Over the years, I’ve found sports games to be some of the hardest ones to review. Not only is there no clear ‘ending’ or way to ‘beat’ the game, but keeping up with the changes from year to year is a real challenge, especially since I don’t play them with any consistency or regularity. The last time I heavily played NBA 2K, or any sports title for that matter, was NBA 2K9. I dabbled briefly with the ‘Jordan Edition’ (2K11), but never committed to it. This year, I was interested to see how the series has come along in the meantime, and to see what else Visual Concepts can eek out of this generation of consoles.
The list of new features for 2K13 is substantial, but as always, may not interest every player. For example, 2K makes it clear that rapper Jay-Z had a heavy hand in the production of this game. From the cover art that plainly states it was Executive Produced by Jay-Z to the soundtrack that was chosen by him and is loaded with radio-friendly versions of his songs, to the intros and visual style of the menus, his influence is constant. Personally, it doesn’t do anything positive for me, but I can understand the rapper and basketball connection. It comes across as too much though, but thankfully we are just talking about the art presentation here, not technical issues or gameplay problems.
2K13 also touts an expanded MyPlayer and MyCareer mode. As soon as you launch the game, you are presented with a create-a-character screen. A variety of options are included, although they aren’t as exhaustive as some open world RPGs (thankfully). You are able to apply tattoos, change beard style, eye color, and all sorts of things like that, as well as the name (a large list of pre-recorded first names are included). MyPlayer is tightly integrated with online features including a companion app for your smartphone and the ability to buy Virtual Currency to then be able to purchase new clothing and skills. Signature Skills, another new feature to 2K13, can be assigned to your character to make him a great alley-oop passer, fast break starter, highlight reel dunker, and so forth. Certain players like LeBron have five signature skills already attributed to them, giving them a performance edge beyond a basic numerical rating. Similar to Perks in CoD, these Skills give players an edge but one that can also briefly boost their team member’s abilities for a short period. MyTeam mode is kind of like MyPlayer, but you’re focused on building a team of five players to take online. It’s similar to the Ultimate Team feature in FIFA. I haven’t played either mode for very long, but they seem well thought out and something that passionate, long term NBA 2K13 players can get a lot of satisfaction and value from.
In addition to buying swag, the Shoe Creator lets you customize, in great detail, your own shoes. Personally, I think I’ll wait for the visual detail to catch up with something like this. As is, I suspect Visual Concepts has probably gotten about all of the visual fidelity out of their engine for this gen of consoles as we’re likely to see. The graphics are good, but not a huge leap from even 2K9. Obviously the resolutions haven’t changed much at all — I believe 2K9 was 720p and 2K13 is 1080p, practically the same for most viewers. There are however a lot more animations, both for ball handlers and other active players, that I have noticed which add to the quality and immersion. Sure, crowds are still cookie-cutter and facial expressions and body language is still kind of cardboard like, but overall the visual package is about what you would expect this late in the 360 and PS3’s life.
This year’s version also includes a variety of gameplay tweaks, most probably too subtle for the average player to pick up on. I was pleased that on the default skill of Pro, I was hanging in there and even beat the CPU on several occasions. Historically, NBA 2K would dominate me on Pro, which is why I normally played with the help of a co-op friend. Thus far, the Pro skill level on 2K13 seems really well balanced, giving players with my casual skill level a nice challenge without the pain of losing four out of five games.
With that, let’s get to the summary…