Being an NBA game there isn't much in the way of story, but there are a ton of game modes. Career mode has been overhauled and is now referred to as MyCareer, and the player as MyPlayer. There's a new online mode called MyTeam which is a lot like the Ultimate Team game modes found in EA Sports games. The idea is that you earn virtual coins (VC) and use them to buy players or booster packs to form a team. You then compete against other online players in the hopes of taking your team all the way to the playoffs.
To the excitement of many the 1992 Dream Team, as well as the 2012 Team USA Olympic teams are now playable. You can't help but feel their inclusion is based on Kobe Bryant's claim that Team USA would be more than a match for the Dream Team if the two sides were ever to meet. Whatever the reason for its inclusion you get the chance to settle the score, one way or another. Far less exciting is the inclusion of a ‘celebrity' team including the likes of Justin Bieber, Bow Wow and Sean Kingston. Its inclusion can probably be explained by Jay Z's presence as executive producer, but even so...
As mentioned above, career mode, now called MyCareer has received the biggest overhaul. Once you've created your player you head straight into the Rookie Showcase game, where you get to strut your stuff for the scouts. Perform well and you'll likely be a high draft pick, but perform poorly and you'll drop to the later rounds. All new to MyCareer are press conferences and conversations with team GMs. Here you answer questions with one of three responses, taking either a "me first" or "team first" attitude.
New this year is Signature Skills, passive abilities that boost specific skills. There are over 30 Signature Skills in the game, some examples include the ‘on court coach', which makes team mates pass to you when you call for the ball, ‘defensive anchor' which gives all players on your team a two attribute-point bonus to their defensive abilities and ‘brick wall', which enhances your screens, making them harder to get through.
Ok, so those are the major changes to game modes, but how about on the court? The biggest change there this year is the inclusion of the Dribble Stick, which enables you to pull off advanced freestyle dribble moves with the right-stick. If you're worried that this might negatively affect the simulation feel of the game, don't be. Use of the Dribble Stick consumes energy at a rapid rate, so you don't want to overdo it. Using the Dribble Stick too much is also a recipe for turnovers, with your player losing control of the ball more easily.
Online play in NBA 2K13 is vastly improved on what has come before. In my time online I experienced next to no lag, which was prominent in previous years. You now get a comprehensive scouting report of your opponent pre-game, including their tendencies, such as where they like to shoot from and whether or not they double-team players. It's a neat feature that definitely adds something to the experience, making the player less of a stranger in the process. Local multiplayer is a blast too, and lining up against your friends never gets old.
Like previous years, the presentation is first-class throughout. On the way to a game you'll often see a video clip from one of the soundtrack songs, which marries the clip with in-game footage to get you hyped up for the game. They didn't really do it for me, but it's still a neat touch that some fans will get a kick out of.
As far as issues go I only had a couple. Firstly, I can't help but feel the whole control scheme is now too complex. Take passing for example; trying to pass with the X button or right-stick alone is wildly inaccurate, and even with icon passing your player doesn't show great sense in where to pass the ball. Learning to use bounce passes and leading passes can help, but all of a sudden the simple act of passing requires the use of multiple triggers, one or two analog-sticks and a button – hardly the most intuitive set up.
This goes for the whole control set-up, not just passing. Certainly casual basketball fans may find themselves overwhelmed, and not entirely welcome, and this is where the lack of a decent tutorial really hurts.
Visually NBA 2K13 is first-class. Most players look like their real-life versions and, as always, the animation is outstanding. Real-life idiosyncrasies have been carried over to the game – shot styles and free-throw routines for example – making it feel that much more life-like. Arenas are faithfully recreated too, and as mentioned earlier, the presentation is close to flawless, really adding to the atmosphere of the game.
If there's an area that outdoes the visuals it's the commentary. The play by play is done by Clark Kellogg, Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr, and it's significantly better than any other game out there. They have a ton of discussion points, and just about everything they say is accurate to the situation on the court. It takes a long time for them to start repeating the same anecdotes or views on a specific player, and even then it's only noticeable if you're playing as the same team over and over.
Overall, NBA 2K13 is a faithful representation of basketball; the best yet actually, which is no small feat. There have been significant improvements to the career mode and online play is now lag-free and enjoyable. The Dribble Stick and Signature Skills both enhance the on-court experience, making the game even more life-like than before. The complex control scheme and absence of useful tutorials run the risk of alienating casual fans, but if you love the NBA you're going to love NBA 2K13.
Review By: Mike Allison