NBA 2K13 Review: Gameplay Impressions and Features for Hit Basketball Video Game
A console rivalry doesn't exist anymore for the NBA 2K series. EA Sports hasn't released an NBA game since NBA Live 10. Despite no push from competition, the 2K team hasn't been lazy. Over the last three years the series has strengthened its hold on the title of best basketball simulation available.
This year, the 2K team really kept the gaming community on the edge of their seats with solid marketing of NBA 2K13. With the exception of keeping details about Association mode all but mute until a week before release and unveiling the Dream Team and Team USA teams a little late, this information rollout was awesome.
We’ve had the developer insights, and we’ve had the demo for a week to evaluate. I’ve put in some serious hours with the full retail version, and now it’s time to find out if this game is as amazing as it looks.
Graphics and Animations
The 2K team put in noticeable work on the face renders of nearly every NBA player. Players like Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade were obvious targets, as they needed a ton of improvement from NBA 2K12. Almost all of the reworked player faces are noticeably improved.
This is an aspect of the game where you'll never satisfy everyone; it really is a matter of preference and style. The most important thing is that each of the players is immediately recognizable when you see their faces on screen.
Check out this video that shows the face renders for a group of notable players from NBA 2K12 and NBA 2K13:
From the neck down, there aren’t many changes from the NBA 2K12 models. They weren’t poorly done in the past, but the time has come for the players' varying wingspans to be represented in the game.
Arm length is a huge physical attribute and factor in basketball, and this is something that should be depicted in basketball video games.
Tattoos and Shoes
The player tattoos are replicated again this year, but there are a few omissions. J.R. Smith’s ridiculous Young Money neck art isn’t there, and a few other smallish details were omitted. This isn’t a major deal for me, but I realize some gamers are sticklers for this type of detail.
In the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a reason to be down on this aspect of the game. Maybe 2K Sports is giving Smith a hint that he should have that monstrosity on his neck removed.
The shoe game is superb in NBA 2K13. There are varying textures and a ton of brands and models to see and choose from. I’ll delve more into the customization aspect of the sneakers in a bit, but just know that any shoes a player wears look great in the game.
Arenas and Lighting
The arenas look great in the game. The lighting is adjusted to emulate what a TV broadcast in the represented building looks like. The floors are well done. The texture of the parquet in the Celtics arena (no official license for the TD Bank Garden) looks totally different from that of other arena floors.
There are a few distinct differences like this with other team arenas as well. With the player models and solid arena renders, this is a very cool, sharp and functional basketball environment.
Beyond the facial renders and changes, you could look at stills of NBA 2K13 and think that not much has changed in the overall visual package. You have to see the new animations to see the most notable differences.
The dribble moves and animations are incredibly fluid. You can chain moves together seamlessly, and you almost never see a sequence that looks unnatural. Some of this is a product of the improved physics engine, which makes the action look very solid, and you can really see the improvements in collision detection.
Those examples are the things that jump out at you, but the small additions to the animations package make an impact as well.
There are several new, subtle animations that add personality to the individual players. You have defenders that fall to the ground after being severely crossed over, as well as players rolling off the backs of defenders to get in better rebounding position, new dribble animations and players arguing calls.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it really adds to the overall visual appeal. Check out this video demonstrating some of the animation and physics in the game:
The dunks look amazing, as do layups, sharp passes, dribble moves and such. Some players are one-foot leapers and others are two-foot leapers, and that is represented in the game. It adds for a nice bit of realism and even more individuality with each player.
More and more signature movements have been added as well. Rondo can be seen cuffing the ball, and Derrick Rose’s hop and explosions add to the visual appeal.
There are instances with other players that’ll make you say: “Man, he does that in real life.” Most gamers love those moments in games; it is really part of the reason we love simulation-style games. It is the closest thing to real-life competition with NBA stars.
Bottom Line Here
A few slight misses on facial renders and the omission of silly neck tattoos are just minor issues for me. I would like to see the varying arm lengths soon, but that doesn’t kill the overall visual package.
There is a lot to like about the look of this game. The animations are top-notch, and the player models are far from poor. Visually, this game isn't perfect, but it is very solid.
Graphics and Animation Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Gameplay and Realism
The Control Stick
Your ability to learn the new Control Stick will dictate how much you enjoy the game.
Looking at the controls can be intimidating, but it isn't as if you can't play the game before mastering them all.
The basics are the same with the exception of the advanced dribble moves being executed with the right stick. Holding the left trigger or bumper (PS3) turns the right stick into the shot stick, just like it was in NBA 2K12.
It does take some getting used to, but you won’t feel inept the first time you pick up the sticks. If you played the demo, it is was easy to see that this change doesn’t represent an insurmountable learning curve.
We all like to flush it and create highlight-reel plays, but dunking and going to the bucket strong does require some practice. One key rule to remember is that holding LT and RT (L2 and R2) and the shot stick or X button (square) means you’ll attempt a dunk. After a few slams, it really started to feel natural for me.
Mastering a good number of the Control Stick moves is a goal to shoot for over the next month. However, within an hour or so you’ll be sharp enough to thoroughly enjoy the gameplay.
Speaking of that, here are two videos of gameplay from teams other than the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder:
Physics, Passing and Realism
This is the best aspect of the game. The quality begins from the moment one of your players is controlling the ball. You can feel the difference when being guarded by bigger players, yet there is so much control over player movements.
The physics aren’t just improved with players; the live-ball feel has been enhanced as well. When the ball is deflected, blocked or simply caroms off the rim for a rebound, there is more life to the rock.
Passing the ball has far more rhyme and reason. Directional passing is vastly improved and can finally be depended upon as a viable way to move the ball quickly. In previous versions this needed to be tuned, and it is clear that has happened in NBA 2K13.
That said, defenders will get their hands on more passes if you are careless. The great thing about this is that the deflections and steals happen realistically. There always seems to be a clear visual definition as to why that 75-foot pass you just tried to throw was intercepted.
Realism is really a common quality throughout various aspects of the gameplay and focus. In instances where players are caught in a switch, it is easier to take advantage of mismatches. The speed difference between point guards and bigs is distinct enough for the little man to beat the big to the hoop, in most instances.
There are big men with extraordinary lateral movement like Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao, who can keep from being embarrassed in pick-and-roll defense. Yet they are the merely exceptions.
Again, this is a hint of authenticity, and true basketball fans will appreciate these aspects of the game.
This is a video game, so the action isn’t like watching a Tim Duncan instructional video. There are certainly moments of flair.
The alley-oop plays have a new dimension. You can throw these passes to yourself this year. If you want to toss one off the glass and slam it through, it can be done in the right situation. I wouldn't advise trying it from the free-throw line in a half-court set—that probably won't work out too well.
If you're looking to go Lob City with a teammate, you'll have more options this year. If there are players on both the left and right of you, you can choose who the lob pass is going to with the right stick.
This is just one aspect of the new-found control in the passing game. Gamers can also choose when to throw a bounce pass, and with the sharp physics engine this choice can be the difference between a turnover and a dunk.
The gameplay enhancements aren't solely related to what you do with the controller. The A.I. is vastly improved in my opinion as well. Players run more crisp plays; they play more decisively and more true to their real-life tendencies.
For example, Danny Granger and Michael Beasley never met a shot they didn't like. The guns on each team will take much quicker shots than other players. In the fourth quarter, the stars will get the ball, and they will attempt to carry their teams.
The CPU plays at a faster tempo. If you don’t get back on defense, it will push the tempo hard, especially with athletic teams. Until now, I had never played a basketball video game that forced me to sprint back on defense. That is awesome.
This is clearly the best gameplay ever in a basketball video game. At this point in the evolution of the genre, I’m not sure it can be done any better for an existing console.
I really have no complaints.
Gameplay and Realism Rating: 10 out of 10
Sound and Presentation
For years, 2K Sports has been the master of presentation in sports video games. No publisher/developer brings you TV-style presentation like 2K. This year, the presentation goes more Hollywood, or should I say Brooklyn.
It starts from the intro when you pop in the disc. Check out the Shawn Carter-infused welcome for gamers:
Jay-Z’s influence on presentation is apparent, but it isn’t too over the top for my taste. It's not as if all of the songs feature Jay-Z, though quite a few do. The videos to the songs are incorporated during pregame hype videos. I really like the Nas “The World Is Yours” blend, which features players playing with a colored globe while the rest of the action is in black and white.
If you don't like Jay-Z or the other featured artists, you can turn off the music. It might leave things a little bland, though. The music is really a soundtrack to everything you do in the game.
From a pure basketball sound and presentation standpoint, this games has its ups and one down.
2K has shined in commentary in the past, and this year’s is still good. However, there are more instances where great plays deserve more hoopla, yet they are ignored or understated. The opposite end of the spectrum occurs at times as well, as some basic dunks send the commentators into an inappropriate frenzy.
Instances where the action and commentary aren’t perfectly in-tune holds this part of the game back a bit. That is really a shame considering NBA 2K12 was so good in this area. The cool storytelling and player-specific commentary is still there, but the conversational value isn’t as sharp as it was last year.
The bar is just set so high, and that dynamic has set up a slight fall-off. Even with that decline, the commentary is still better than most sports video games available.
Visual Presentation, Menus, Camera Angles and Replays
The in-game visual presentation is done very well. I love the variety of broadcast camera angles. It gives each arena its own feel, and it truly looks like you’re playing on TV. Every arena has its own unique default view, and it accurately emulates the camera placement for each building.
The replays are great, and the in-game footage shown while looking at the game stats is a nice touch.
One personal gripe I have is the inability to remove the orange circle from beneath players' feet in replays. It handicaps montage-makers, but 99 percent of gamers won't care about that. This is an isolated issue that only affects us YouTubers.
Alternate uniform options have been expanded. I love the inclusion of the Phoenix Suns jersey from the mid-'90s. Now I just hope the old Phoenix Suns team is made available via downloadable content.
I read the gripes from Ryan McCaffery of IGN about the menus. He called them horrible, but I didn’t have a problem with them. The main one is separated into three sections: My Player, Exhibition and a Quick Start option for the last career-type mode you played.
It seems easy enough to follow, but things like this can be purely based on style preference. The menus are very busy and in constant motion, but I like that. It keeps things vibrant, and it meshes well with the soundtrack.
You know guys like shiny things with flashing lights.
Bottom Line Here
The Jay-Z influence is a plus on the presentation, and the camera angles and overall in-game look is sharp. However, commentating is a huge part of this category. While Clark Kellogg, Steve Kerr and Kevin Harlan are still sharp in NBA 2K13, they aren't as good as they have been in past versions.
That brings the score down a bit.
Sound and Presentation - 8.5 out of 10
Game Modes and Options
I love the My Team feature. It is definitely a spin-off from EA’s Ultimate Team in the FIFA series, but it has a few unique concepts that set it apart. The currency system and the Road to the Playoffs mode surrounding it offer an element that isn’t present in Ultimate Team.
The RTTP mode gives you a set number of games to play to ascend from a squad sitting on the outside of the playoff picture to a No. 1 seed.
These details make the mode more than a cheap imitation. There is also a stock market feature for players that adds an interesting twist. Players and attribute boost are designated as gold, silver or bronze.
The better the player or boost, the higher the designation. However, if a player’s real-life performance begins to fade, so will his market value in the game. Thus, the Virtual Coin value required to purchase him can fluctuate.
To start the mode, you’re basically given a crate of scrub players (real NBA guys like Kwame Brown). You’re given a home court, home and away jersey and head coach. You’ll have a start-up amount of VC, and you earn more by playing online and offline games, plus the Road to the Playoffs mode.
Here is a video of the initial rollout of players, boosts, jerseys, coaches and a My Team game:
The Virtual Coin concept can be a little confusing. The VC in My Team is separate from the VC in the general game. Your My Player and gamer profile earns VC for playing every mode in the game, separate from the VC earned in My Team.
This is important to know because VC is a major part of every mode in the game. 2K Sports has done a good job incorporating the concept in every mode. The VC is stored online in your profile, which is a little scary for me. I’d hate to lose what I’ve accumulated because of a damaged server, but there aren’t any problems as of yet.
As long as this functions properly, it is a very addictive experience.
My Player has evolved into My Career, and it is huge this year. This has become perhaps the most popular mode in the series. There are now three different personas that your My Player can appear in. This adds even more personality to the mode.
Initially, you create your My Player the same as you’ve done in the past, but the Rookie Challenge is a bit different this year. It actually plays a bigger role in determining where you’re selected in the NBA draft.
That is huge, considering the draft and pre-draft interviews are conducted immediately after the game. If you do well, you can even get selected No. 1 overall.
There is a mock draft, but don’t think for a second that the selections are set in stone. You could go lower or higher than you’re projected. It creates great intrigue and the feeling of being a prospect waiting to hear your name called.
Once you’ve been selected, your season is ready to start, and the full game menu displays your My Player in his default attire. You will have three looks: Game Day, Game Arrival and Blacktop. You'll don these outfits in the appropriate scenarios from the game.
You can buy more apparel and accessories by accumulating VC from playing any mode on the game. Customizing each attire for all three personas is great fun. There is an array of clothing and accessory options to add.
You can even customize the pregame rituals and the attire your player wears to the arena.
The drills and challenges are as great as they were last year. During games, the grading system is more realistic and fair. You don't get penalized as harshly for silly things like calling for the ball excessively on an inbounds play.
Overall, it is easier to make your My Player a force earlier in his career. Many people complained that it took too long to get your guy up to snuff, and those concerns have been taken into consideration.
The game has several playable camera views, but for My Player, I highly recommend the 2K view. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it, because I love my TV-style look, but it really is the most practical way to play in this mode.
Here is a video of the creation and Rookie Challenge performance from my My Player, “The Prophet” Malik Knight, aka “MK99.”
The general create-a-player options are slightly improved. There is a little more room to customize the templates, but this game needs a face generator application to take it to the next level. If there is one definite edge EA has over 2K Sports, it is in player and team creation.
It isn’t every gamer’s forte, but the Game Face application revolutionized create-a-player. The Creation Centre and Team Builder apps offer tons of possibilities in the realm of team and player customization. If 2K Sports employed something like this in the NBA 2K series, it would blow away the competition.
The Association mode didn't get substantial upgrades. The changes were more about tweaks than major additions. That would be a problem in other situations, but the mode was very good already, so it isn't a major deal. All of the trade, free agent and NBA draft functionality is back.
Improved trade and draft logic has been employed and pushed as the primary additions to the mode. This helps your Association function more realistically. You shouldn’t see mind-boggling moves from teams throughout the season. This is yet another quality NBA 2K13 has that continues to drive home their commitment to realism.
Even without a ton of changes, this will still be the mode that gets the most play on my system.
The Online Association is back as well. We hope the servers will be as stable for online play in the retail version as they were for the demo. I didn’t experience any lag for those games. Granted, that was far less stress on the servers than a full Association, but the performance was promising.
Stability in this area will take this game to even greater heights.
Blacktop mode allows you to play any variety of street ball with an existing NBA player or your My Player. Of course you can earn VC for competing, which can be applied to your My Player.
The three-on-three online blacktop team-up option is also a huge plus. It is the closest thing to Crew mode, which is one of the most requested modes from the 2K community. The blacktop team-up allows you to take two friends online to compete against three other gamers online in a street ball setting.
Create A Legend
Create A Legend has also returned. It is largely unchanged from NBA 2K12, but it does give gamers the opportunity to pick a real-life player to take through the My Career experience. This is an alternative to creating one from scratch.
This is cool for the less-than-creative gamer that just wants to take a young player or scrub and turn them into a superstar. If you really want the easy way out, you could even control LeBron James or another star in this mode.
This was ingenious last year, and now it has gotten even better. Creating your own shoes is something many of us have done or wanted to do. The 2K interface allows you to do this with tons of options and layers.
That concept is awesome, but it gets even better. Through a partnership with Nike, gamers have the ability to use Nike ID to purchase the shoes they create on the game in real life. That is simply bananas. The layers and color combinations are seemingly endless.
There are more brands to choose from now: Under Armour and Spalding have joined the selections, but only Nike ID will bring your creations to real life. The functionality of this mode adds a great dynamic to the overall options package.
Check out my first shoe creation in this video:
2K Share is back, and that is great for gamers big on creation tools like myself. Without a college basketball game to import draft classes, it is great that 2K still allows you to create and upload entire draft classes for the 2K community.
You can also still share created players and teams. It is a great way to fill in the gaps that license restrictions wouldn’t allow.
The legend teams were always great in my opinion. They do return, but only the Allen Iverson Philadelphia 76ers team and the 1992 Dream Team are new. This could change via DLC of course, but I would have loved to see one of Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers teams and Charles Barkley’s Suns team from 1993.
The Olympic teams are included, but you can’t edit them or move Barkley onto any other team. That is just a slight bummer for me, but it is great to have him in the game in any capacity.
Bottom Line Here
The options are aplenty here. The My Career is stellar, and My Team is a great spin on the existing concept. This is a treasure chest of alternate play options at your disposal.
Game Modes and Option Rating: 9 out of 10
NBA 2K13 is like LeBron James: It isn't perfect, but it's so close to perfect that it may as well be.
This game is truly amazing and clearly one of the best games of any genre this year or in any other year. It has solid depth and options, but the real meat is in the ridiculously fun and realistic gameplay.
Simply put, you must own this game.
Overall Rating: 9 out of 10
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