NBA 2K13 has been out for almost two months at this point, giving me more than ample time to get my hands on the game and check out everything it has to offer. As such, I feel I can finally offer a full, detailed review that touches upon the things that an enthusiastic basketball video game fan would want to know about this year’s offering from 2K Sports, for the PC platform.
2K found themselves without competition once again following the cancellation of NBA Live 13, but it was clear from the outset that they wouldn’t be phoning it in. Last season’s lockout proved to be something of a hindrance to NBA 2K12 despite its impressive historical content, but fortunately for all of us, that wasn’t an issue this year. With the NBA back to business as usual and the opportunity to hit the ground running, how is NBA 2K13 PC looking after a couple of months? Read on to find out.
Let’s begin with the most important aspect of any game.
NBA 2K13 features a few significant changes to gameplay, most notably the move to right stick dribbling controls. As someone who has spent a lot of time playing the NBA Live series over the years and never been fully comfortable with Isomotion, this has proven to be a very welcome change. While 2K has obviously enjoyed a lot more success in simulating NBA basketball in recent years, I’ve still felt that NBA Live’s approach to dribbling controls was more intuitive and easier to master, whereas Isomotion could feel clunky and awkward.
With the change to right stick dribbling in NBA 2K13, I feel that the series has made a great leap forward in accessibility, without compromising the depth of its controls, the realism of its gameplay or anything else that has made the NBA 2K series as good as it has been. However, I would recommend changing the control settings from Screen Relative to Absolute, making it more similar to NBA Live’s Freestyle Control. I guess it comes down to what you’re used to and I understand the Screen Relative approach, but I find it a bit convoluted and unintuitive. If you’re struggling a little with the controls out of the box, definitely try switching to Absolute, which I believe should be the default setting.
The Shot Stick is still in the game and with the default settings it’s engaged by holding the left trigger. I find myself using the shoot button more often than not, but it’s handy to have the option when attempting to pull off certain moves and it’s not too difficult to get the hang of. We do have the option of switching the primary function of the right stick to the Shot Stick and using the trigger to engage the new dribbling controls, but I have to say that idea doesn’t appeal to me personally. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to have that option there for people who want it.
I’m pleased with the responsiveness of the controls, which feel a little better than they did in the Xbox 360 demo. There’s a little more weight to the players compared to last year but not in a bad way; I don’t feel that there are too many out of control moments unless I’m actually playing sloppily. Once again 2K has done a nice job with the animations and physics, though you can still expect to see players clipping through one another at times. The problem with speed differentiation appears to be resolved, though it seems like the CPU still has a slight advantage there, both in the open floor and in the half court.
I believe that it’s time for a change in regards to free throw shooting in NBA 2K. While the current system does work and having the flash in the Player Indicator greatly helps with the timing of your release, it still feels limited and lacking in precision. I’d like more control over aiming free throws, not only for the purpose of making them but also intentionally missing them for an offensive rebound, when the situation calls for it.
Signature Skills are another noteworthy addition this year, giving players specific abilities in certain situations that make them stand apart from their peers. I haven’t noticed them being an overpowering force in the game and that’s definitely good news. Because they aren’t moves that can be spammed (as with NBA Live’s Freestyle Superstars in years past) but abilities that are only active in certain situations or when certain conditions are met, they’re enough of a factor when used effectively, without completely dominating gameplay. Sometimes new features like Signature Skills suffer from slight teething problems when they’re first implemented, but I’d say 2K got it right.
There’s a well-documented issue with the CPU not running enough plays in NBA 2K13, with the suggestion being that the “Run Plays” setting is back to front, meaning that the CPU will actually run more plays and fast break less when the setting is at zero. The community’s tests have produced some mixed results so far but it’s worth trying if you’re unhappy with how the AI is playing out of the box.
Pleasingly, the right players seem to be scoring the most points more often than not, which was still a bit of a problem in NBA 2K12. Although it wasn’t as blatant as the point guard domination issues that have plagued the NBA Live series at times, the second or third option would often take too many shots compared to the star of the team. It’s much better this year, with a realistic pecking order on offense and greater differentiation between star and role players.
In my experience, the default simulation sliders produce fairly good results for 12 minute quarters. For most people, they should at least be a good starting point to tweak the game to their liking, assuming they are after the most realistic results possible. However, I have noticed that there are generally too many points in the paint, even on the simulation setting, so that’s a good place to start making adjustments. Offensive rebounds are something of a problem too as the CPU has a tendency to grab four or five of them in a row, even if they appear to be out of position. That’s something else to look out for when making slider adjustments.
Unfortunately, there are also a few sloppy bugs in this year’s game. The issues with the scoreboard/MyPLAYER overlay disappearing and the full Play Vision not displaying properly are two of the most prominent issues that most users have experienced at one time or another. Replays are also extremely buggy as they randomly stop working, with the manual Instant Replay also getting stuck on a play that may have happened much earlier in the game. Occasionally the problem fixes itself as the game goes on, but it’s a pretty big issue for the game to have shipped with. Additionally, it seems that once again a couple of the pass/switch and playcalling icons are incorrect, which can be confusing and remains an issue for at least the third game running.
Despite these quirks and issues, I would still say that NBA 2K13 plays a very good game of sim-oriented, NBA-style basketball. I’ve really been enjoying my time with NBA 2K13, probably more than any other 2K game so far. The new controls are definitely a big reason for that and although some of the aforementioned issues have been frustrating, the overall experience has been a lot of fun.
Association & MyCAREER
Association and the newly re-branded MyCAREER return as the primary offline game modes, remaining the areas of the game that offer the most replay value. Association hasn’t seen a lot of changes but there has been some tinkering under the hood, with improvements to trade logic being a very welcome improvement. Last year there were too many trades, especially ones involving significant players. Thankfully, that’s been toned down this year. Simulated stats and award winners could still stand to be better – Goran Dragic always seems to lead the league in assists, for example – but they’re not too bad on the whole.
Total Sim Control was an interesting addition to the mode, allowing us to set our team’s strategy when simulating games. While we are still essentially at the mercy of a “dice roll”, Total Sim Control allows us – in theory, at any rate – to optimise our chances at winning simulated games by changing strategy settings. Its effectiveness seems to be somewhat limited though, so it’s something that still needs work. It would also be nice to have a simulation intervention feature similar to NBA Live, so that we can jump into games at key moments (or whenever else we choose) and play from there.
While Association remains a deep mode, the D-League has unfortunately been removed this year. While it’s a relatively small feature in NBA 2K, it’s a significant part of the NBA and should be a part of the experience. Hopefully 2K can find a way to get it back into the game in the future.
MyCAREER has also benefitted from the improvements to the trade logic. Playing through My Player in NBA 2K12, I saw pretty much the whole starting five change around me within the first ten games of the season, which was simply ludicrous. Early on in my current career in NBA 2K13, there’s been only one deal and my team, the first placed Denver Nuggets, were not involved. A definite improvement there.
The sit-down meetings with the GM are a good addition to expand the off-court experience, much like the post-game press conferences and pre-Draft interviews. In my opinion the dialogue options are better this year, with a bit more personality and a distinct choice in tone as far as being humble, arrogant, selfish, team-oriented or indifferent. I’m actually quite enjoying the addition of a fake Twitter to the game, as it’s one of those little things that add to the atmosphere of the mode. Whether by design or by accident, they seem to have struck a good balance between Tweets that make good and fair observations, and whiny Tweets that miss the point, not unlike real life! I know a fair few people were rolling their eyes when we first learned of its inclusion in the game but given the way social media permeates everything these days, it’s a worthwhile addition to round out the mode.\
As most people are probably aware by now, the PC version does not have the MyPLAYER Closet, which means we cannot customise our MyPLAYER’s outfits. While it’s another feature that received a decent amount of scorn during the preview season, it’d be nice to have it for the sake of customising and personalising our players. If nothing else, it would be a distraction from a couple of unfortunate drawbacks of the mode.
Such drawbacks include the lack of attention to the grading system. While the grading system has been improved since My Player was introduced in NBA 2K10, it doesn’t seem to have received much attention this year. To me, it’s still geared a little too much towards punishing mistakes rather than rewarding good play. You can play more or less flawlessly for a few minutes, only to make a couple of blunders and see your teammate grade immediately plummet. Likewise, the criteria for things such as good/bad shot selection, good/bad shot defense and letting your man score sometimes seem arbitrary. I’d like to see more consistency.
The amount of Skill Points received is also disappointingly low, considering what it takes to boost your attributes. It’s fairly obvious that this has been done with Virtual Currency in mind, with gamers being able to use VC earned through the game or purchased with real money to level up quicker. Unfortunately the PC version does not utilise VC, making it quite a grind to improve your player, especially if you’re not in a star role.
This is where the absence of a feature like the Closet smarts somewhat. So much time was spent on it, rather than tinkering with the grading logic or other such improvements, only for us to not get it. I understand that the PC version is something of an afterthought, but we are still paying customers so it would’ve been nice for them to work out something for the platform.
One final complaint involves autosaving and the positioning of the “Play Next Key Game” option in the menu. Autosaving cannot be disabled this year, which can be a bit of a nuisance in general. Notably, because the “Play Next Key Game” is actually the first option in the Play Now menu in MyCAREER, it’s very easy to select it by accident and start simulating all the games until the next key matchup, at which point your game is automatically saved. Fortunately when this happened to me I did have an up-to-date backup and saving a copy of your career is an advisable practice at any rate, but it’s still an annoyance.
Having said that, both Association and MyCAREER offer deep, enjoyable gaming experiences and should keep most offline players busy until next year.
You may have noticed from the branding on the cover and one or two previews leading up to the game’s release that Jay-Z has been heavily involved with NBA 2K13, serving as an executive producer on the game. His influence has gone beyond the soundtrack as he had input into the design of the frontend and overlays, while also being featured in pre-game introductions.
Like most folks, I feel they went a little too far with the style of the menus and it can be distracting at times. I am more or less used to it at this point though and I don’t have any problems actually navigating through the menus to find what I want, so I can certainly tolerate it. I don’t mind the soundtrack but that’s seldom an issue for me with basketball video games. As I’ve said in past reviews, I don’t really notice it after a while so I don’t really have any complaints.
Once again, the game has done a very good job of replicating a real NBA broadcast, despite using 2K Sports branding rather than real TV network integration. The camera angles and cuts, the banter between Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr with Doris Burke as the sideline reporter, the overlays, commercials, the halftime report…it’s all well done and stuff you’d expect to see when watching a real game. It does have the usual drawbacks of a finite amount of commentary, meaning you will hear the same anecdotes a lot. There should also be more breaking off from a story to acknowledge the action (which seemed to be better handled in NBA 2K12) and there are lapses in logic, but I don’t find it too distracting. While I’d welcome any improvement in this area, I’m satisfied enough with what they’ve done. Commentary can always be switched off if it’s an issue.
I’ve actually been able to get online this year, so for me that’s a huge improvement over NBA 2K12’s online support. I’m not much of an online gamer but I like at least having the option to play online. I was able to find an opponent without too long a wait, there wasn’t too much lag during the game and as long as both players have run the benchmark, we can actually play on high detail settings. Again, that’s already a step up.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to set up a game with a friend unless you create a two player Online Association for the occasion. While this isn’t too difficult a workaround, it’s a little more tedious than it needs to be. The PC version is also lacking MyTEAM, once again due to the lack of Virtual Currency, which I know is a disappointment for a fair few players. I can live without it, but it would be good to have the option all the same.
On the subject of Online Association, it’s received a few worthwhile additions as far as administrator tools are concerned, including the ability to reset results and other useful management options. Improvements like that should enhance the Online Association experience and along with the improved online stability in general, online modes should be a much more viable option on the PC this year.
The much-hyped additions to the selection of special teams in NBA 2K13 were the complete 1992 Dream Team and 2012 Team USA. There was certainly a lot of debate as to which is/was the better team during the Olympics this year, so 2K were very smart to capitalise on that, allowing us to play that matchup and decide a winner on the virtual hardwood. I know I’m not alone in making that the first game I played when I picked up NBA 2K13 (for the record, I took control of the Dream Team and won, with Michael Jordan being Player of the Game).
The problem is, once you’ve played that matchup, the appeal is pretty much gone. You could stage a best of seven series, you could challenge yourself to reach certain statistical marks and see if you can win with either team, but there’s probably only so many times you want to use those teams. Still, it was great to get them in the game and once we get the tools to make in-depth historical mods, having those art assets is definitely going to help.
Similarly, it’s great that they left the teams from last year’s NBA’s Greatest mode in the game (minus some players whose likeness rights they couldn’t secure this year) but without a dedicated mode and the historical presentation, they do lose some of their appeal. I think it’s better to have them in the game rather than take them out, even with the missing players, and it gives us a leg up in creating historical mods when the time comes. However, their presence isn’t quite as exciting or appealing this time around.
Given that a few players have had to be removed and the focus has shifted back to the current product now that the labour disputes have been resolved, it will be interesting to see where 2K goes from here with the historical content. I’d like to see it in the game in some form or another in future releases, but they’re probably not going to top what they did in NBA 2K12.
PC vs. Console
I’ve touched a little already on some of the things that are lacking from the PC version of the game (JaoSming also compiled a comprehensive list, which you can check out here) but there are a few other things that bear mentioning.
The first would be the All-Star Weekend downloadable content. While I understand 2K’s approach, I feel it was absolutely the wrong thing to do with such a significant aspect of the NBA season. I understand wanting to give pre-order customers a bonus, but I believe that the full All-Star Weekend should be a base feature across all platforms, available by default and fully integrated into Association and MyCAREER in addition to being a standalone exhibition mode. While the content may possibly still be released for console customers who didn’t pre-order, probably around the time of the 2013 All-Star Weekend, the PC will not be getting it. Don’t be fooled by some of the screenshots out there; as a community, we’ve scoured the PC version to see if the content can be unlocked and it cannot. It’s not there.
The lack of Virtual Currency certainly poses a few problems in terms of earning bonuses and boosting players in MyCAREER, while eliminating features such as the Closet and MyTEAM. It also means that star players are unavailable in Blacktop mode because there’s no way to unlock them. Fortunately our modding community has found ways around the latter, but it shouldn’t have come to that.
Unfortunately, the PC market is the minority and as such we’re not a priority, but the support and attention given to the PC version could still stand to be better. We’ll likely be waiting a while for the official patch and we’ve already missed a roster update, with a rather unsatisfying answer regarding the missing jersey textures (especially since a couple of jersey updates have actually been pushed through so far this season). While it’s true that the PC version is available at a lower price and the sales don’t justify it being the priority platform, as I said before we are still paying customers and deserve a little better.
Having said that, the core elements of the game – the gameplay, presentation, Association and (for the most part) MyCAREER – are intact and online support is better this year, so the PC version is still a good product overall that delivers a fun NBA sim experience.
I’ve enjoyed NBA 2K more and more with every release over the past few years, and NBA 2K13 is no exception. With the change to the new dribbling controls on top of what was already a quality simulation experience, I’m having a lot of fun with the game and find myself playing it much more regularly than any other NBA 2K game thus far. There are some disappointing bugs and issues, some of which will hopefully be patched, but the experience out of the box is still quite satisfying.
While the PC version is lacking a few features it’s still worth picking up, though if you’re like me and live outside of North America you may want to shop around for the best price (or pick up the digital version, now that it’s available). The core experience is still present and it’s one that I believe most basketball gamers will enjoy, perhaps after some tweaks to the sliders and settings. Beyond that, our talented modding community should also make NBA 2K13 PC a game worth sinking many hours into over the next year.