STAFF REVIEW of NBA 2k13 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012.
by Matt Paligaru

NBA 2k13 Box art I haven't been to an NBA game since 2001. That was the year my Grizzlies packed up shop, ugly jerseys and all and moved to Memphis. The Seattle Supersonics were gone 7 years later, and there's no way I can bring myself to cheer for the next closest team (The Portland Trailblazers.) Needless to say, I've been an NBA viewer from the outside, however, 2K finds a way for me to rekindle and remember the days I used to watch the NBA religiously. Despite the fact that I watch hundreds of hours of hockey and MMA every year, the NBA 2K series is the one sports game I look forward to my head. I had very high expectations for NBA 2K13 this year.

You can play the game one of two ways - You can either choose the online virtual currency system, or the offline XP system. Both are attained the same way and for the most part, provide the same rewards. You're using the points earned in-game to upgrade your pro or purchase locked facets like player animations. This year's "My Player" mode finds you at the Rookie Showcase, followed by pre-draft interviews, resulting in your being drafted and your career starting. This is where you should probably find yourself playing the most often if you aren't playing with your friends. One of the neat, yet disappointing pieces over the last couple games was that too much time was spent focusing on the NBA of yesterday. The Jordan and G.O.A.T. showcases were cool, but the predecessors took too much away from the current NBA. The retro teams are here to stay, and you can select from a lot of them (including posing the 1992 Dream Team against the 2012 US Basketball Team,) however, they're treated as a secondary offering, and there is an increased focus on the modern day NBA. It's a perfect harmonious balance.

Jay Z served as the executive and creative director for this game, and well, I imagine he had a hand in the soundtrack, or must have lent his songs on the cheap. The soundtrack is one of the most awkward, clunky, and possibly worst NBA 2K soundtracks yet. Most of the techno tracks are really out of place in a basketball game, and then you're left with little more than Jay Z and Kanye West music to fill in the blanks (or music featuring Jay Z or Kanye West in guest roles.) This is coming from a guy that enjoys Jay Z and Kanye. Luckily, staying true to the sports game quota, there is at least one Santigold track. I rarely find myself having to reach for the remote to mute the soundtracks, but had to do it more than once while going through player creations. By the 12th time the soundtrack transitioned from Rihanna to Coldplay to Daft Punk, I'd had enough.

Of all the sports titles released this year, NBA 2K13 has the best in-game presentation, period. All of the EA games are doing what they can, as is THQ, but they are in a perpetual state of catchup comparatively. What does NBA 2K13 do that other games don't? They immerse you into its atmosphere. For the last 3 years running (and this year is no exception,) the NBA series makes you feel like you're watching the basketball game you're playing. Continuous sideline reports, marquees and chyrons that correspond to the time of year you're playing (Jack o' Lanterns and cobwebs adorn Halloween night games, while lights and cheer illuminate the Christmas Day classics,) and commentary to match make this the most immersive experience of all the games by far. It's nice of Phil Simms and Jin Nantz to wish you a Merry Christmas, but 2K goes one step further. The commentary in most sports games make you feel like you're, well, listening to commentary in a sports game. The commentary team here of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr hit it from all cylinders. There isn't a point where the commentary ever feels old or repetitive, and the reactions to everything going on is spot on.

If you've already gotten used to the way NBA 2K11 and 12 present themselves, this won't drop your jaw like it did before, but in many ways, it is still the most superior sports game out there. It excels head and shoulders in the way it presents itself over its competition, and is one of the deepest titles in all gaming, let alone the sports genre. That depth, however, may be its undoing. The instruction manual provides almost no guidance of gaming modes; rather; spending the ENTIRE BOOKLET explaining the controls. From pages 1-9, you are laid out every control in size 10 font. There are so many controls that you'd have to dedicate almost a week of straight playing to learn how everything works. Kinect controls are available too, allowing you to call time outs and do things like change or call plays on the fly. The controls are very responsive, and ultimately slot behind FIFA for overall effectiveness, though I'll discuss some setbacks of it all in the final ratings.

MyPlayer, and ultimately, MyCareer is enhanced this year. You can buy new signature moves that enhance your players' abilities, and can attend legend training camps to boost some of your skills in bulk. Everything you buy is using the aforementioned Virtual Currency system, and therein lays a huge problem. Currency is earned by doing drills and performing well in-game. There's no guarantees that your in-game performance will net you any virtual currency, so if you flounder around, or have a bad game, you could be rewarded with nothing for your efforts. The rating engine from last year is back, and it's still the biggest benefit and detriment to your NBA gaming experience. It's still too difficult to have "good" games. 3 quarters worth of work can be wiped out by one turnover, or letting your opponent score once or twice, and you could very well have scored 30 points and have 10 assists to boot. If you're up by 25 points at the time and you have one false step, I'm sure your coach doesn't mind as much, so why should the rating system? This is the gameplay mechanic I feel needs the biggest tweak. It feels like you're languishing at times, and constantly punishing an interested gamer is a really good way to lose their interest. How exactly are you supposed to get better if there's no way for you to get better? It's like going through a performance review at work where your boss sits you down and says "You did fine, but get better" and then closes the meeting without saying anything else.

The other gameplay modes haven't really changed themselves much, and the game remains a ton of fun to play, though you will have to ready yourself for a harder learning curve than past years, especially when it comes to MyPlayer, where I couldn't find any place to ramp difficulty down past Pro, meaning beginner gamers can't swing into this right away and will have trouble with things like full court presses and guiding a low 60s pro around a court full of established veterans.

Let's take a look at the final ratings.

Graphics: 9/10. Graphically, this game is good. The arenas are good enough, and the player animations are great. The graphics don`t glitch in-game, and rarely any loose limbs or things out of place with the sprite movements. The game moves very fluidly, players look as they should, and the game, as always, is presented in great high definition. I am a fan of the fact that it has just the right amount of product placement, and the fact that things like replays are sponsored by Sprite (and the halftime show is sponsored by Sprint.) Often times, creating "things" can result in awkward interaction with the in-game characters. Games like Legends of Wrestlemania were plagued by the fact that little things like belt and clothing layering resulted in clipping issues, and they often didn't match the rest of the overall game tone. The shoe creator provides no challenges, and they look great on your character. I see a bit of room for improvement here. Some of the textures in the game are a bit brighter than they need to be, and the player faces are a bit more cartoony than I remember. They're all drops in the bucket in the grand scheme.

Sound 9/10. If I could break this off into subratings and defy conventional scoring, I'd probably go something like 15/10 for the play by play commentary, 10/10 for the on-court sounds and 2/10 for the soundtrack. The soundtrack is hampered by a lack of flow, and strange edits. U2's "Elevation" is in the game, which is a great choice for video montage packages, but not the game. They've cut a lot of the songs in weird places as well, which makes even less sense. Having Jay Z as executive producer wasn't a bad idea, though I think a little bit too much of his music snuck in there, and while they tried to diversify by throwing in stuff like Coldplay and Daft Punk tracks, ultimately, it feels like I'm listening to an all Jay Z radio station that's being interrupted by a bit of channel surfing.

Control: 5/10. I play a lot of sports games every year. In fact, I would go so far to say it's probably in the neighborhood of 70% of my overall gaming. NBA 2K13 is the first time I've wanted to shout obscenities at the instruction manual. 9 pages of instructions, and to be any good at the game, you really need to know 80% of them because your AI know how to get around all of your basic moves. The basic controls are enough to probably get you through to the third difficulty (which I believe is All-Star) and then all bets are off. I've rarely recommended learning how to play all positions and spend time on the practice courts learning all of the control stick features, but believe me, spend a while doing it. The Kinect controls work well (almost a bit too well,) and anything you shout into the mic is picked up within seconds, though just like FIFA, be aware that the Kinect is constantly listening for commands at all times and the mic can be sensitive. My fiancee yelling "I'm going out" from our garage entry door caused the game to call a time out, and the Kinect called a screen play as I commented that my foot had fallen asleep. Gamers that like shouting at their TV in frustration are bound to have a field day here.

Gameplay: 8/10. The gameplay is pretty full steam ahead, and I admit is very similar to last year, controls aside. The missing showcase feature isn't a big loss at all, as the focus shift of the game makes up for it. This is still a very complete basketballing experience. Really, the biggest trouble I have with the engine boils down to the fact that it's still too unforgiving, and things often get much more frustrating than fun. It's still a bit too difficult to get the timing down for jump shots outside of practice, and the on-court gameplay element suffers as a result, having to adapt to raising your status through passes and rebounds. Penalties in "My Player" are far too ridiculous for what they should be. Letting your covered opponent score bears even worse ramifications than shooting a clutch 3, or getting fastbreak points. If you're a point guard having to cover Derrick Rose, for example, whose footwork and movement is amongst the best in the game, there's almost no recovering, and even with a triple double, you can find yourself with a C+ or C- rating for the game. I'm still very much enamored with the MyPlayer mode right now, but it might lose its lustre as time goes on solely based on how ridiculously unforgiving the rating system and shooting engine is. You end up in a vicious cycle where you're unable to gain virtual currency from anything but drills, which you need to be able to level up your player's stats. This is something that needs a lot of evaluation next year. Perhaps the inception of forgiveness rating difficulties might be something to bring to the table. MyPlayer makes you start on a minimum pro difficulty as well, making it pointless for novices to step into the career mode out of the box.

Bonus rating: Presentation: 10/10. Once again, the presentation element for this game is untouchable. I stress again that no sports game on the market comes close to the total package the 2K NBA franchise offers with the possible exception of the WWE games. Sideline reporting is normally an annoyance, but the amount of intuition built in for virtual Doris Burke's synopses are great. The announcers genuinely sound like they're calling your game and getting excited over your game. The menus are easy to navigate, and everything is laid out in perfect order. Everything clicks, from the starting lineups, to the menu cards, and the halftime report. As long as this continues, I can't see 2K giving up this part of its sports gaming throne anytime soon.

Overall, NBA 2K13 is a very subtle upgrade from the previous edition, so much so that I can't say one way or another whether it's worth rushing out to upgrade. It's only slightly better than 2K12. Gamers craving a greater challenge will definitely find substance from the new controls, and old school gamers can take solace in knowing their old controls are still intact for the most part. Frustrating elements aside, it will take a lot to ever dethrone 2K Sports for the best basketball game out on the market. Any competitors will have to find a way to step it up, and 2K's not providing much breathing room.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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