It's still got swag
What NBA 2K13 Got Right
- + Challenging but welcomed gameplay changes
- + My Career RPG mode is still great
- + Added NBA Legends and Olympic Teams
- + Jay Z implementation
What NBA 2K13 Got Wrong
- - Menus are still a mess
- - Glitches hurt game post-launch
NBA 2K13 is a lone warrior on the basketball sim front, losing its main competitor in the NBA Live series to rebrandings-gone-wrong and a clear lack of direction. Yet, while competition drives change and, of course, competitiveness, the team at 2K Sports never appears satisfied with what is already an established and reputable sports game franchise. This year’s iteration doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel, but it adds a number of major gameplay changes that give the experience a fresh feel without compromising its already satisfying core gameplay mechanics.
At first I was in two minds about the game’s main gameplay changes. Firstly, the Dribble Stick, mapped to the right thumbstick, mimics the simplistic but satisfying Freestyle dribble functionality from the NBA Live games of yesteryear. The main difference, of course, is the NBA 2K series’ Isomotion control system, which adds a bit more finesse to the execution of ball handling skills. Secondly, shooting now requires both a left trigger press along with a directional press of the right thumbstick, different from previous iterations reliance on the right thumb stick exclusively.
Initially it felt to me like these changes, while difficult to master, were perhaps a little too easily effective: once you wrap your head around the changes, would you be making more shots, more often than you would have after mastering the old system? Thankfully, the added dribble control certainly gives the game a bit more personality, while the added shooting mechanic, while perhaps initially a little unorthodox, actually makes shooting more reliant on timing and precision than it was in previous years. Two years after EA Sports tried to completely reinvigorate shooting mechanics with NBA Elite 11, 2K Sports has done with minimal change, but maximum effectiveness.
These two core mechanics are especially reliant on your understanding of the Signature Skills system, a bunch of skills representative of certain player attributes. Kobe Bryant, for example, is a finisher, and this is the kind of guy you should be taking the last shot with. These skills have certain exceptions: a “posterizer”, who is more likely to successfully dunk in traffic, needs a stamina rating about 80. Furthermore, these skills, when executed effectively, have an influence on other players on the team or on how the opposition responds to certain plays.
The Signature Skills, while relatively hidden within the game (there is no clear indicative of certain Signature Skills in matches), make it important to have an understanding of every team player’s most damaging skill. It’s a requirement that certainly drives a tactical approach, which a wonderful trait for a sports sim.
Arguably the NBA 2K series’ most popular mode, My Career (called My Player in previous years) is back in NBA 2K13 with a consistently engaging and rewarding role-playing experience. The core experience here remains intact: you create a player, earn Virtual Coins by playing NBA 2K13’s many modes, and use this currency to update skills, attributes and appearance. Your player’s performance is critiqued constantly, and you have influence on everything from the player’s drafting position, to the team they play for, to their relationship with a team’s general manager. New features are added to this mode every year, and the ability to interact with general managers definitely adds an extra layer of enjoyment, thanks to the power it gives you to force major team changes.
My Career isn’t the only place you’ll find depth in NBA 2K13, though. The game’s franchise mode is as demanding as ever, while the expanded NBA Legends and Olympic teams, which includes Allen Iverson’s overachieving 2000 Finals team and the 1992 USA Dream Team, allow you to control legendary players of the NBA using contemporary gameplay mechanics. The honorary Charles Barkley, for example, appears in his first NBA-license videogame since the Mega Drive days, which is reason enough to buy this game.
The series’ menus could certainly do with a bit of a work over, with NBA 2K13’s UI seemingly hurt by the sheer amount of content available in the game. The menus always appear so messy in NBA 2K games, and this year is certainly no exception. It’s hardly anything worth crying over, but I’d have hoped that a menu system that’s been messy since the early 00s would have been rectified by now.
If you’ve been following the game’s development you would no doubt know of Jay Z’s involvement, and for the most part he is actually a worthy addition to the series’ presentation and sound: the soundtrack is fitting and enjoyable. His added pre-game music video/highlight reel is an added aesthetic that gives the game swag and style.
The Final Verdict
The gameplay has changed a little but the experience is just as enjoyable. Multiple great game modes, including an enhanced My Career mode and added NBA Legends teams, make this a worthy sports sim. With so much expectation around change for annual game releases, the 2K Sports team has certainly made an effort to implement successful changes, mixing up the experience while still remaining honest to a popular and acclaimed gameplay offering.