NBA 2K23 - It's The Simple Things
Every year like clockwork, NBA 2K rolls around. It is one of those securities of life that provide comfort and almost mark the passage of time. It is a hard point in the year, like Christmas or grand final day, that points out that the year is moving on and time’s inevitable march can’t be stopped. Each year fans such as myself wait eagerly to see how the franchise has changed, if 2K has jammed more monetisation into the game or if the game has finally improved the act of stealing the ball. Some years are up years with gameplay feeling exciting and invigorating and sadly some years are down. I am pleased to say, that for me at least, this is an up year.
This is good news because last year was certainly a down year. I had a massive issue with the way that NBA 2K22 focused on everything but actual basketball. Thankfully that seems to have been rectified somewhat in this year’s release. Let’s start with the biggest improvement and that is with The City. Last year it felt empty and painful, with vast expanses to cover on a skateboard that controlled like a Mack truck. This year, while the terrible skateboard is back, there is an elegant fast travel system in place that takes a lot of pain out of completing various tasks around town. The city also feels a lot more fleshed out, with fewer dead areas and a smarter overall design. I also want to mention the sponsor’s challenges and the like. This time they seem to be, for the most part at least, focused on actual basketball challenges and performance during games and not on wearing the right clothes or posing for PR ops. The City is still by no means perfect (there is a mountain of jank) but it is undeniably more enjoyable than what was served up in 2K22
This year’s career mode is a more enjoyable tale too. I took on the role of MP, the 18th pick in the NBA draft. MP gets booed by fans of his chosen team (in my case, the Indiana Pacers) because they wanted the flashier (and infinitely more obnoxious) Shep, a young gun with a reality TV show and an excess of arrogance. The story is then set around MP winning the support of his chosen city, showing that he is the man to lead their team to the promised land of glory, not the douchebag with the big mouth. It is a simple story, with MP a loveable dork in a lot of ways and Shep an absolute selfish SOB that is easy to hate. Some of the beats drag on for too long and it is hardly going to win an Oscar for writing, but overall I had fun running through this quest for respect and admiration.
What is, without a doubt amazing is the return of the Jordan Challenge. While it would have been easy for the development team to simply use the Jordan Challenge from 2K11 (the last time it appeared) and slap some prettier graphics over the top, that is not what has happened. Instead, the devs have gone out and created the most authentic and genuine recreation of key moments in Jordan’s amazing career as possible. It is seriously mind-boggling the amount of detail that has gone into this, from genuine North Carolina representation (for the first time in a video game) to getting Chicago’s 90s stadium announcer to introduce players before the match, it is an astounding effort to allow players to take part in the career of one of the world’s most celebrated athletes. 15 key moments from Jordan’s career are represented and all are a treat for fans or for people that are new to his Royal Airness.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway I have from NBA 2K23 however is the multiplayer components. I have always found the multiplayer in NBA 2K to be a bit of a mixed bag. The tech generally works well (after the traditional first few days of server issues) but it is really not a place for casual players. Only those with a complete understanding of NBA 2K can hope to compete and everyone else gets pushed to the sidelines. This year there seems to be more options for those just finding their feet, which is a welcome addition. I also want to mention the excellent couch multiplayer. As a game reviewer, often playing games before they are released, it is easy to forget the simple joys of playing games with mates in the same room. I was reminded of this over the weekend as my son and three of his mates spent 3 hours playing NBA 2K23 together, 2 v 2, talking trash, laughing and generally having a grand old time. Sure it is nothing new, but just because it is an old feature, doesn’t make it one that is not worth mentioning.
As for the basketball itself, there seems to have been a few changes for the better, things that annoyed previously have been tweaked and improvements have been made to off-the-ball play. The most notable improvement is the shot meter, which returns to the perfect release point being at top of the meter, a much more intuitive system than last year. The AI seems to have had a good spit shine too, with far fewer stupid plays being made and passes being thrown into the crowd. It is essentially the same game of ball we have been playing for a while now, but the tweaks and adjustments have all been for the better.
After last year, I was both disappointed and somewhat doubtful that NBA 2K could be a must-play title once again. The focus on in-game advertising, VC and useless plot points took away from what should be the focus of the game and that is Basketball. NBA 2K23 rights the ship in a lot of ways and while there is a bit to go, it is certainly a step in the right direction. The gameplay is as tight as it has ever been, the annoying elements of The City have been toned down or removed and the Jordan Challenge is an achievement in authenticity and a celebration of possibly the greatest baller of all time. NBA 2K23 is a really good game of ball, sometimes let down a little by ambition and jank, but one long time fans are sure to have fun with.
NBA 2K23 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by 2K Australia.