NBA 2K23 is the latest in the annualised series from Visual Concepts – but how does it fair on the court? The Finger Guns Review.
NBA 2K from Visual Concepts has been a series that’s seemingly remained at the top in the Basketball Sim genre for years at this point. What often comes with being at the top for so long is complacency, but like the cover star himself Michael Jordan, the best is never enough. Annualised releases see the biggest leaps in technology on its debut on the next gen console. However, it’s always the second/third game in the new console cycle that takes full advantage of the hardware it’s played on.
NBA 2K23 is that third go around for the PS5/Xbox Series S|X and I’ll be quick to say that these current gen versions are different from the PS4/Xbox One as the last gen gets older. Previous gens will not be relevant with this review on a majority of features, so please bare that in mind. The game plays at an impressive 4K UHD 60fps, and although I don’t think the crowds will ever get nailed down in these games, the character models and attention to the court are always some of the best visuals you’ll get in a game.
The Pick And Roll
Gameplay has had some subtle improvements too. Animations are smoother along with the offence, counter offence and defence having more fluid transitions in their executions resulting in a faster yet consistent flow throughout the game. Tell-tale signs from players read better and reacting feels more intuitive. Dribbles, sprints and defence run down the stamina at a rate that balances even the most reckless slashers on the court. The more stamina used, the more sluggish and less precise your player will act, giving the matches more realism.
There’s also the ability to use adrenaline boosts that’ll help you pull off impressive moves offensively or defensively. You only get three per game so using them strategically across the four quarters is essential as the less you have the more tired you’ll be. For the most part though, if you’re a higher rated character, you don’t seem to see these mechanics make a difference if you’re playing smart. However, I can see how higher skill players could see a lot of variety within it when playing online.
If you’re returning after a while or if this is your first time there’s a lot to get your head around mechanically. The difficulties accommodate to all players which aids the learning curve that could take a while, but enjoying the game is instant. Dare I say this could be the best it’s played for the past few years, but you could ask me again in a few weeks after people have learnt the game more.
Be Like Mike
A new (old) mode this go around is the Jordan Challenge. I preface old because this was originally featured in 2K11. It consists of playing through some of Michael Jordan’s highlight matches all with three challenges to complete within them. Before the game you’re met with talking heads that speak about the match. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of The Last Dance docuseries – based around the Jordan Era of the Chicago Bulls – but familiar faces do crop up and it really solidifies why Jordan is one of the best to ever do it.
The mode has 5 added matches on top of the additional 10 that 2K11 saw. There’s been an overhaul with the presentation as it adds filters to fit the time period as well as a time accurate HUD. I enjoyed what I played of the mode – having prior knowledge of the events that unfolded helped to immerse me into the moments. However, outside of the changes in line-ups and team colours, you’ll more or less be doing the same thing 15 times over. The mode rewards you for your efforts with cosmetics that you could use for MyCareer, but outside of that incentive there’s not much else.
The Ball’s In Your Court
Since 2K22, the online and MyCareer have been merged to be one and the same. Instead of going through menus to do one or the other, your character can seamlessly transition from the story to online play thanks to ‘The City’. The City is an expansion of the hub world seen in the last few NBA games. You can travel freely on foot, BMX or a radical skateboard and visit different basketball courts with their own rules and rewards. Shops, Gyms and the Career sports arena are also across The City and whilst this freedom aids the roleplaying aspect of the game, the structure of quests and the cumbersome travelling starts to become tiresome.
The quest system was a feature introduced in 2K22 and I’m still not quite sold on the idea. Making the actual walk to locker room, press room and the court just adds to the time between playing games. It makes me miss the linear structure of previous titles. MyCareer’s story takes a different approach this time round; instead of starting at college and making it to the NBA you pick where you want to be drafted immediately. This does come with a caveat however, as you were the last pick for the team and no fans wanted you – instead they’d rather your rival Shep Owens, a more charismatic and brand aware counterpart to your character. You’re now tasked to turn the fans round on the idea that you were the right choice for the team by playing well, scoring PR points and making brand deals. There’s now a cast of characters supporting you on your journey in the form of a management team – all are distinct in their personalities but the performances feel stinted. It wouldn’t be a 2K game if celebs weren’t shoehorned in and they’re still around in NBA 2K23, however the days of actors being a pivotal part in the career are seemingly over.
MyCareer is usually where I’d spend most of my time and with it being integrated with online seamlessly, the progression feels important no matter which way you approach the mode. Servers have been light before launch so I’ve not managed a ton of time in the paint with real players, but the modes you can play are not much different if you’re familiar as they’re all there. 3v3, 1v1 and full team games can be had across The City, facilitating for everyone.
Building your character has an incredible depth to the visual representation, but the major change has got to be the stats. You’re now no longer limited to a pie chart but instead a points-based system that works with your overall stats, height and size. This adds a new dynamic to your playable character that feels like you have more control over your build.
The badge system has seen a rework this time round with badges having different tiers that can cost more – giving you a decision to spread the badges around in Tier 1 or have less Tier 4 that are more effective. Six new badges have also been introduced, adding new perks within the matches. The system for people who are new to the game essentially works out as perks that can improve your abilities in specific situations. I’m someone who’s still only getting to grips with the system as its most effective for the higher skilled players – but I wanted to mention this feature as it demonstrates how customisable you can really make your character.
Putting The W in WNBA
Women’s Basketball has made a return, however it’s not really seen much change since 2K22. The career mode is a very light version of the male counterpart career and I had hoped that it would get the same love and attention. Story beats don’t exist as such; they’re left to text messages that provide in-game challenges. The grind and come-up is there but it’s displayed only through progression bars broken down in: Wealth, Popularity, Chemistry etc. In between games you build these up through events that you choose from, but you don’t experience them, just get the rewards. The matches do follow a different pace but very quickly I noticed that the same playbook was happening in every game, between different teams.
Adding inclusivity in any game is always a plus, I just wish there was a bit more. It does the minimum by not feeling like a tacked-on mode, but it definitely comes across as something a little too low on the priority list for NBA 2K23.
Want To See My Card Collection?
MyTeam is a contentious one for me; whilst it’s possibly the most diverse mode the game has to offer, it’s also has the most incentive to use microtransactions. You’ll either have to be incredibly lucky or spend a small sum of money to get players that are worth putting into your fantasy roster. It’s essentially a deck building game where each player has rarities that tie into their overall rating to use during matches. This could be done either online or offline, with rewards for every milestone you meet and games you win. There’s a possibility that you’d be able to grind out requirements to unlock players or get packs that’ll pull something of value, but chances are if you’re playing online you’ll be up against those that have a lot more money invested and a much better team.
I get it. It’s the bread and butter of any annualised sports title and to give NBA 2K23 credit, the advertising for using real world money isn’t egregious – rather an enticing option if you’re not time rich, just actually rich. With all that being said I did have a lot of fun building out my team, matching them into the right positions, having players from all eras come together to be a dream team and beating my (mostly) offline competitors. Outside of MyCareer, this mode is probably the one that has the most to offer in terms of time to sink into and ways to play and there are ways to be rewarded without spending money.
Different game types exist in MyTeam similarly to the online mode: 5v5, 1v1, 3v3 – all with their own modifiers to make the game interesting like a 4-point score line. You keep your cards in a collection that you can admire and if you get doubles there’s a few ways to dispose, whether its auction or sell on the spot at a fixed price. At the state I played, I didn’t get stomped on out in the court for not having good enough players. Coupled with the modifiers changing the flow of what otherwise would be a standard match sets up a lot of variety to enjoy.
On The Buzzer
NBA 2K23 and the 2K series in general will hopefully continue this trend on improving all they have to offer. The general roster changes for the season have never come across as enough for developers Visual Concepts. Whilst annualization brings limitations with how much they can improve every game, they’re always striving for better. Some areas could have a seen a bit more attention, but I guess their priorities lie with the majority player base, which they’ve certainly facilitated for.
NBA 2K23 has something for everyone to get stuck into – whether you want to get engrossed in the Jordan era or have your own come up in MyCareer, all provide a lot to work with. With some of the best visuals to hit consoles and deep gameplay that plays so solidly, NBA 2K23 is a great iteration of the franchise.
NBA 2K23 is out now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC (Steam)
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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