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NBA 2K13 Review: A Solid Addition, But Nothing Revolutionary

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I wish I could give you a review saying it was excellent or horrible, but this year's NBA 2K game was simply solid. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kevork Djansezian - Getty Images

Getting a new edition of a 2K Sports game always feels like Christmas. When 2K releases a new game, you always feel that the creators of the game have put love and care into their product, because they love basketball as much as you do. Every year's new edition is not merely a roster update, always working to improve on their old formula. Yet, at the same time, the game never revolutionizes itself, polarizing its audience with something like Madden's new "infinity" engine.

The above holds true for NBA 2K13. I wish I could give you a review saying it was excellent or horrible, but this year's NBA 2K game was simply solid. Nothing more, nothing less.

The first thing you notice when you pop the disc in your 360 or PS Triple is the Jay-Z marketing that's all over this game. I don't know much about the modern music scene, but Jay-Z's involvement brings both positives and negatives. If you like Jay Z's music or sense of style, then this game will be like pepperoni on a pizza. The perfect accentuation to an already solid product. Unfortunately, some of Jay-Z's presentation takes away from the professional feel of the product. Instead of playing a sim sports game, I feel like I'm playing NBA Ballers. Overall though, I have to admire the gall it took to put Jay-Z on the cover. You could see the move in one of two directions. A step towards more obvious product placement and brand endorsing, or a step back towards the culture that the NBA was known for before 2004's Malace at the Palace. I like to see it in the latter light.

But, that being said, Jay-Z did do quite a few things besides the presentation and music. You can find a whole list here, but for me, the biggest addition was getting the sole classic player holdout, Charles Barkley. Yes, for the first time since NBA Live 2001 as a real player or NBA 2K6 as a legend, you can play as the Round Mound of Rebound. Sweet. Thanks, Jay-Z!

Gameplay-wise, it's the same 2K you've always known. What they say is different this year is the ability to use the "shot stick" for both dribble moves and shots. In the past, you could only use the right thumb stick to dribble or shoot, with no ability to switch between. Now, you switch between modes by pressing the left shoulder button. Either way, it's really nothing new, and a feature that should have been implemented a long time ago. They also say that the controls are more fluid, but I honestly didn't notice. Anyway, the rest of the gameplay is the same you've come to expect from 2K. It's more fluid and fast-paced than NBA Live ever was, but you'll sometimes get ahead of yourself on the fast break, and players will make the wrong steps. Most troubling is the fact that it's way easier for players to shoot off the pass than it is off the dribble, which has been one of 2K's main knocks for years. Still, it beats the heck out of what NBA Live used to offer, and if it isn't broken, there's no need to fix it.

So then, what reason, other than Jay-Z, is there to buy the game? Well, the number one reason, for me, would be the historic rosters. Yes, some of the teams from last year have gone away (like the teams from the 50s). But a lot of the historic teams will be more relevant to younger 2K fans, like the 00-01 Philadelphia 76ers, the 01-02 Sacramento Kings, and pretty much every team you could possibly care about from the 90s (including the Run TMC Warriors!). And, undoubtedly, there will be an expansion pack released later in the season giving you more players and teams for a fee. However, the biggest additions are that of the 1992 Dream Team, 2012's Dream Team, and a Celebrity All-Star team. Ever wanted to see Justin Bieber take on Kevin Durant? Now's your chance!

There's also the "My Team" mode, which is pretty much the same thing as FIFA's "Ultimate Team" and other things in sports games. You get a starter pack of players, make a team, win games, get money, and buy better players. The relieving thing is that you can't buy packs with real money, and you'll have to make your way up the ladder through in-game achievement. Players' value will go up and down as their season progresses, making it easy to pick up a struggling player on the cheap. The mode sounds good in theory, but the games you'll play early on are a struggle. Your best player will be in the mid-70s ratings-wise, and the computer doesn't do a good job adjusting for the worse defense that's out there on the floor, so you'll have a lot of clanks and defensive battles. But I'm sure things pick up once you get to design your own team, which will be a big appeal of the mode.

Another big addition is the improved "Online Association" mode, something that's been lacking since the PS2/Original X-Box days. Online Association was there last year, but it was totally crippled because the commissioners had little to no power in altering their league. The result was lots of unfinished leagues, because one guy didn't want to go through his games. Regardless, as far as I can tell, the online association mode is actually playable now, which is a huge boon in my book.

The "My Player" mode has been supposedly re-vamped, but it's essentially the same thing as it was in 2K12. There's a few new bells and whistles, like the ability to customize your player's clothes and see how people are reacting to you on fake Twitter. Still, two things really bother me about this mode. One is that the very first game you play drastically alters your career. How well you play in the "rookie challenge" can either put you on the level of Anthony Davis or make you a forgotten second rounder. And it will take many, many games to climb back up the rankings. The second thing that bothers me is the ratings system itself. I'm pretty much killed by a letter grade every time I let my man score, commit a turnover, and et cetera. But every time I do something good, I'm hardly rewarded for it. It just seems that five minutes of solid play can be destroyed in seconds by a bad turnover that leads to a score from your man. In the end, the mode is the same as last year's, and if you enjoyed it last year, you'll enjoy it now. But in my opinion, video game basketball is just boring and frustrating when you have to play as one guy.

The rest of what's new in the game is mostly marginal stuff. You can play as a real NBA player in "My Player" mode. You can design your own shoes. There's a Slam Dunk meter that ranks how nasty your dunk was on a scale from 1-100. And that's about it.

Okay, so, is NBA 2K13 worth your money? Well, I will say that NBA 2K12 will be historically remembered as a stronger installment in the series than this one. But if you're an online gamer, the game has significantly improved with the addition of the Online Association and My Team modes, making it a must buy. And, of course, the roster updates are a must have for any hardcore NBA fan. However, if you're a guy or gal who just likes to play locally with your friends, simulate an association, or mess around with My Player, I'd suggest saving the extra cash and picking up NBA 2K12. Overall, I'd give NBA 2K13 an A-.

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