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NBA 2K13 Review

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Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: October 2, 2012 Available On: PC, PS3 and Xbox 360

I have to admit, after opening up the review copy of NBA 2K13 that was provided by 2K Sports, I had my first experience with this basketball franchise in several years…the last time I spent much time with NBA 2K was around the 2K9 season, long before the series really expanded and brought in all the Michael Jordan-based features.

As a result, I expected to be “wowed” by the visual enhancements, even the subtle tweaks between this year’s version and 2K12. I even expected a decent selection of game modes to play. What I quickly discovered is that NBA 2K13 goes above and beyond all that – for what it’s worth, it’s the most feature-rich sports game I’ve ever played. It’s also one of the most true to its sport, and as a simulation it is admittedly brutal enough that you may want to have a fundamental understanding of basketball before you get into it.

Like I said, NBA 2K13 has its fair share of game modes: from the flashy main menu screen, you can access stuff like Association Mode, or you can go into the customizable stuff like create-a-player and an intensely expansive create-a-sneaker (complete with the option to order real versions of your custom shoes). This year, you can play as the classic “Dream Team”, even matching up against the current US team. You can even choose the Dream Team against current NBA squads and the various other classic teams from the past few decades.

To say that 2K Sports didn’t miss a beat is an understatement; I literally couldn’t think of anything that I would have asked for that 2K13 doesn’t already offer. If you want to see how Magic, Michael and Larry compare to Kobe, Lebron and Durant, NBA 2K13 is at your service.

The same idea extends to the gameplay – it offers everything you’d want from a basketball game. Still, this is where the admittedly steep learning curve becomes a bit of an issue. NBA 2K13 is by far the most realistic basketball sim I’ve ever played, and that idea extends beyond simply controlling your players, passing and shooting the ball, and defending the other team. As I hinted earlier, you really might want to consider studying “Basketball 101” before playing 2K13. You can’t just throw the ball around wildly, taking any shot you’d like – in fact, it helps to be familiar with the shot styles of the different shooters in the league, just to know how to release the ball properly. Learning the timing is just part of the challenge; being open and set up for the shot is just as important. The in-game shot ratings are pretty handy for helping you learn to make better shot selections, but you still need to be pretty sharp in order to work your way through the defense and get into position. This is due to the dynamic CPU; it’s pretty amazing to see how it adjusts to your on-court performance. The CPU will call plays on the fly, taking time-outs and benching players to counter your lineup. It’s pretty damn smart, to say the least – so you’ll need to learn how to read everything as it happens in real-time. Simply put, if you don’t already understand simple stuff like “screens” or “half court presses”, the CPU might feel pretty brutal.

It’s pretty embarrassing to admit this, but I couldn’t win a single game on the default difficulty setting in roughly a dozen attempts. I did manage to have success when I teamed up with a friend and took on the Lakers with the Dream Team, but on my own, I just couldn’t last against the tough defense and the sharp play-making of the CPU. The reason for this isn’t because I’m personally terrible at basketball games, nor because NBA 2K13 is unfairly difficult – its mechanics are just so true-to-life that you need to be constantly “on the ball”, and very familiar with the sport.

Again, 2K13 plays very well – one of the best new mechanics is the dribble stick, which is based on the right stick (replacing the former “shot stick”). This allows you to pull of some pretty slick moves with your ball-handlers; I particularly enjoyed this new control method, as I was a fan of the older NCAA March Madness games, which had a similar feature. In general, 2K13 plays very smoothly – you can’t make ridiculous passes down the court and expect to keep possession of the ball, but as long as you play “realistically”, the game feels great. For the record,you can still use the former “shot stick” by holding the left trigger and using the same right stick moves – 2K Sports went further, implementing an option to switch to the older control scheme.

The 2K series has generally set the bar with its visuals and overall presentation, and this year’s installment doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I would go as far as to say that NBA 2K13 is the best-looking, best-sounding sports game with the most accurate broadcast-style presentation that I’ve ever seen. The player models, animations, arena and court details and other visual effects are fantastic, but what really sets 2K13 apart is its flashy TV-style presentation. I hate to overuse the term, but the pre-game player intros and stat overlays are very “flashy” – even the transitions into replays and time-outs look better than any sports game I’ve played.

If you walked into a room and didn’t take some time to notice, you wouldn’t really be able to tell NBA 2K13 apart from a real-life presentation. In addition the graphics, the audio really sells it and rounds out the presentation perfectly. Along with the overall “flash”, you can tell that Jay-Z’s influence had a pretty dramatically positive effect on this aspect of the game. On-court sound effects, player chatter, crowd and arena noise…again, like the visuals, all of these things are fantastic. Similarly, the cherry on top – what really puts NBA 2K13 ahead of the curve in terms of audio – is its commentary. To say I was impressed by the quips from the 2K Sports crew is a vast understatement – during my season of “fantasy” Association Mode, they made comments that would refer back to not only past games in the season, but very specific player performances, even individual stats and highlights.

Again, if it means anything, NBA 2K13 is incredibly feature-rich. It might not be the easiest basketball game to pick up and play, but I walked away from each game more impressed than the last. It simply nails everything you’d want from a basketball sim; it offers plenty of modes to play both on and offline, with friends on your couch or across the world. If you want to create a player, you can focus solely on getting drafted and playing on an NBA team with your custom player – or you can throw him into any NBA team’s roster and play in Association Mode.

Speaking of Association, in terms of depth and immersion, I’ve never felt so “sucked in” to my franchise in a sports title. I know that “immersion” isn’t something that you typically expect from a sports game, but feeling that connection to your team is pretty important – especially if you really want to get into the more technical side of the game, like scouting and drafting future players. Fortunately, NBA 2K13 does its best to keep your attention focused on the league at all times. During each game, you’ll see previews for upcoming matches, and at halftime, you’ll get to see highlights from other games being played that day.Anytime I could have questioned if the game had a certain feature, I was ultimately satisfied. I figure that anyone who enjoyed 2K12, 2K11 or beyond would pick this up and feel quite happy about it. Due to my inexperience with those installments, I’m not sure if all of these little tweaks and mechanics are brand-new to 2K13, but the way that it manages to include anything I’d ask for seems to prove enough.

To be specific to the Xbox 360 version and its Kinect functionality, 2K Sports impressed me more with its use of the peripheral than any game to date. I’ll admit that I didn’t personally play with the Kinect, but I did watch a friend, and I was utterly blown away by how well it seemed to work. Calling out your plays in real-time rather than using the standard d-pad method really seems to hold up the tagline “Better With Kinect”. It’s not an invasive way to play the game; it’s actually quite organic to the game of basketball, and it makes a lot of sense. I give a lot of credit to Visual Concepts and 2K Sports for integrating this concept so well.

In the end, NBA 2K13 really took me by surprise – not because I expected it to be a bad game, but just because I was so surprised at its quality across so many different factors; its true-to-life gameplay and mechanics, its feature set, its amazing presentation, its slick Kinect functionality…this is truly the definitive sports game, never mind basketball game.

In conclusion, after walking away from this one, my standards for sports games really seem to have raised. Looking back, I hate to pick on Madden – I really like Madden, after all. Still, NBA 2K13 was so unbelievably good that it’s hard to look back at Madden 13 and feel like EA Sports has done much to be proud of. In fact, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports blow the competition out of the water in every factor. They may be completely different games, but after playing this one, it’s going to be hard to enjoy next year’s Madden unless EA Sports manages to put its game on the same level as 2K Sports.

Oh yeah…remember that whole NBA Live 13 thing? Yeah, as far as I can tell, it’s probably best EA Sports decided to stay on the bench for another season: NBA 2K13 is the king of hoops yet again.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9.1 out of 10
Written by Cliff Bakehorn Write a User Review