NBA 2K13: Hits and Misses

Posted October 15th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

NBA 2K13 reaches the market with a prime opportunity to not just reestablish itself with consumers this time of year following the lockout that affected NBA 2K12, but also expand its reach to new gaming segments and even greater cultural significance. 2K Sports was able to succeed in just about every facet of the game and have produced the best NBA 2K title to date even exceeding the spectacular 2K11. Continue on for a review of what was done especially well and what was lacking in this ‘Hits and Misses’ review. 


It should come as no surprise that the NBA 2K series once again excells in the area of gameplay. Improvements to areas such as contact between players and how it affects shots, fast breaks, player differentiation particularly in the area of speed, and better passing including manual bounce passes are all worth noting. The addition of “Signature Skills” helps to better differentiate individuals beyond just their ratings adding another layer of strategy.

The biggest change comes with dribbling moves shifting to the right analog stick. The system is a vast improvement over “Isomotion” of the past. It does take some time to get accustomed to and become natural to utilize but the array of moves at a player’s disposal is impressive. NBA 2K13 still wouldn’t be described as especially accessible to new or inexperienced gamers but the ability to learn and practice in the Training Camp feature is helpful. It just takes time to translate into game situations.

Kinect voice command integration, as with other titles that it has debuted in recently, is hit or miss. It’s nice to have the option to call out substitutions or make play calls on the fly without having to look down at the controller but whether it actually is less of a nuisance to do so in such a manner is harder to quantify. In a few instances Kinect called timeouts without being prompted to do so…apparently picking up on something the commentary team said.

The one area that arguably needs the most attention going forward is rebounding which has proven to be inconsistent and at times frustrating. Other aspects such as not catching passes in stride, catch and shoot responsiveness, and boundary recognition are also identifiable as areas to improve upon. An occasionally disappearing scoreboard (that doesn’t return) has been especially troublesome and a patch to fix that should be expected. Despite there always being room for improvement, with all that is right, there is very little reason to complain about the gameplay experience.

•MyCareer Mode
Last year NBA 2K12’s MyPlayer, which is now known as MyCareer, fell into the ‘Misses’ section of the review. With 2K13 however a number of problems that seriously grinded on the experience have been addressed while the feature set has continued to expand.

Teammate AI has been vastly improved along with the CPU’s handling of the rosters. MyPlayers start with better ratings and can even go as high as first in the draft…keeping in mind that whatever player was originally selected in that spot in the draft will also be on that team.

There are still some issues like the CPU not running plays or being unable to see the art on the court anyway, freezes (one already corrected on the 360 but others have been hit too), any passes being deemed “bad” that lead to assists not counting, a still at times frustrating on-court grading system, and poor looking representations of players that is screaming for something along the lines of EA’s Game Face feature. For the most part though these things are no where near the severity of what had been wrong in the mode in past iterations.

MyCareer continues to offer an admirable lifestyle experience that comes with off-the-court features. Though things like interviews and GM discussions are stiff and awkward having a style section, contracts that matter (“VC”), a number of endorsements, and the new Twitter feature which includes relevant commentary on events from journalists or “celebrities”, really enhances the emotional attachment to progression through a career. The ability to add “Signature Skills” also takes things beyond just numbers for ratings and adds more personality. All-Star Weekend content is integrated meaning the potential of participating in the Dunk Contest or 3PT Shootout is there, though limited only to those who preordered the game.

•Presentation and Commentary
One of the significant influences to NBA 2K13 comes from Jay-Z’s involvement. As executive producer he had input on areas such as the soundtrack, look of the menus, and even some of the game presentation elements. Some will like these touches while other’s won’t care for them but ultimately they don’t really do any harm regardless. At the very least it’s different.

Commentary is once again excellent and oftentimes provides interesting information or even laughs. Clearly a lot of new audio was recorded and the flow and relevance of it is excellent. A few celebrities can be spotted courtside which is a neat thing to see. The broadcast presentation remains top notch. The graphics this year take a slight step back and the colors are still off for some teams. Loading times are brief and menu responsiveness is crisp.

•Online Play
Finally online play is not a huge drag on the NBA 2K series. Neglecting such a huge element of the game over the years – and making excuses like being stuck with Dreamcast servers and code – was unacceptable particularly considering it’s increased stature becoming one of the few “event” games each year. Online makes an unexpected appearance then in the ‘Hits’ section despite not being stellar. It’s just so improved that it needs to be noted.

Instances of lag and disconnects have been limited and connections into games have been much quicker. Considering the initial tracking of online performance was done in release week, which is typically when games struggle under the pressure of high usage, it was especially encouraging. Games have been smooth and consistent making them exceedingly fun to play.

The feature set online is still lacking however. MyPlayer Blacktop is a decent addition but one that isn’t terribly compelling and can be boring when playing with random people. Crew mode, a favorite of a vocal contingent, didn’t return this year. Even pauses by opponents during games still leave a user sitting around and unable to do anything but wait. Check out the full detailed online impressions here.

•Historic and Olympic Teams
2K Sports may be phasing out the presence of classic teams and players within NBA 2K but the impressive roster of those available is still worth considering. There is no central mode for them to be used in, and the Dream Team and 2012 Olympic team fall into that same boat, and that is somewhat disappointing. Allen Iverson was the big addition allowing for the 2001 76ers to be the only new historic team for 2K13. A few key names are also missing from various teams while Charles Barkley is only found on the Dream Team. Though there is no real centerpiece for any of these teams, including the complete Dream Team which is great to have available, the depth and value of their presence remains.

With the company minimizing their place in the game, from the cover and marketing to their usefulness within, it’s reasonable to expect that this may be the last year that they are a big part of the product or involved at all. Many of the players, including Michael Jordan, were believed to be locked in with three year contracts that would expire after 2K13. The big names of the past and their respective teams helped take the 2K series to a level that many never believed possible. With no competition and the level of regard the game is held at now they may be deemed unnecessary or cost-prohibitive going forward.

•All-Star Content
As far as the Dunk Contest goes 2K received some criticism for adapting a “Guitar Hero” concept. Is it far more simplified than past implementations? Yes…but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy at the same time. The higher difficulty dunks will take a lot of practice and even a bit of luck to pull off. Because of the the action slowing dramatically in order to allow for the process to be completed there isn’t a great rhythm to the contest but there is still a sense of satisfaction to completing each dunk and watching some crazy ones play out. The commentary during the All-Star Weekend events is also particularly great.

The Three Point Contest is unquestionably the weakest event. There is a distinct lack of responsiveness – though that is somewhat alleviated by beginning the shooting process immediately after releasing each shot and manually advancing to the next rack. It still doesn’t provide a sense of proper rhythm that would be expected going shot to shot. The All-Star Game and Rising Stars Challenge are just what one would expect of them. Their integration within MyCareer and Association is where they offer the most value. As of now there is no way to obtain the All-Star Weekend content for those who did not preorder the game.


•MyTeam Mode
The clone of Ultimate Team from various EA Sports titles, MyTeam, deserves at least some discussion for what it offers but didn’t fit well in either the positive or the negative column. Someone like myself who currently doesn’t have an emotional investment with one particular team can find a constantly changing and improving roster of players especially compelling. There are plenty of people out there who simply like the team-building aspect regardless. There’s a reason why Ultimate Team makes EA hundreds of millions each year and many are shelling out cash now in MyTeam. It’s a fun and compelling concept when executed well.

The biggest problem with MyTeam however is super-teams have been formed killing the enjoyment of the process for those that want to earn their way through which is what the mode should be designed to reward with a sense of achievement. The matchmaking does no favors by placing teams compiled of backups against those that are stacked say eight deep with All-Stars and legends. Given that this is essentially an online mode – playing offline can earn “VC” to spend but has no point otherwise and there is no way to just play exhibition games against friends online – it’s a big problem. It is not at all practical to invest the number of hours required to be able to compete with those who are paying their way to star-studded lineups.

Aspects such as applying signature skills – which can make the same player perform differently than he would on other teams without that skill or with different skills – and a fluctuating market value of players throughout the season are interesting twists on the mode. Unfortunately there isn’t any real incentive to not just buy the best players out there as lower rated ones really aren’t all that much cheaper anyway. MyTeam will be fun for those who invest money in it while others who choose not to shell out cash will get quickly discouraged and move on to something else.


•Association/Online Association
Association mode in the NBA 2K series remains one of the better franchise modes out there but a lack of advancement, not just this year but now for several iterations, shouldn’t be overlooked as a refresh of some sort is needed. This year Association took a backseat in favor of MyTeam mode. Even the All-Star content being integrated within Association was held back as a preorder incentive. The inability to turn off auto-saves has also frustrated some and it seems that no credit in the way of “VC” is provided for games completed.

Online Association was not ready to be released in 2K12, and while a number of much needed admin controls have been added for 2K13, failing to address concerns like single anonymous vetoes scrapping trades and a number of other confusing elements make the mode a struggle to sustain long term. There is also now a stamina bug that causes players to be drained of energy only minutes into games. A website to tie into 2K13’s Online Association has not launched.

•Virtual Currency
Throughout NBA 2K13 is the new economic system that is intended to reward time spent playing 2K13. Unfortunately it is the biggest detractor of enjoyment at the same time. “VC” penalizes those who want to play 2K13 organically and in turn dissuades more than it incentivizes.

2K Sports has failed to communicate precisely enough how the “VC” system works – where it is earned and how much for doing what – and that confusion will play into frustration. Ultimately the currency system is the driving force behind progression in MyCareer mode and team building in MyTeam mode. In MyCareer it can be spent on improving attributes, adding skills, or fashion while MyTeam requires it to purchase players or boosters and maintain the roster.

The prices are out of whack however with their true value. There is no reason to spend on expensive clothing or accessories when its better put to use on actually improving a player’s attributes or skills. In MyTeam, even on day one, there were super-teams already ruining the experience for people who did not want to pull out their wallet to buy their own and compete. Getting quit on in an online game also means losing some VC earnings and payouts seem to be higher for one-off exhibition or blacktop games than those actually completed in MyPlayer. There is a huge imbalance in how many hours need to be invested to earn the amount of VC, upwards of 20 hours, to get a single All-Star for MyTeam when one could just be bought outright for $6. It just ends up making more sense to pay if that is the goal being worked towards.

The way things are set up with “VC” is to encourage the purchase of it rather than properly earning it. It even can discourage someone from playing the game the way they want to play it as they’ll be forced to choose between spending “VC” in one mode or the other – or split it which will mean slower rate of improvement in both.

NBA 2K13 is the best all-around basketball video game to date. Where NBA 2K11 delivered a once-in-a-generation type experience that helped to cover up its deficiencies, and NBA 2K12 struggled to do so nearly as well with the lockout having a big impact on early enjoyment, 2K13 is well-rounded and avoids many issues that have plagued the series in the past. Even MyTeam will be fun for some people as will Association mode despite the lack of additions or advancements. Only the “VC” system really deserves negative scrutiny.

With online play that at least works fairly consistently now, a deep and involving career mode, excellent gameplay and presentation, and the large selection of historic teams plus the Olympic squads, NBA 2K13 has become arguably the best value in all of sports gaming. It’s a return to greatness that proves the NBA 2K series has earned its increased stature and not let up in the face of unchallenged success.