By David Farland
NBA 2K13 has to be appreciated for mixing it up.
Despite the three-year lack of competition, developer Visual Concepts could have played it safe and updated the rosters, applied a few tweaks and essentially regurgitated 2K12 for top profits. But that’s thankfully not what the studio is about. They are driven and stake their name on being the best in show in simulation basketball, and full credit is due for not relaxing on their credible laurels.
That being said, the first and immediately noticeable change for the 2K series was the introduction of inter-genreism with Jay-Z under his ‘Executive Producer’ title. What fell under the hip-hop mogul’s order of business were design and music elements of the game which are actually pretty slick on the visual side.
Sonically, however, as loaded as the playlist is with hand-selected hits from Jay-Z, it feels a little limited. The beats playlist was usually so well compiled with a broad range of artists in previous titles. Getting Hova onboard fortunately came with his considerable sway – word has it his signing alone was pull enough to permit the gaming rights of the 1992 Dream Team, who you can play with in 2K13. I’ll take that every day of the week. It seems to be a pretty snug fit between 2K13 and what Jay-Z has implemented.
Other big new stuff in 2K13 includes the change to the control system, and the upgrade of the points system to the new Virtual Currency (VC). I’ll start with the VC, and I can tell you that it’s mint. It opens the game up with a universal money system instead of specified points being awarded in particular game modes, and diversifies earning VC through the multiple areas of game types. The biggest contrast you’ll see is in MyPlayer where previous points systems have been limited within that mode, but with VC you now have the opportunity to get drafted at the coveted No.1 spot because you earned it through the many other game modes.
I actually found a few shortcuts for earning VC, one of which is going ‘Coach Mode’ in a game and walking away. You still get the VC at the end of what is essentially a simulated game, and this works best with a corded controller as a wireless one will time out. Seems strange to walk away from a game you say? While playing 2K13, you’ll do what you can to accumulate as much VC as humanly possible, because you can do so much with it.
The new control system makes sense to me - dribbling is more accessible, but it's not simplified. The previous system's depth remains, while allowing newcomers in. However, casual players still have a long road ahead if they want to utilize the pros' variety of dribbles and shots. The tutorial is comprehensive but mechanical: You can go through and learn all the individual commands, but NBA 2K13 doesn't teach you how to put it all together. Situational awareness separates the greats from the rookies, and it requires better training than NBA 2K13 provides.
The other mechanical improvements in NBA 2K13 will appeal to a wider crowd — particularly a new system that produces realistic collisions and alters shot paths accordingly. Combined with controller vibration when you get bumped, the collision system brings the physicality of the NBA to life. The action in the paint looks much better, with players forced to adjust shots in mid-air; stalwarts in the post such as Dwight Howard can now make their presence felt more easily. The post game is actually fun again, and it works too.
Given the popularity and success of MyPlayer, it has taken on a slightly more personal, RPG-like role. It’s as engaging as last year, with your custom player able to participate in a rookie game, get drafted (complete with a David Stern handshake at the podium), and develop your skills with experience. Now you can even request sit-downs with your general manager, in which you’re free to make the decision whether you’re a great teammate and franchise player, or if you wish to be of detriment to the organisation by asking to get your coach fired for lack of playing time.
If you’re playing 2K13 on Xbox 360, there’s Kinect voice support. It proves most useful for substitutions and play calling. By just saying “pick and roll” you’ll see your appropriate teammate abide accordingly, for example. This is far easier than having to fumble through all the menus while you’re also trying to dribble the ball. It works for substitutions too, for instance you can say: “Sub in Kobe Bryant, sit down Steve Nash” and that will happen in the next time out, which you can also call by saying “time out”. You can use it for changing camera angles too. It’s handy to do all those things you can still do otherwise, but in a more optimal way to play the game without getting sidetracked with all the menu pop-ups.
A recurring chronic problem that has been dramatically improved this year is the online experience. Online games are running rather smoothly, and the updated commissioner controls for leagues produce much less confusing situations. It’s heartening how much effort the 2K Sports team put into these modes, especially the MyTeam mode which is a mashup between online leagues and fantasy, something that I’m highly anticipating come season tip-off.
The situation with NBA 2K13 is like an unguarded superstar athlete making a totally unimpeded run at the hoop for three years straight. But instead of being lazy and finishing with an easy layup, he cocks it back and slams it home every single time. Most people would still appreciate this on its own, but the guy doesn’t let up, becoming more creative and ambitious with every drive to the basket. It is straight up crazy to think about the possibilities of 2K/Visual Concepts if they had another developer breathing down their neck, but something tells me that 2K13 would still have them beat.
Four and a half stars.
:: Publisher: 2K
:: Developer: Visual Concepts
:: Format: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
:: Rating: G