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Review: NBA 2K13 Xbox 360

31 Oct 2012

The first thing that you notice about NBA 2K13 is the game’s high production values.

When I first glimpsed NBA 2K13 at the EB Expo in Sydney I thought it was TV footage. It had been while since I last looked at a basketball sim and so I was pretty shocked by the amount of visual detail crammed in the game.

Straight out of the box the game slips you straight into the action with an opening screen invitation to partake in one of the NBA Today basketball games.

You can pick a game from the day’s actual NBA calendar or thereabouts if there is nothing on that day. It’s a great way to get right into the game without having to mess about going through the menus.

About those menus; I can’t say that they are very intuitive. Selecting modes often requires button presses that are not prompted onscreen. A few times I had to stop and think how I managed to do something last time. The navigation needs some work, guys.

Once you get your head around the menu navigation, NBA 2K13 offers all the game modes that are fast becoming the standard offerings of any decent sports title. The game caters for solo, co-op and online play.

The My Career mode allows you to create a player and personally take him through his career from the rite of passage that is the NBA draft all the way to retirement. User-generated basketball players can meet with the team’s GM, get sponsorship, choose equipment and do their best to impress their teammates.

Playing as just one player in the team can be a bit dull sometimes, especially if benched for the game, but taking your player to success can also be very rewarding.

The Association is the game’s franchise mode, allowing player to adopt an NBA team and take control of its management and performance through multiple seasons. This in-depth mode is possibly tailored for the more fanatical NBA fan, but it does offer an extra bit of depth to the game.

Player can scout out new blood, manage the team’s expectations and engage in the many other aspects of running a basketball team. Many of the management options can be toggled to AI control allowing players to ease themselves into this rather complex and involved game mode.

The Playoff Mode is a winner-stays-on tournament mode that is perfect for a few friends on a sofa with some beers. You can also leap straight into the games Practice Mode to get to grips with the game’s multitude of offensive and defensive moves.

Winning games will earn you in-game currency that can be spent upgrading your player in My Career or to create a dream team in the NBA: Create a Legend. You can spend credits to purchase players, courts and staff put together a winning team that can be played online or offline.

For players wanting to take their favourite team though the current NBA season, the aptly named Season Mode will do just that. Players can start the season from the beginning or jump in at the current date. As one would expect, the league fixtures are the same as the real NBA 2013 calendar.

NBA Blacktop is the game’s “street” mode. Played on more informal courts, you can engage opponents 1-on-1 or up to 5 vs. 5 games with teams made up from the full NBA rooster, including NBA legends and even your own player from the My Career mode.

The game also includes couple of other distractions in the form of a music playlist editor and the rather random and bizarre shoe editor, the 2K shoe creator. Using different elements and colours you can design your own custom basketball shoe. There’s also a NikeiD Shoe designer which alludes to you being able to design a custom Nike sneaker that you can then purchase (no doubt reserves for residents of the US).

None of these game modes or slick presentation would mean anything without NBA 2K13 having the gameplay to mach. And thankfully it does.

Just as with its real-life counterpart, NBA 2K13 is a fast-paced, close- quarters contact sport where possession of the ball is everything. Early on, new players will find the game more akin to tennis as the ball rapidly moves back and forth across the court. This quick-fire gameplay makes for some tense moments as a steal and a three point hoop can change everything in a moment.

For those of you looking for the pick-up-and-play game mechanics of the likes of say FIFA, you are going to be disappointed. Whilst the game can be played using shoot-pass-steal combinations, even on easy setting winning a match is going to be challenging.

From a strictly gameplay point of view there are a multitude of moves that, when mastered, will make your life a whole lot easier. Also, learning these advanced moves makes the on-court action look even more realistic as players weave and dribble the ball around their opponents.

The huge amount of offensive, defensive on and off ball moves available in NBA 2K13 can be a bit overpowering. Thankfully 2K has provided plenty of tutorials. As is the norm, they are as dry as old bones. The drills are not really much fun and at times frustrating; but successfully completing the training will make the game that much more rewarding.

The fluid gameplay is matched by visuals that perfectly capture the subtleties of NBA basketball. There is an incredible amount of superfluous detail, such as the way the player’s shorts and vests crease and move, which makes the game look so realistic it’s amazing.

Whilst there is hardly time to notice, even the crowds have been meticulously animated, giant foam hands included. These tiny details don’t need to be there and yet make all the difference.

NBA 2K13’s pre-game and downtime animations perfectly provide a level of immersion unlike any sports game that I’ve played. Even the half time reports are presented with a level of polish that puts then on par with a TV broadcast.

Then there’s the interaction between the players. Sure some animations are cut short which can be jarring, but on the whole the players interact with each other in an uncannily natural way. And the more I got to grips with the movement controls the more realistic the players looked on screen.

For the most part I found the player models to be incredibly realistic and their signature moves emulated perfectly by the game. Up close, some of the faces are still a bit scary, but on the whole they are still some of the best you’ll see in a sports title.

Rapper Jay-Z served as the game’s executive producer and as a result the game has been blessed with an awesome soundtrack and overall sound design. The pre and post-game sequences feature music videos interspersed with game footage creating a cool and unique montage. Like the rest of the game’s presentation, it’s pretty slick.

Whilst I’m no basketball expert, I found the play-by-play commentary really authentic. Throughout the game players are treated to a barrage of player/team stats and other info from commentators Kevin Harlan, Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg; with the occasional switch to Doris Burke reporting from the side-lines. The on-court action is followed so well that the chatter is almost indistinguishable from an NBA TV broadcast.

NBA 2K13 delivers an audio-visual assault that makes EA’s FIFA 13 look like it belongs in a nursing home. If you have kids asleep when playing, turn the volume down… right down.

NBA 2K13 offers players a fantastic opportunity to experience all the razzmatazz one expects from a US national sport. The game’s presentation has been polished to an almost overpowering shine. The audio, both the in game music and the authentic-sounding commentary help create a superb atmosphere.

It doesn’t play to newcomers as well as I’d have liked it to and I can see many players becoming alienated by the rather steep learning curve. The game also assumes that its patrons are intimately familiar with NBA basketball, the fans of which are, of course, the game’s core audience; but it would have been nice to offer a little more encouragement for the novice.

NBA fans, even lapsed fans like me will be able to get into NBA 2K13 with relative ease, whereas folks that are new to the sport will need to persevere in order to unlock the hidden depths of this gem of a game.

Graphics: 9.0

Gameplay: 8.0

Sound: 9.5

Lasting appeal: 9.0

Overall: 9.0