Hardcore hoops fans, lapsed b-ball followers, and anyone else who even casually picks up the odd sports game should play NBA 2K13. Developer Visual Concepts continues to keep the bar high, enhancing the realism of and adding a superb new control scheme to this excellent recreation of pro basketball. Pace, graphics, animations, sound effects, and commentary are all so dead on that you feel like you've walked onto the court at Staples Center or Madison Square Garden. Only a few issues with the interface and the absence of controller tutorials, along with ridiculously overblown production values courtesy of guest executive producer Jay Z, get between you and the full appreciation of what looks, sounds, and feels like the real thing.
That said, this isn't a revolutionary upgrade on NBA 2K12. Last year's game is the foundation for this successor, which bases everything on what has gone before. Gameplay on the court is still incredibly true to real life. The pace, plays, artificial intelligence, and, well, everything else, mimic real pro basketball. Players move like they should, shoot like they should, and even position themselves smartly so you can make plays. Even playing solo, it feels like you're working as part of a real team due to the stellar AI. You can play selfishly and always look for the shot, but that tends to hurt your team more than passing and trying to develop plays. Same goes on defense, where you contribute by covering your man or providing timely help. Do that well and you feel like you're a part of the team even if you never touch the ball.
All of the offline and online modes of play are back for another season, so you can practice plays, run franchises, play one-off matches or the playoffs, hit the schoolyard for three-on-three blacktop action, mess around with legendary clubs, and so on. You can even make your own kicks now, through a 2K Shoes creator module. Most of the core options have been glitzed up. MyPlayer has been dramatically expanded and renamed MyCareer. You now not only create an NBA wannabe, you role-play him through all sorts of off-court situations. You can be a good guy or a heel, a Steve Nash or a Kobe Bryant. This means you get to dress up in flashy clothes and accoutrements for arriving at games, sign shoe endorsements, play egotistical brat when meeting with GMs before the draft, try to get your coach fired, and stir up fans on social media.
It's all faintly ridiculous, especially the scripted comments you make in meetings, and it adds up to a cartoon view of what the NBA is in real life. But it's also very compelling. These options let you personalize your career, and the whole me-first concept plays into the fantasy sports ideal that makes player-oriented modes of play in sports sims so appealing in the first place. Most goodies are bought with the VC coins awarded for accomplishments in-game, as well, so you at least have to do something on the hardwood (or spend your own cash by buying the things with real-world money) before you earn the right to detonate any ego explosions.
More historical greats have been included among the roster of teams. The headline is the inclusion of the full 1992 Olympic Dream Team, with even Charles Barkley finally letting his likeness be added to a game for the first time since 1994's Shut Up and Jam! So old-timers who want to see Jordan, Magic, Bird, Sir Charles, and pals on the court together again can finally do so. You can also pit this club against the most recent version of the dreamy Olympic roster from earlier this year to see what roster is really the best of all time.
Other iconic teams from the NBA's past are included, as well, like the Showtime Lakers and the Bad Boys with top thugs Laimbeer and Rodman. The game even has an absurd celebrity team starring the likes of Justin Bieber and various B-listers such as JB Smoove and Jersey Shore's Pauly D. Even a little guy like the Beeb comes in with sky-high ratings, too, so you can actually pit this team (the overall rating is a formidable 97) against any and all comers with a good shot at emerging victorious.
Players themselves have had their ratings revised in a key area, as well. All of the top stars in the NBA, and even a number of role players and sixth men, are now given signature skills that better reflect their real-life traits. So you have the floor general, who makes everyone on the floor play better offense. There's the closer, who raises his game in clutch moments. The eraser sends shots off with emphasis. The finisher can blast into the paint to slam layups and dunks no matter what traffic may be clogging the key.