Basketball isn’t exactly what you’d call big over here. Back in high school, it was the games option for the mediocre kids who weren’t cut out to be on the more highly prized rugby or cricket teams, but given the choice I would have picked it anyway; who would pick cricket’s sedate languidity or rugby’s clumsy brute force over a game possessing such élan and quickness of pace? Who I ask you? Well, for those of us ensnared by the bucket another year has rolled by, another season is about to commence, that means another instalment of 2K’s long-running NBA series, NBA 2K13. Sorry, that should be NBA2K13 FEATURING ***JAY-Z***
The Jigga man acts as the game’s executive producer, and he makes sure you know it; from the outset you are treated to a flash-laden montage of sweet moves set to ‘Public Service Announcement’ and his influence echoes through the appropriately bombastic rap-focused soundtrack, although there are a few more melodic contributions from Hova collaborators Rihanna and Coldplay. Apparently his considerable clout and moxy were also key in convincing several b-ball legends like Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen to lend their likeness to the game for maximum authenticity.
In addition to the requisite complete 2012 NBA lineup, classic teams like the Celtics under the auspices of Larry Bird, Allen Iverson’s millennial ‘76ers and the 1992 Dream Team are playable. There’s also a celebrity team sporting such luminaries as Justin Bieber and two of the walking stereotypes from Jersey Shore, somehow endowed with superhuman stats, but the less said about that, the better.
In a slight break from the previous iteration’s control scheme the right stick’s default use is now exclusively dribble moves, while this in conjunction with a squeeze of the left trigger activates the familiar fadeaways and other jump shots. It takes a bit of adjustment if you are used to the previous setup, but on the whole feels fluid and natural. Full tutorials are available for each shot type and manoeuvre, as well as a variety of training exercises designed to hone your fledgling skills.
As well one-off match-ups a couple of more in-depth modes are available for true ballers. In the MyCareer mode you guide a single rookie from draft selection all the way to legendary status, and the play mode is markedly different from controlling a whole team. The court angle is pitched vertically to better focus on your guy, and every move must be carefully considered. Your chosen one starts out with a level C grade for each game, and as it wears on that grade will increase or decrease depending on your performance; not just shots made, but defense and assists too. Make a bad pass or lose your marked man, and watch that grade slide; everything you do with the ball counts, especially as in the beginning you will be mostly on the bench and only brought out for a few minutes at a time. Your rookie’s appearance is completely customisable and they can even be dubbed with a snazzy nickname for you to be referred by courtside. A few interesting RPG-esque touches are present between the matches, like press interviews where too much bravado can cost you fan support, and a fake Twitter feed where fans and fellow players can praise your accomplishments or berate your shortcomings. Training exercises are also on hand where you can get a few pointers from the pros.
The other mode on offer is MyTeam, a ‘fantasy basketball’ style arrangement where you are assigned a grab-bag lucky dip of players and a playbook, which you then take online to face other folks’ ragtag bunch of random assignments. With more than a little similarity to FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode, your squad can be upgraded by the purchasing of players and card-game like booster packs, which contain various signature skill cards and extras like alternate kits, managers, one-game stat boosts, playbooks or home arenas. If you’re not happy with the players you’ve been dealt you can hop right into the store and start trading, provided you have the points to cover it.
The main MyTeam mode is Road To The Playoffs, with your team battling to be number one seed, but you can also play online against friends or exhibition matches for practice. Playing games in pretty much any mode of NBA 2K13 earns you some in-game virtual currency (VC); this can be spent on varying items apart from your MyTeam, like new abilities and clothing for your MyPlayer. Things will really get interesting when the season begins, for as in FIFA ’13 a player’s worth in-game is determined by his actual standing in the real world, so be prepared for prices to fluctuate as the current season continues. Canny players who are clued up will be able to buy low and sell high, but you’ll be putting in the hours if you want Kobe or Lebron in your starting lineup.
The experience has been modelled as closely as possible to that of watching a live game on the telly, right down to the half-time reports resplendent with blingtastic sponsorship decals. Players are easily recognisable and have their own mannerisms, reactions and signature plays. A brief blast of Jay-Z intercut with star player showcases precedes the tip-off to get you psyched up and ready to go. In-game commentary has made great strides from the stilted and endlessly repeated stock phrases of early sports titles, but I was frankly taken aback at the depth and frequency of the coverage provided by NBA2K mainstays Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg. Plays are dissected on the replay, player histories expounded upon, and the analysis and opinions never seem to let up, with very little noticeable repetition. Sometimes you even catch them chewin’ the fat over your last game and what you said in the post-match interview.
As with any annually recurring sports franchise, comparisons between this and the previous year’s offering are warranted. The Create a Legend mode from NBA 2K12 has been axed in favour of developing your own custom player in the MyPlayer mode, and as mentioned above some might take umbrage at the new stick arrangement. Although Hova’s soundtrack choices convey the necessary grit and gravitas, some may lament the absence of choice jams from the likes of Kurtis Blow and Friendly Fires from last year.
Be assured though that this not just a roster update, 2K have continued to refine and improve the series even in the complete absence of competition (EA have canned their NBA Live project for the past two years running). Away from the quick matchups with mates and the aforementioned MyPlayer and MyTeam modes, you can take to the street for smaller 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 battles in Blacktop, or if you’re feeling particularly megalomaniacal, take complete control of a team as their general manager for a season or two in Association mode.
DLC was announced for pre-orders, featuring the Slam Dunk Contest, Three Point Contest, Rising Stars Challenge, and the NBA All Star Game; no word yet if this will be available to the rest of us, though I can’t imagine them holding it back. Kinect support is advertised on the box and on paper can enable you to do some pretty impressive things, like call in substitutions by name, hail your teammate for plays and (supposedly) get a technical foul called against you if the Kinect catches you not minding your language!
Post game summary? If you possess even the slightest hoop dreams, then this is the complete package. Sure, if your only previous experience of videogame b-ball is NBA Jam then there’s definitely a learning curve to negotiate, but the depth and realism of this title is tangible, and when a sweet, sweet play comes together and you’re revelling in posterizing (look it up) the opposition, then it’s so very worth it. A slam dunk in all respects.