NBA 2K23 review: A basketball fan's dream - MrLiambi's blog


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Tuesday, 27 September 2022

NBA 2K23 review: A basketball fan's dream

In the big-beast sports franchise stakes, 2K Games' officially licensed NBA basketball game is right up there with the likes of EA's FIFA and Madden. While basketball may not enjoy such a massive following as football in the UK, the NBA still has a sizeable set of fans over here, due in part to its nature as the brashest, flashiest and most archetypically Americanised of sporting spectacles.

This year's annual iteration, NBA 2K23, does a stunning job of reflecting that: like the sport it chronicles, it's in-your-face, larger than life (you'll need over 150GB of free space to install it) and incredibly polished. And this time around, it even functions as a sort of historical document.

Throwback gameplay

Two major new elements of the game are Jordan Challenge, which lets you control the great man himself, and relive a vast store of his career highlights (starting with him as a 19-year-old freshman at North Carolina), and MyNBA Eras, which essentially lets you replay any season of the NBA stretching all the way back to the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era in 1983.

It's an NBA fanatic's dream, and MyNBA Eras is so flexible that it's already rammed with a bewildering variety of player-created hybrid leagues. But it's also something of a curio; the three main elements of the game â€" to which most players will head first - are My Career, My Team and, striking a blow for gender-equality, WNBA (the Women's NBA for the uninitiated). Pick WNBA and you can create a new player (you can even scan your face onto her if you download a phone app), then pursue an entire WNBA career with her.

That follows the same principle as My Career, but in a much less elaborate fashion: when you pursue a WNBA career, NBA 2K23 cuts to the chase of practice and games. Whereas â€" familiarly for anyone who has previously played an NBA 2K game â€" My Career is nothing less than a full-blown RPG, with a storyline that resembles a sporting soap opera. This time around, that story starts (once you've created your player) with the NBA draft, in which you're picked ahead of a much more feted rival, who also fancies himself as a budding social media phenomenon.

Off-court ventures

So you have to win over your new city, not just by performing on court but by playing the social media game yourself, doing TV interviews and the like. As in previous iterations, you have a virtual city to explore â€" which, cutely, you can skateboard around â€" rammed full of side-quests, such as honing your skills in the gym or meeting brand representatives to talk about lucrative endorsements. This year's My Career is impeccably acted, although with its social media obsession, is very much skewed towards a young audience. It's worth pursuing its side-quests, though, since they take some of the pressure off your in-game performance, as you level up and acquire the sorts of skills possessed by the most legendary players. 

My Team is NBA 2K23's equivalent of FIFA Ultimate Team, in which you assemble a custom team via packs of loot box-style cards and then see how well you can do both in single-player mode and online. As such, it will inevitably offend the sensibilities of those who view loot-boxes as the work of the devil, and with its ability, for example, for you to create custom shoes that enhance your players' attributes, it's very naked in its consumerism.

But it's also deeply compelling, letting you test your scratch side in a variety of different game-formats, ranging from street-style three-on-three action all the way up to full NBA games. Happily, it's also pretty generous in its early stages by way of dishing out vast amounts of cards and giving you the resources to buy more - although if you become obsessed in pursuit of your all-time dream team, you will end up having to use real money to achieve that aim.

NBA 2K23, in other words, provides a massive, flexible and fantastically authentic playground full of a huge variety of basketball-related activities. But what is it actually like to play? The answer is mightily impressive, although you do have to work hard to master its more esoteric gameplay possibilities. Basketball novices will undoubtedly find it initially baffling â€" if you don't know your pick-and-rolls from your triple threat stepbacks, you'll have plenty of catching up to do.

Impressive gameplay

The game actually offers two types of gameplay â€" player-focused, as in My Career and WBNA, in which you basically control one player and must ask your team-mates for the ball when you are in space - and team-focused, where you automatically switch focus and control to whichever player has the ball (as exemplified in My Team). The two control methods aren't vastly different, but when you're focusing on one player, you always have specific goals to achieve, which skews your approach to the game in a satisfying manner.

2K Games has tweaked the controls this year in countless subtle manners, but NBA 2K23's gameplay, deep down, is all about shooting baskets in as flashy and impressive a manner as possible, and the game certainly gives you the tools to do that. Personally, we found defence much harder than attack (go too aggressive and you will constantly give away fouls), but you can mitigate that, to some extent by, say, choosing a forward as your My Career player.

There's no hand-holding tutorial as such, but there is a comprehensive training element which takes you through the game's vast store of moves. It would have been nice if it had a mode which forced you to actually practise and execute those moves, though. You'll find that you can work your way through My Career and My Team without learning the most esoteric moves. But you also pick new moves up as you go along, and even from the early stages, you can pull off some spectacular stuff.

Whatever tweaks 2K Games made to the control system have certainly resulted in a game that feels intuitive: the right-stick shooting, in particular, feels like a great approximation of some of the real-time moves actual basketball players would use, as does the dribbling engine. Thus when, for example, you play as Michael Jordan, you don't necessarily feel as though you're committing some sort of travesty - although you will have to achieve a certain defensive mastery to win those games that he personally took by the scruff of the neck.

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