video games

‘NBA 2K23’ review: Better than ever, but is it enough?

Naveen Ganglani
‘NBA 2K23’ review: Better than ever, but is it enough?

SUE BIRD. 2K23 adds more features to the WNBA game such as community goals, Game Changer rewards, and league expansion options

Images from NBA 2K23

Among the improvements are the tweaked shot meter, and the animation of how the net swishes and players' jump shots

(Disclosure: A digital copy of the game was provided by Sony.)

It’s been a strong argument for a while now that NBA 2K is the best sports-themed video game in the market, despite some of the flaws that leave both new and long-time players of the title occasionally frustrated.

Continuing to build upon its legacy, the latest instalment in the franchise honors the past, cherishes the present, but leaves some questions for the future. Nevertheless, those issues don’t persist enough to prevent someone from enjoying a game that while not perfect, is still genuinely enjoyable.

“Dinagdag lang ang pawis” has long been a common joke Filipinos use to describe the latest 2K games. A few friends in the week leading up to 2K23’s launch even shared they wouldn’t purchase the new edition – with Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, WNBA legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, and the GOAT, Michael Jordan, as the cover options.

As gorgeous as the new covers and loading page aesthetics look, some players have wished for significant changes to the gameplay which had grown somewhat stale, if not predictable. It took only a few practices and enough spamming of pick-and-rolls to solve the CPU’s defense in recent editions, even on the toughest of gameplay difficulties. 

2K23 doesn’t completely transfigure this trend into a new dynamic that feels like a revolutionary shift, although there are minor changes that when put together feels like enough of a refresh through an extended lens. 

Animation improvements, understanding real-life skills

For instance, the animations of how the net swishes with a made shot or how the rim bounces after a bad miss are more evident, while the activity of the crowd and bright lights of how an NBA stadium is supposed to shine come stronger to life, with help from newer tech.

The little things, like how a player points to his teammates in transition to point out a defensive assignment, or the accuracy of how a specific player’s jumper is supposed to look, are like adding cinnamon powder to an already-delicious latte: they’re a bonus, but still desired.

Magnificent is the improved shot meter, where finalizing a patented move – like a step-back jumper or a fadeaway in the post – feels realistic to accomplish because of the simplified controller maneuvers required to put the finishing touches. 

Although the fine details of each player’s rating with respective skills or traits – such as perimeter defense or inside scoring – could use further research and refinement, there’s a deeper understanding required out of the real-life skill-set of the NBA standouts being used in the game to accomplish moves or, as they’d say on the court, “get buckets.”

For example, I could play superb defense using NBA 6th Man of the Year Tyler Herro when guarding rising All-Star Brandon Ingram in the post, but still get scored on in succession. Herro is a solid offensive player but has his deficiencies on defense, especially against someone like Ingram, who’s taller than him by at least 3 inches with a longer wingspan. 

Getting a score or stop in past 2K games was doable as long as you knew where to position your controlled players and when to make proper succeeding actions, such as pressing triangle (on PlayStation) to contest an attempt or holding R2 and square to go for a momentum-shifting dunk.

Knowing what you must do might not be enough in some occasions in 2K23, especially when there’s a discrepancy in talent. Here’s another example: you successfully defend the CPU’s drive to the rim, only for a teammate to grab an offensive rebound and score an easy two points on a put-back, because he’s taller than your player. 

Can it be frustrating? Yes. Would the extra challenge provide longtime players the interest to keep playing as the months pass by? Perhaps.

More than before it feels like 2K has inserted the real-life tendencies of these NBA players into the game, even if their numerical attributes don’t always validate it. This is instantly noticeable in the first gameplay of the “Jordan Challenge.” Good luck stopping Georgetown Patrick Ewing in the paint even with double-teams, especially on at least “Superstar” difficulty. 

Retro moments, MyCareer
Michael Jordan returns as a cover option for NBA 2K

The Jordan Challenge and My NBA Eras present a time machine to iconic moments in NBA history, where the legends of yesteryears are relived. Playing these games feel authentic not only because of the names in front or behind the jerseys but also because of the retro aesthetics, particularly video presentation and audio commentary. 

Those who prefer the old-school games in the modern-age look can toggle the retro settings off, which is an example of the little details that 2K considered in making the 23rd instalment of their series appeasing to fans.

But the other gameplay modes admittedly feel repetitive, particularly in MyCareer where gamers with real-life financial flexibility are provided a leg-up by purchasing virtual currency microtransactions once again. 

You’ll need VCs to purchase gear in The City and skill upgrades to advance overall rating, although the currency you earn from playing games can leave a feeling of underpaid labor, especially when taking into account that NBA players are getting contracts more expensive than ever in real life.

The role-playing aspect of MyCareer feels like the same script but with different words and faces. On the plus side, 2K continues to double down on gender equality by providing the WNBA dynamic of the game with similar playing options to their male counterparts.

Moving forward, what else can 2K do to improve their flagship product? Can they fit in a MyCareer mode that feels like an actual narrative story rather than quick cutscenes before they turn completely insignificant? Would they ever sacrifice financial gains to balance the virtual currency scale?

It’s no secret that deep pockets are required to win in real-life basketball leagues, but it shouldn’t be the case for gaming.

In terms of the basketball gameplay, this is as close a video game as there is to real-life sports. From coaches’ play designs to the commentary and to players’ actual tendencies, this simulation can often resemble reality. 

Is that formula going to be enough to keep 2K at the top of the game, or will the call for new and bold ideas eventually become too loud of a rally cry?

At least for now, the former holds true. It’s an 8 out of 10 for me. –

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