NBA 2K13 review: Incredible sports sim can teach FIFA a few tricks
2nd Oct 2012 | 14:04
Look, we know basketball is slightly less popular in the UK than asylum seeking fat-cat bankers who smoke. We get that. At the same time, we genuinely think
Sadly, the barrier to entry is high. When you first start, it isn't even obvious how you play a quick game, and the menus (accessed by pushing the Left Stick) seem designed to squirrel much of the best content away behind layers of swooshes and button presses. Never mind, at least the pleasingly eclectic soundtrack, hand-picked by executive producer Jay-Z, keeps you amused as you hunt for the goodies.
Similarly, the actual basics of basketball are poorly explained, with only a (deep) tutorial mode giving any clue about what you need to actually do on court. The game assumes knowledge of the sport, but thanks to substantial lists of stats and expert analysis via phenomenal commentary, it does a great job of proving guidance for anyone looking to get deeper into NBA basketball.
A star is born
However, behind the menus lurk several individual modes that are each worth the price of admission. My Career sees you creating a custom player from scratch, choosing everything from appearance to animations of every possible shot you can take on court, before playing a Rookie Showcase game and getting drafted by an NBA team.
The depth of My Career is phenomenal it's as deep as an RPG and additions like the ability to chat with your General Manager, and the integration of 'money' and 'skill points' into a single currency used to boost your stats and your popularity only enhance an already great concept. Mid-game, you get comments from your coach on how happy he is with your performance, and post-game you'll get messages from fans via a generic social media feed (it's basically 'fake Twitter'). The comments here are eerily astute, often reflecting your own thoughts on your performance.
If anything, My Career feels even more punishing than 2K12's equivalent mode, better reflecting the evolution of rookie players as they go from role player, to starter, to star. Sure, that makes for a better simulation, but it also means putting in more grind before your player is good enough to make meaningful contributions to games.
Outside My Career, other modes have been tweaked, but to a lesser extent.
The Association is still a great manager sim, and now you can take your custom player online to compete with / against friends. There are loads more legends (Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Allen Iverson are the biggest additions) and stacks of classic teams to play as. The biggest addition since 2K12 is My Team, essentially FIFA's Ultimate Team - a fantasy trading-card game, where you swap players and play opponents to boost your earnings. It's a cool online mode we haven't had chance to fully test yet.
On court, the game feels very different to 2K12, thanks to an overhaul of player animations and behaviours. Every player moves realistically, each feels like a physical presence on the court; every time you bump into someone or take a tumble the animation looks incredibly natural - think Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3, when he puts an arm out to steady himself.
Many of the niggles of the previous game have been addressed: passing is now smarter, and there are fewer unforced steals. With the developers mapping dribble moves to the Right Stick, they're now much easier to pull off, and this increase in show-boating is complemented by more realistic lay-up and alley-oop animations. As a result, it flows quicker and with a slightly more arcade-like feel - definitely a good thing.
Defensively, things are a little trickier. Although the addition of Signature Skills means players behave very much like their real-life counterparts (Blake Griffin, for example, has the potential to dunk on anyone, Ray Allen hits more 3s from corners, Kobe's fade-away is lethal), there's still a sense that if the shot-clock is low, even the best defence can't stop the AI ghosting past you with a quicker player like Monta Ellis or Ty Lawson.
Yes, it makes games tighter, but it's hugely frustrating in My Career because your rating gets hammered for poor defence.
These are minor problems, though, and the wealth of game sliders in the options menu mean you can tweak NBA 2K13 to become the simulation you're comfortable with. Crucially, the game is stuffed with incredible basketball features, the presentation is near-perfect, and it plays like a dream (team).