Basketball games are a very personal experience. For some, each release is the best time of year, the routine of playing is enhanced with the addition of new teams, moves and features. These people know every player in the league, what they can do and how best to use them. Others (like myself) have grown up around the sport and are more interested in the occasional pick up game, having little knowledge of teams or players of the current league. For those of us in the latter group, NBA games have little interest as a yearly purchase because the idea of upgrading the experience seems pointless. Thus the chances of getting me into a store to buy this game are slim and my games are often played over at someone else's place.
Now that you have an idea of where I stand with these games, you can imagine my surprise to find out that this year, NBA 2K13 is not trying to add more polish to its basketball fan dream game. Instead, the plan is to rebuild the game from the ground up. The question stands: Is this for better or worse?
The first major addition is Jay Z. Not as a player but as the person pulling the strings on the whole project as the game's producer. For those that don't know the hip-hop world, Jay Z is a master of building up a product and NBA 2K13 gets his usual level of excellence. The menus scream 'cool' and pulse to a soundtrack, hand picked by Jay himself. This year, there are no average basketball-themed raps, with the music instead feeling like a great selection of court-side jams.
Looking past the music, the game has all of the standard modes and play styles you would need in a title like this; gamers can build their own player to use throughout the career mode, this character will be your focus as you climb the ranks from rookie all the way to the big leagues. Fashion can be adjusted on and off the court, allowing you to better personalize your experience - plus, the clothing you wear on the courts adds boosts to your character.
One of the most notable aspects of improvement is the added RPG component. You can choose how you speak about teams and teammates through post-match press conferences and a new General Manager mode allows you to communicate with the man in charge to try and sway the outcome of the future of your team. Your character can play the angry hot-head or the smart team leader, either way your decisions will alter the way your career plays out. Players will also unlock special skills which you can apply to your character allowing for better blocking, shooting, passing and other skills. You can change these at any time giving you more control over your strategy for each game.
Another interesting feature of the Career Mode is the integration of a fake social network, this adds more immersion as fans will discuss your actions both on and off the court. For example, if you bad-mouth your team publicly, your fans may support you or turn on you, depending on your standing and abilities as a player. One of the main aims of this mode is to amass as many fans as possible, which producer Erick Boenisch described as the return of the "high score".
So if it doesn't seem like there is enough depth to this game already, now we toss a newly redesigned My Team mode in for good measure. Basketball fans who follow the sport closely will become super addicted to this mode. As you build your team, players can be brought and sold using NBA 2K13's virtual currency which is collected through the games you win. For example, if a player is injured in real life their in-game price will plummet and you will be able to snap them up at a bargain price, once they are healed you can put them in your starting line up or sell them at a profit. Also, the virtual currency can be used to buy the game's equivalent of a card game's "booster pack". Items received will give gamers a randomised set of abilities, gear and of course players which can then be used to boost the team. Boosters have three tiers; bronze, silver and gold, each has its own set of rare cards to collect and so the addiction begins.
NBA 2K13 has blown my expectations right out of the water. I went in expecting a simple and repetitive basketball game and instead I got a in-depth and well designed title trying to push the sport back to what it was originally, a game! All of the new additions feel organic and anyone with a small amount of basketball knowledge will feel totally at home. If you only buy one sports game this year, NBA 2K13 should be that game.