from other reviewer’s, players are given literally NO introduction to the new control scheme aside from a simple loading screen message that says, “hey, here is the dribble stick, try it out and see what happens”. You are never taught to use the new control scheme or shown what you can do with it; the game leaves it up to the player to figure it out on their own. The lack of a proper introduction is truly a travesty as the dribble stick really does take the NBA experience to that next level, giving gamers full control of both the player and the ball.
I am not really sure that “dribble” stick is the best name for the new mechanic as it doesn’t have as much of an impact on the dribbling mechanic of the game as much as it gives you separate control of the top and lower half of the players’ bodies. The function, which replaces the shot stick as the default use of the right analog stick, dictates the direction of the player’s feet versus the direction they are physically moving (controlled with the left analog stick). This makes faking out your opponents (cross overs) and stutter steps moves that you can do at will rather than being situational options. This doesn’t mean that you will be breaking ankles at will however as your player’s ball handling rating(s) are now as important as ever; with these moves comes a certain deal of risk so make sure that you know “how to use them appropriately or you will find yourself tripping over your own feet and turning the ball over constantly.
Although the focus of this review is these two, specific features, that isn’t to mean that there aren’t other changes to the formula felt throughout NBA 2K13. There has been plenty of attention paid to improving the artificial intelligence on both sides of the ball, improved and revamped passing mechanics (including improved bounce and lob passing), and of course, expansion of the games already numerous modes. Regardless of the type of experience that you are looking for , be it short or extended, there is a game mode that will meet your needs.
You can throw down in quick, demo-style games both on and off (blacktop) of the court or dive into both solo and cooperative simulation campaigns based either around your team / franchise or a created player). Do you want to make a version of yourself and attempt to have them break into the NBA, and work your way from the bench to the All-Star team? You can do that. Perhaps you want to draft a young Michael Jordan or Larry Bird into the modern NBA and see how their career(s) play out? You can do that too. The game is clearly meant to be played with friends too, thanks to its robust multiplayer options supporting both online and offline play. There is so much to do and as long as you manage to navigate through the unfriendly menus to get to it, you will lose hours upon hours in this world.
NBA 2K13 is, simply put, the best sports game available in video games today. Whether you are a basketball fan or not, you can’t help but be impressed with what Visual Concepts has accomplished with this title. The sheer amount of content in this one package, and the amount of game-time that it can provide to fans in mind boggling. It is almost detrimental to the experience that a new version will be here in 12 months as I think dedicated gamers will easily be playing the game this time next year. As long as the development team can shore-up the concepts that the implements this year (new presentation and the dribble stick), and continue refining already proven elements such as the rock-solid gameplay and near-perfect simulation modes, than this series will be sitting on the throne for many years to come.