NBA 2K13 (Xbox360)

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NBA 2K13 is without a doubt one of the most comprehensive NBA videogame simulations. Sporting all-new features in addition to the established game modes from previous iterations, including an enhanced MyCareer mode, this time the developers have also teamed up with legendary hip hop mogul JAY Z to jump NBA 2K13 to the next level in sports simulators, and the game certainly delivers on its high flying ambitions.

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Jumping through hoops to master the controls

Being my first foray into the NBA series on Xbox 360, I soon discovered how daunting a task it is to master the art of the hoops, but after fumbling around the navigation menu of NBA 2K13, I eventually came across a training mode which I was desperately in need of. Around about one hundred moves and two hours of practice later, I was confident I could take to the hardwood floors and conquer all that lay in my path. Boy, was I wrong!

Even though the training mode is really effective in teaching you the controls and moves in NBA 2K13, for someone that has no knowledge of the actual nuances of the sport, the biggest challenge with the one hundred moves will be remembering their various names and tactical values (that is to say, when to use them). Soon after I had graduated from the training room with my diploma in NBA Kung Fu and leaped into my first real game, I discovered how a little knowledge and no experience can sometimes be more dangerous than just mashing buttons.

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I struggled to string together even two meaningful moves and spent most of my time out of the action and trying to remember how to pull off that amazing dunk I had learned about in training. I knew the basics – pass, shoot, and sprint – but these alone are not enough to get past the AI. NBA 2K13 needs a lot of practice even after completing the training before you become an effective player.

Pump up the NBA jam with … pimped up pumps?

Besides the standard game modes, NBA 2K13 offers plenty of other features, too, such as MyCareer mode, MyTeam, Kinect support, improved gameplay features and even a shoe creator (!).

The MyCareer mode has been enhanced from previous editions of NBA 2K titles giving players the opportunity to build their own character by assigning them signature skills and custom animations. MyCareer mode is designed for the more dedicated NBA gamers that want to build a professional career from humble beginnings. Starting off their NBA careers as fodder for talent scouts, players are required to spend sit-down time with General Mangers (GM) and go through some dialogue choices to determine their contract future in the NBA league. As their career develops, players must make choices about which endorsement paths to follow while also negotiating their team chemistry and popularity with fans.

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The all-new social media feature gives players a glimpse into the world of their fans and followers and is a useful gauge about where to improve their game or just to have a good laugh at the creative criticism levelled at them through Twitter. Since this is the ultimate in realism simulation for an NBA player, you can expect to be substituted out of a game from time-to-time and endure the unenviable duty of sitting on a bench and watching the game from the sideline (with an option to skip the sitting and watching if you like).

From a singleplayer perspective, MyCareer is an engrossing journey from rags-to-riches and I found it a lot of fun. The constant pressure of being substituted for a bad performance or upsetting your team-mates (and your team mojo) adds a subtle degree of tension that sits well in the premise of the MyCareer mode. Your future is on the line and there are consequences to you being the hotshot three-pointer shooter that never passes the ball!

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MyTeam mode lets players collect uniforms, arenas, players and boosts to assemble their own dream team. With an Xbox LIVE connection you are able to track the talent marketplace, which is updated based on real-life performances, and then take your team to the world in a new tiered matchmaking system that pits your team up against other players’ MyTeams.

Kinect: Master the NBA dribble in real life as you spit out orders to your team-mates!

Kinect support allows players the ability to shout out commands to team-mates such as “Pass me the ball” or “Double team” to coordinate offensive moves and defensive strategies. The list of options is quite extensive and the response is very good, but as with most voice-recognition command systems, the actual vocabulary is restrictive and will take some practice to master. It’s a nice feature that helps to absorb you into the game as you shout at your console and I had a kick out of using it, even though it’s limited in what areas of the game it can be used and how it’s applied.

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Among the improved gameplay features in NBA 2K13 are the new control stick, dynamic shot generator, revamped passing system and signature skills. All dribble moves are now mapped to the right analog stick, including passing, post moves and shooting which allows for a series of elaborate moves to be strung together more easily. The dynamic shot generator creates collision physics in real-time making for a more realistic experience in-game. The revamped passing system gives players more control with fast break passing and bounce passing while signature skills now make use of each player’s unique abilities to change a game.

With more than thirty signature moves available, the game experience (and realism) has improved significantly. Unlike previous NBA titles, players in NBA 2K13 are not simply visually varied clones – each player now possesses a set of signature skills which gives them an advantage in certain areas. For example, a player with ‘Pick Pocket’ is a more capable defender under certain conditions, while the ‘Spot-Up Shooter’ ability makes genuine shooters more adept at making long shots. Gone are the days of trying to master the timing for the shot – skilled shooters will actually now have a lower chance of rebounding on their shots than unskilled shooters.

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Despite simulation purists decrying signature moves as a means of possibly making the game more arcade-like, it actually simulates reality a lot closer by now giving those NBA players with advantages and skills in real life a similar edge within the game. No-one wants to see their favourite shooter fail a simple shot when in reality they are the master dead-eye when it comes to those three pointers. A really good spin on these signature skills is that they are situational – they are only active under certain conditions (such as location, opponent behaviour, and a player’s current movement) and can’t be abused to make impossible shots or steal the ball from players in their own defensive zone.

If the shoe fits…

For those uninitiated in the way of NBA, this next feature may seem rather bizarre: The shoe creator mode. Players can customise up to 45 shoe components and layers to create, well, their own shoes. Clearly an NBA game is not complete without a ‘Fashion Week’ option but as a non-NBA fan I really don’t understand the point. I’m sure for those hardcore NBA fans, shoes and NBA fit together, much like mustard and boerewors rolls are inseparable for rugby fans. All I can say about this feature is more power to those of you that want to design your own range of Nike’s.

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Initially I thought it may be there to appeal to teenage girls but then I discovered an Easter egg of Justin Bieber’s likeness as one of the players, and realised there are far less subtle ways to attract a broader demographic than shoes. In fact, I’d wager that the inclusion of Justin Bieber is as much for the guys as for the girls – some un-Beliebers may prefer to foul Justin Bieber out of the game, after all!

Besides these new features, NBA 2K13 sticks to the same formula as its predecessors, offering fantastic multiplayer opportunities with 1-vs-1, up to 5-vs-5 Blacktop matches, standard NBA team match-ups and the always-appreciated 2K Sports soundtrack featuring artists including Daft Punk, Coldplay and U2.

So is NBA 2K13 an NBA basket case or NBA bread basket?

NBA 2K13 is a very impressive and complete package with something in it for every NBA-fan out there, as well as for the casual sports gamers, too. If you prefer singleplayer campaigns and working your way from anonymity to stardom, there’s MyCareer; if you enjoy building up your own dream team, there’s MyTeam; if you are just into some classic multiplayer fun, there’s NBA match-ups and BlackTop; if you just want to shoot some hoops or jump around, there’s practice mode; if you just want to hurt Justin Bieber, there’s a deliberate foul button.

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Despite the advanced control stick features in NBA 2K13 intended to promote more fluid and dynamic controls, I still couldn’t master the simple dribble or shooting moves and often ended up attempting ambitious three-pointers from a distance, or committing offensive fouls. The Kinect support was a lot of fun with me screaming at my team-mates to pass me the ball, get into position, or just belittling them and it helps tremendously in making you feel like you’re part of the action and dealing with team-mates, even if your household doesn’t appreciate it.

I still find the 2K Sports menu system to be both confusing and overly complicated and the load times in NBA 2K13 were considerably longer than they ought to be, given that the graphics in NBA 2K13 – despite its focus on realism – are not up to the year 2K13’s standards.

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If you are an NBA fan or in the market for a decent NBA sports simulator, then I highly recommend NBA 2K13 as the complete solution for everyone’s NBA needs; there’s a mode for one, two, three, or four players and plenty of fun to be had!

The Good: You get to tackle Justin Bieber silly; Loads of moves for the discerning NBA fanatic; Signature Moves; MyCareer mode

The Bad: Graphics aren’t keeping up with the times; Load times can be excessive.