I told myself I wasn’t going to get NBA 2K12. Then the game was good enough that I did anyway.
I made no such promises this year for 2K13. As I find myself starting to play fewer video games, the prospect of picking up a new title has boiled down to two important factors: 1) whether or not the game is fun to play, and 2) how much time I get out of it. If you give me a title where the single-player campaign is a measly 10 hours, I might rent the game or skip it entirely, especially if there’s no replay value. (I’m looking at you, Heavy Rain.)
NBA 2K13 delivers on both accounts. The series continues to innovate the genre despite not having any competition — EA Sports had to cancel this year’s offering again in a staggering display of incompetence. Just like last year, 2K Sports could have shrugged, introduced two or three small updates, and released a game that would have sold well anyway. Instead, they’ve delivered a bunch of upgrades across the board.
The right stick has been revamped to include a variety of dribble moves, similar to what NBA Live did in the mid-2000s. Holding down one of the trigger buttons gives you all of your old shooting options if you prefer to use the stick for that purpose. The stick produces smooth results without promoting an arcade-like level of difficulty; using a crossover with a simple flick isn’t going to cause the defense to collapse and give you an easy layup. This is important, because…
Guard play looks and feels more natural because of the new animations. Last year, guards picked up a few new moves around the basket to score over bigger defenders; this year, players like Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio run offenses like their real-life counterparts. Screen and rolls are easier, dribble penetration encourages you to kick the ball out to teammates, and AI players react intelligently when your player moves near them. Instead of standing around in a set play, your teammates will react by clearing out to give you space and even cutting to the basket when appropriate.
Signature skills also contribute to the game’s realism by making most players have their own identity. These skills cover offense, defense, intangibles, and mental aspects, from being adept at jumping into passing lanes to using a player’s leadership to improve the attributes his teammates on the floor. Star players like LeBron and Durant have the max of five skills equipped, but even backups and role players get to have one or two if it’s appropriate. This is one of the big boosts to the MyCareer mode (known as MyPlayer in years past); being able to choose how you build your character’s skills is a huge plus. Early in my career, I picked up boosts to my stamina and ability to set screens, and the difference was easily noticeable once I equipped them.
Some familiar problems have still not been fixed: Player audio in MyCareer continues to have lines of dialogue with inexplicable skips; the AI occasionally screws up on-the-court behavior and turns routine players into turnovers; and the menu system is as clunky as ever. Do I push Start to advance past this screen? X? The right stick? Circle? Hell if I know half the time.
Some new problems have crept up: Players seem to struggle to pick up loose balls at times, especially in the drills in MyCareer, and when they do manage to grab the orange, their arms occasionally have horrific animations; the new fake Twitter accounts are fun, but they screw up some details, like one fan who wished me luck against the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs — a team that the Suns would never face in the first round; and for all the hype about Jay Z being the executive producer, his impact ends up being overblown and unnecessary. I didn’t need 47 Kanye West songs in my soundtrack (although there are some good choices as well).
THE BOTTOM LINE
That seems like a pretty detailed list of problems, but here’s the thing: These occasional glitches and poor design choices only serve to remind you how immersive the rest of the experience is. Sure, it would be nice if every last detail of NBA 2K13 was perfect, but it’s hard to imagine a game that does so much right while getting so few things wrong.
As usual, basketball fans should pick this up. There’s plenty of vintage teams for the purists out there to enjoy, and you can match the 1992 Olympic team against the 2012 edition if you really want to find out who would win (hint: it’s not 2012). MyPlayer and MyCareer are deeper than ever — you can even set your pre-game rituals so that your character does ridiculous damage or throws chalk all over the place. And most importantly of all, the game feels more like basketball than anything I’ve ever played. It’s fun, and it lasts for hours and hours. Works for me.