I was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the first round with the 16th overall pick. Some people would see this as a huge honor, but I saw it as 15 picks too late. I was slighted, and I was going to make sure that the league knew it. As a loud mouthed power forward from Boston College, I quickly went to work making a name for myself. I dominated the boards, blew up the highlight reels and spoke my mind in press conferences, often to the chagrin of my teammates. Then, something horrible happened. Somewhere in the midst of my hall of fame bound career, somehow out of a million fans, I won over Justin Bieber as a personal fan.
NBA 2K13 found itself in an odd position development wise. The series took over the basketball genre a few years ago, and has dominated to the point where there literally isn’t any competition left. EA Sports has canceled two consecutive iterations of its NBA Live franchise, leaving 2K with free reign of the marketplace. When you’re given that level of freedom and dominance, it’s easy to rest on your laurels and coast for a bit. 2K Sports is having none of that, and has decided to crank everything up to 11.
The first change players will be faced with is the new dribble stick. In what first seems like a needlessly complicated system, shooting now requires you to pull the trigger and choose a shot type via the right thumb stick. It takes quite a bit of getting used to, truth be told. On more than one occasion I had a fast break where I fully intended on throwing down a monster dunk only to simply run out of bounds since I forgot the new control scheme. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll have an unprecedented level of control over your shots.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to dig a bit to find any sort of tutorial, and even then a lot of your learning will be through trial and error. You’ll be introduced to the concept when you start your first game through a loading screen, but it essentially amounts to, “If you wiggle the stick in different directions, you can make things happen.” It’s about as useless as braille on a drive through ATM.
The front end menus look fantastic, but are needlessly archaic. It was a chore to track down the exact option that I was looking for, and to make it worse, some of the menus refused to let me back out of them. It’s not a major issue, but it’s a fundamental flaw that should have been addressed in early play testing. The most important thing a gamer has is time, and for a developer to waste even a moment of it is unacceptable.
When I was growing up playing sports games, my dad would occasionally stick his head in and comment that he had to double check to make sure I wasn’t actually watching a game. Even though I had the controller in my hands, there were times when even I was a bit curious if I had somehow switched channels. Every minute detail has been painstakingly recreated to give that true sense of realism. Be it Carmelo Anthony’s beautiful jumper or Karl Malone’s awkward-as-all-hell free throw routine, it’s a perfect mirror of what you see on the court every night. Your defense will look to take a small breather during a lull in play, and the crowds actually feel like a breathing organism as opposed to the stock cardboard cutouts of years passed. The animations are simply unparalleled by anything in a sports game right now.
If that isn’t enough to get the unsuspecting onlooker to suspend their disbelief, the play by play commentary is possibly the best I have ever encountered. Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr not only offer suitable commentary based on what’s happening on the floor, they also keep up with the action. Even when Doris Burke would chime in from the sideline offering a bit of perspective on what had been happening throughout a season, it never once felt forced. It’s a dynamic commentary system that simply blows everything else out of the water. Developers should take note: This is how you do commentary in a sports game.
The My Player mode is still the best player simulator in the business, but it’s largely unchanged from last year. The voice acting for the players, GMs and press members is uninspired and outright dull. It’s really a shame that wasn’t addressed. Also, having seemingly taken a page out of the Madden playbook, social media has been integrated, adding a bit of real world flavor. Current players, legends and some celebrities will eventually buy into your hype and become fans. This means that you can get Kobe to respect your game, but it also means that Justin Bieber will eventually Tweet about how great you are. Outside of being able to talk with your GM, throwing teammates under the bus and the social media aspects, you’ll struggle to find a massive difference between last year’s offering and the current mode.
Keeping with the tradition of bringing back legends of the past, NBA 2K13 offers a host of classic teams including the entire Olympic Dream Team. You can finally settle the debate over which team was better: The original Dream Team or last year’s Team USA. It brought back memories of my childhood watching Barkley, Pippen, Magic and Jordan tear down the court, obliterating anything in their way. You’ll also find a celebrity team with perfect ratings lead by none other than Justin Bieber. By the time I found this I was starting to wonder if there was a joke I had missed out on.
NBA 2K13 is undoubtedly the best basketball game of this generation, though it doesn’t seem to be a necessary step up from NBA 2K12. Hardcore sports fans will love the subtle changes and will easily lose another 100 hours to this year’s iteration, but a casual fan who bought in last year may not find enough reason to pick up the sticks this year. There’s a host of great modes to be found, but nothing steps up to steal the show and demand your attention. The problem when you do everything well is that it’s harder for something to stand out on its own. Be it the lack of competition or simple complacency, NBA 2K13 may be viewed as a step back from last year’s offering, even if only slightly.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 version of the game provided to us for review purposes.
NBA 2K13 is the best basketball game of this console generation, though only slightly. There isn't enough to fully separate this year's iteration from last year's offering, so casual fans who bought in last year may be safe holding on to their money.