NBA 2K13 Review
NBA 2K13 for the iPad is the first basketball game I've played in well over a decade. Does it disappoint? No, not really. Does it overwhelm and prompt me to erupt in frenzied joy? No, not really.
But NBA 2K13 does offer a perfectly competent and passable portable version of a console mainstay. It may be priced a little on the steeper side at $7.99, but it's worth every penny if you're a basketball fan who wants to game on the go. I have to confess that I haven't played a basketball video game since NBA Live '99. I distinctly remember rage-quitting because I was able to consistently sink three-pointers with Shaq. I'll reiterate: I successfully made multiple shots with Shaquille O'Neal, a player who has a career record of 11,330 two-pointers and only one three-pointer, from beyond the arc. Yeah. It was too unrealistic for me, even in the context of a video game. And so I delved into NBA 2K13 with absolutely no expectations and was actually pleasantly surprised with what I found.
The graphics are some of the better that I've seen on mobile devices, but certainly not the best. Everything pops on the 3rd generation iPad's Retina screen, so character models look good when the camera's far away and sub-par when viewed from a closer angle. What's particularly jarring is when the camera zooms in on the players. Medium shots of players are full of jaggies and dead eyes painted on polygonal mannequin heads. I can forgive the crowd looking like a bunch of toy monkeys with cymbals, but it's more than a little disturbing when LeBron James looks like he's out to steal souls rather than basketballs. Not only are these close-ups scary, but they slow the frame rate down to a stutter.
But you can look past these graphical hiccups (trust me, you'll want to), because movements are fluid and seemingly organic, distracting you from the mediocre character models. When your guys are on defense, you'll see them struggle to stick their man and sometimes even put their hands on the other guy's shoulder while reaching in for a steal with the other. Players will cheer when they make baskets or shake their heads in lament when they commit a foul. The dribbling and cross-ups are like silk, capable of making me feel both impressed and then ashamed because I can't perform similar moves in real life. My favorite animation is when a player makes a dive for a ball that's about to go out of bounds and then tosses it in mid-air to a teammate. This kind of touch helps with the suspension of disbelief and makes you forget for a moment that these are 1's and 0's. So you have decent graphics that look great from afar coupled with awesome animations that help alleviate aesthetic shortcomings.
The audio in the game is pretty serviceable but doesn't offer much more than some music on the menu screens, color commentary during games, and sound effects on the court. The main menu cycles through snippets of songs in the background; this may or may not help pump you up for some games. I personally like hearing Phoenix's "1901" and Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke", because nothing makes me want to live out my hoop dreams more than French synthpop and late 80's hip hop. The commentary is much of the stuff you'd hear while watching a game, except repeated ad nauseam. To its credit, NBA 2K13 does an excellent job of recreating the cacophony you'd hear at a basketball game, complete with sneakers squeaking, crowds cheering, and the sweet swishing of the net.
While NBA 2K13's sights and sounds are certainly better than what I expected, it would be nothing without great gameplay. The game has a small suite of modes to get you playing, whatever your pace. There's the Quick Game mode for those who want to get right into the action. Multi-season mode lets you pick a team and cycle through a whole season, allowing you to play games or simulate them. Greatest Games is where you try to recreate some of the NBA's elite's crowning achievements. As of this game's release, Greatest Games mode features Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Allen Iverson, with the promise of more legends coming soon. Multiplayer is hit or miss, depending on your connection and which control type you prefer.
And speaking of control setups, Practice mode is the perfect place for newbies to get acquainted with either Classic or One-Finger controls. The Classic setup gives you a virtual thumbstick and three buttons that change functions when you're on offense or defense. This setup gives you more control over your players and shooting, but I found One-Finger gives you better accuracy when passing and switching active players. I also found out the hard way that using One-Finger online is a good way to lose.
Ultimately, the one criteria that would make or break the game for me was this: could I consistently score three-pointers with Shaq? To me, this was a huge litmus test and I was eager to find the results. I loaded up one of Shaq's Greatest Game challenges and ignored all of the requirements. Every time I possessed the ball, I'd pass it over to Shaq and shoot from the three-point line. At the end of four quarters and dozens of attempts, I only made one three-pointer. Yep, things are as they should be and this game is a decent one in my book.