If you’ve been paying any attention to 2K Sport’s basketball for the past couple of years you already know that they have and are producing the BEST b-ball game you can buy. High praise from both media and fans has kept them on the mountain top, and without any competition this trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. With that said, I want to focus this review on the significant changes made this year and why you should care.
For the past three years, 2K has pulled some of the biggest names in basketball to help promote their game. The signing of Michael Jordan and then Magic and Bird to round out some historic teams gave notice to their fan base that they were serious about not staying pat on the innovation front. This year they went full monty by bringing on hip-hop mogul Jay-Z to executive produce the game. Many people, myself included scoffed at the idea of bringing on Jay. What would or could he really add to the game that gamers care about? Is this just 2K adding a huge name for “front of the box” name recognition?
Upon starting the game you quickly understand why they did it. You are treated to a montage of Jay doing his thing at a concert with interspersed gameplay clips. You can’t not get a little hyped up by seeing the mix of the two; it sets the stage for rest of the mash-up experience that is the presentation style of 2K13. Right before you start a contest you might be shown highlights of your favorite team, synced to an Eric B. & Rakim or Nas video. Behind the foreground menus you see equalizers pulsate in time with Jay-Z’s assembled soundtrack. They are small touches and I’m still not sure how I feel about them, but it is a interesting direction nonetheless.
Music isn’t the only thing Jay influenced: he used his clout to get some future hall-of-famers to join the ranks as well. With a call or two, he not only got Scottie Pippen to add his likeness to the 92’ “Dream Team” but also snagged longed-for “Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley who hadn’t been included in a basketball game since 1994.
I’m not sure how Jay-Z’s inclusion has translated to direct sales and I’m not sure how those presentation flairs have come across to the greater gaming community but I will say that it might have put 2K in a weird predicament. Where do they go from here and how much bigger do you go without alienating your core fans? I suppose we will see what happens next year in this respect.
Detail, Detail, Detail
There are still times when someone will walk in while a CPU vs. CPU game is going on and mistake it for the real thing. This is testament to all of the intricate motion capture 2K does every year. The thing that makes this installment so breathtaking is all of the in-between and collision animations they have this year. Going up for a contested layup more often than not will put you into a supremely life-like animation in which flailing limbs connect. It gives both players and the ball heft and weight; feet plant realistically while the inertia of gathered momentum moves players upward to the rim. It’s a beautiful game to watch. Players react realistically to getting hit and will sometimes react to those bumps by holding their heads or falling to the floor.
Added facial animations, authentic celebrations from both teams and crowds add so much to the gameplay and feel of the game. They’ve even found a way for the first time in a basketball game to introduce playcalling, substitutions and technical fouls on the Xbox 360 via Kinect. Massive kudos go to 2K for stepping all these up in a significant way.
2K has added “VC” (virtual currency) to be the backbone of how you progress this year in the “My Player” modes and “My Team” modes. Usually things like this don’t ping my radar, but this is the first time 2K has gotten into the micro-transaction game. You can purchase VC or earn them in game to buy virtual goods like animation packages, clothes and other accessories for your player. Although I am not a fan of micro-transactions, it seems as if they have been tactfully implemented.
The Wrap Up
This seems to be the most feature-complete game 2K has put on the market to date. From my experience, they have fixed a bunch of the online issues that plagued them for the initial month of last year’s release. Games I’ve played have been as smooth as you can expect from an online sports game and have been steady connection-wise. The removal of “My Crew” is disappointing but understandable.
Lastly here are some things of note.
• Some of the historic teams from previous years are missing. I truly don’t understand why this keeps happening? I wonder if certain players like Dr. J are only contracted for a year at a time and multi-year deals are too expensive. I think maybe if they put these teams in as DLC at a reasonable price, fans would be excited. Possibly doing a couple of era packs would suffice.
• There are still some significant players missing. Everyone is still waiting for Reggie Miller. (C’mon Jay, make the call!) Other players like Manute Bol, Lattrell Sprewell, Derek Anderson, and Derrick Coleman haven’t gotten their due.
• Why in the world is the All-Star Weekend DLC this year? To gate this behind pre-order DLC and then to not have it available day one is just not right. To top it all off, 2K didn’t make either the dunk contest or three-point contest playable online. It makes no sense and would have been so much fun.
• We are still waiting for an EA “Gameface” equivalent on the 2K platform. I can’t be that excited for “My Player” if my created player — no matter how much I try — won’t look like me. The tech is there. I would much rather that than making shoes.
• The removal of downloadable sliders is a heartbreaker to lots of folks who know that the game doesn’t always play to your liking straight out of the box. There are lots of dedicated folks in the NLSC and Operation Sports forums who take time to fine-tune them and help others out. The weird thing is that 2K has intimate knowledge of this, frequents those boards, but still omitted this feature.
• Saving replays and screenshots in a high-res format would be nice, as both consoles and PC version accept USB disks. Why not let things export to the HD?
Even with those niggling bits, 2K has again put out the most amazing display of basketball that you can purchase, a game that you can play long into the season and beyond. The jury is still out on the inclusion of Jay-Z, but again his influence has reached across multiple lines and actually made the game fuller on a gameplay level. If you are a fan, you need to play this game. There is no doubt that you will get your money’s worth.
I have two vices: videogames and basketball, I’ve probably played every iteration of the digital version that you can think of. From Double Dribble to Slam-N-Jam 95′ the sport has seen numerous changes. With each technological advance we’ve seen a huge improvement in graphics, commentary, AI and physics. All this brings me to today’s topic: The Digital Dunk Contest.
To show you where I would love to end up, let’s start at the beginning: in 1988 Jordan Vs. Bird had the first videogame dunk contest. The funny thing about it was the fact that you could only play as Jordan, so I’m not sure how it was really a contest. (But did you really want to play as Bird?) You were given a selection of ten dunks to choose from and relied on a timing meter to execute the dunk you wanted to perform. The game captured the likeness and signature moves of Jordan plus gave you a challenge while trying to pull off his dunks. I think I might have played this one aspect of the game more than anything else.
Here is your throwback video to illustrate:
Fast forward to 2005 and Electronic Arts is holding court with the NBA Live series. EA decided to go all-in with both the use of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and Sprite branding. They also added specific commentary from Ernie Johnson and Kenny “bring out the the gospel choir” Smith. What made this version of the contest special was that for the first time you could bounce the ball off of multiple structures around the court, use different gathers and throw down some pretty awesome dunks. With minimal effort, it was still really challenging to the player. The multiple button layout of the Xbox made it easier to map specific controls to different moves, and it gave the player the ability to modify a standard dunk into a more spectacular one.
We move ahead to the time between 2008-2011 where 2kSports adds their version to the mix. They decided to run with a street motif having the contest in a mocked-up urban playground and snagged Hip-Hop and streetball legend Bobbito, aka DJ Cucumber Slice, for commentary. This quickly became the most annoying addition to a sports game since the concept of first-person football. Grating voice-overs aside, this looked to be the pinnacle of what mo-capped dunks, physics and graphical fidelity could be in our generation. Then you picked up the controller and had to fight through a mess of uncoordinated inputs, Street Fighter-esque quarter circles and nonsensical tutorials. I believe that 2k had a great idea in theory but botched some of the execution. Check out the example below:
NBA 2k13 recently showcased a small snippet of what the new dunk contest will look like:
And to say it looks a bit disappointing is an understatement. I will admit no one has seen the final product and I will hold final judgement until I get my hands on it, BUT the move to make it less interactive and more casual really is off-putting. A guitar hero-esque highway that requires nothing but follow-the-number button pushes is the last thing most basketball fans would want. So let me run down a couple of things that are needed for a fun, engaging and challenging dunk contest.
- ATMOSPHERE: The venue, having the dunk contest in an actual stadium with all branding helps a great deal with this and I’m happy that 2k finally has this in the new game.
- SOUND: Kenny Smith can be your ace in the hole and also the land mine that blows up the whole shebang. If you listen to the hype that he brings in the clip below, you see how much it adds to the experience. It has just the right amount of energy and is very contextual. It makes you feel like you are watching a live event and not a bunch of stitched lines of dialogue. Also most importantly the crowd needs to sound excited or disappointed about whatever dunk is done or awful judge score is given. If you’ve watched the past couple of years’ contests you can tell just how a dead crowd kills both the dunker and your personal viewing pleasure.
- INTANGIBLES: This is the part of the article where I play “All of the Lights“. The smoke, flash, player intros, full motion video, overlays, and even music should be blown out. Make it flashy but realistic, make props cool and fun, stop making the court look like they are fixing potholes for your local utility company by giving them construction obstacles to jump over. Introduce a human prop, maybe try to incorporate tandem dunks or wearable items.
- CONTROLS: Here is where the I think 2k can make their mark by taking a page from an old NBA Live book. The controls in the Live 95′ version could be tweaked and updated. Put in a couple more modifiers and make navigation easy with a decent video tutorial and you could absolutely have a winner. Making the player feel like they are an active participant is the key to making any dunk contest viable and should be the first things developers prioritize.
Check out these last two videos that pretty much sum up what I am hoping for in a new dunk contest — pay close attention to the audio and presentation and imagine what an NBA2k13 or next-gen engine would bring to the table.
This past week Kotaku ran a story about how Electronic Arts formally defunct basketball series is having it’s Lazarus moment later this fall. Me being a huge basketball fan on both the real life and virtual planes got really excited by this news, why you ask? Because I believe this gives 2k sports the ability to do for basketball what EA never did with their football franchise. Let the other team onto the court.
In 2004 EA signed a exclusivity deal with the NFL that made it virtually impossible for any other company to make a NFL licensed game. This gave them a huge upper hand in the football market with their John Madden franchise and also helped to squash their biggest rivals who at the time were at the top of their game. NFL 2k5 was and is still regarded in many circles as the best football game ever made, the awesomeness of that game was born from years and years of a not-so-friendly rivalry . One that people on both sides up in arms about their favorite title ready to fight tooth and nail about who was best. It was a great time for talking trash and playing awesome games, seeing each game grow exponentially each year was exhilarating and made each company better. But this was only done possible through competition, competition that spurred both EA and 2k to pull out all the stops on all fronts.
Fast forward to 2011, on the heels of a so-so effort with NBA Live 10 EA finds itself behind in the B-Ball market, trailing 2k’s game by a bunch. People stopped looking at Live for it’s roundball tastes and in a last ditch effort they decided to rename the game to “NBA Elite“. Everything seemed to be heading towards the game regaining some semblance of it’s former prominence but then a Youtube video called “NBA Elite Jesus” appeared, went viral and shut down any hope the game had of being successful. Word spread to gamers about how buggy the demo was, the small amount also retail copies that were sold by street date breakers also had numerous issues as well. EA got word of all the bad publicity, quickly shut the game down and recalled the “loose” copies.
So here we are in 2012, after hearing this latest announcement I would think the happiest folks should be 2k, for the past couple of seasons they have been the best game on the block for many reasons. Their consistent drive to make the most realistic basketball simulation game has seen them take huge strides to make the NBA 2k series look and play like it’s true life counterpart. With all the accolades and awards that have befallen them, they now they have come to the same cross roads that EA did when they were on top of the mountain and have this question to ask themselves. “Do we still try to innovate, or do we stand pat for as long as the market will have us?” The Madden franchise of late has been slighted because of its lack of polish and new features, but through competition EA can put some fire under their rivals’ feet.
The 2k game although beautiful, well commentated and chock full of great gameplay still has blaring issues when it comes to it’s online features, and updated team information. If EA can control the online space while providing great gameplay with its own distinct identity, then the folks at 2k might have a fight on their hands. This is why competition is not only useful, but necessary in the effort to keep game developers bringing titles to market that both engage the audience and push the genre forward.
The NBA has still no exclusivity deals and I’m hoping this stays the case. I believe that when companies’ have the ability to look back and see someone over their shoulder, usually that is when you will see their best work. If you are like me, you love to see games and devs pushed to innovate, dream and perform.
Here is to hoping that NBA Live 13 is successful, and to the hope of seeing two competitive teams back on the court for us all to root for.
With the basketball season now underway after the proposed lockout, NBA fans find themselves in the throes of the season. I love basketball and also love playing its digital counterpart. 2K Sports have held the championship belt in the b-ball gaming space for the past couple of years and have now embarked on a really ambitious endeavor: the mobile gaming market.
After playing with the game for a couple of weeks now I can say a couple of things. I appreciate the attention to detail that 2K places in all of its sports games. They pay attention to a painstaking amount of “little things” that many gaming companies leave on the cutting room floor. You can see it in their graphics, sound and gameplay, but when porting from a PC/Console version to a handheld device you also expect some degradation in all those things. This is the case with NBA 2k12 for mobile.
I wondered how their award winning game would translate to both a smaller screen and to the touch controls that iOS devices employ. I would say that for as much game as they put into this version it is hampered by the usual touch-control schemes that plague most action-based, touch-based games. There are two versions of control that you can use, “Classic” and “One Touch” controls.
The classic controls use a virtual stick and virtual buttons for both movement, passing and shooting. Using this option gives you the most control over your players but on a smaller device takes up way too much screen real estate to let you see what you are doing half the time. I would assume that this is lessened on the iPad or any compatible tablets, but unless you have one of those devices you are going to have a rough time playing the game with these controls. They just aren’t responsive and make you feel like the game isn’t able to keep up with what you want to do. Player movement seemed sluggish, the offenses didn’t move realistically and the ability to play on ball defense seemed to be lacking in many areas.
Your other option is actually a lot better but you then lose manual control of your players all together. The “one-touch” controls basically let the AI control all movement but lets you pass and shoot. Although this sounds terrible it actually makes the game more playable, but also takes a bunch of the fun out of the game. The ability to switch on defense goes away and the AI doesn’t move the offense intelligently, so although you can now see your players better you now have a team full of NBA zombies who can’t figure out how to move when they have the ball and don’t know how to get open for a shot. Nor can they defend in any way that makes sense or is helpful.
With all that said, I think that they do put a lot of things into the game that I didn’t expect. The presentation is still very good with very cool camera cuts and replays. Player faces are pretty true to life and they do have several play modes that include full season, playoffs (with playoff-specific commentary) and auto-updated rosters. I also think that this is a great stepping stone for what could be an amazing handheld experience but they have lots of work to do. There are overlapping audio glitches, graphical glitches and their roster updates could be more timely. I think if they get these things handled it could be awesome for next year.
What I would really love 2K to work on would be a PS Vita version. I think that could seriously be great — you would have the fidelity, processing power and dedicated buttons to really have the control you want from a sports game.
For those who are wondering if they should pick this up, I would say to pass on it, or at least download the lite version of the game on the iTunes store. Although there is potential there, I would suggest you keep your wallet in your pocket.
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