Every time I play an NBA 2K game, I’m reminded of how much more predictable the entire sport is compared to competition such as baseball or football. Great teams stay great for a long time and there aren’t too many surprises when the playoffs roll around. Some call it a lack of excitement, but I see it as reliability. I know each season will bring plenty of thrilling moments, and that same logic applies to the NBA 2K series. While Electronic Arts continuously cancels NBA Live games, developer Visual Concepts hones its craft of creating authentic basketball experiences year in and year out. NBA 2K13 represents a new pinnacle, though I probably said the same exact thing about NBA 2K12 last year. This means less in the way of drastic changes and more of an emphasis on overall polish. But who am I to complain when the finished product is so satisfying?
The most fun I had with NBA 2K12 last year was creating my own player and following his path from a decent sixth-man rookie to a game-changing elite shooting guard. The My Player mode is now dubbed My Career and features even more depth. Not only are players building the next NBA superstar, they are creating a cultural icon. Fans and sportswriters tweet about each masterful performance or disappointing outing, and there is even a list of celebrity fans, including Justin Bieber, among others. Just think of it as NBA 2K13 fully embracing the 21st century. Along the way endorsements are signed, GM meetings are held, and various other activities occur that paint a more realistic picture of the NBA player’s life.
The stronger emphasis on off-the-court activities is obvious, but creating a formidable on-court presence is still the most important task facing players in My Career. That’s where VC points come into play, which allow purchases ranging from dunk packages to workouts with NBA legends. The better the player performs, the more VC points they receive. It’s a straightforward system that, combined with additions like the introduction of social media, creates a truly authentic career experience. I guess this is one of those rare cases in which a cheesy advertisement such as “you are the player” would totally suffice.
All of the other modes from past entries return largely unchanged, including the excellent Association and the various forms of online competition. Though this core formula remains the same in NBA 2K13, it’s not a completely iterative experience. One of the biggest additions is the new right-analog control scheme, which expands to dribbling. Players can now string together complicated moves and blow by opponents in a flash. The new controls can be initially confusing, especially since the right analog stick still allows for shooting (the left trigger must be held down). To be completely honest, I ignored it most of the time because I don’t need my NBA mechanics to be that complex – pressing X to shoot is just fine by me. Admittedly, it does provide more depth to the game and will likely satisfy NBA aficionados.
Also new to NBA 2K13 is the inclusion of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, which includes NBA legends such as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson. The 2012 Olympic team makes an appearance as well, so now the 1992 vs. 2012 debate can be settled on the virtual court. As cool as it is to see all of those players sporting their Olympic uniforms, the novelty wears thin. That actually applies to a lot of changes which appear to be purely cosmetic. Executive Producer Jay-Z had some creative control with the project, so perhaps he was attempting to add a certain flair to the experience. It doesn’t amount to much, but at least he provided an expansive soundtrack that didn’t make me put mute on like so many past sports games.
Although the few changes in NBA 2K13 aren’t integral to the overall experience, it’s hard to see where Visual Concepts goes from here. The NBA 2K franchise continues to dominate the market, but that staleness threshold that so many sports series face sooner or later is fast-approaching. Perhaps I’m worrying too soon, though – for now, NBA fans can purchase 2K13 with absolutely no reservations.
Review based on Xbox 360 release.