NBA 2K23 developer Visual Concepts delivers a slam dunk of a basketball sim for newcomers and dedicated NBA fans alike, even if some of the game’s key features are still behind a blatant paywall.
Being a fan of sports games is often more frustrating than fun. Every year, just before the release of each game, fans everywhere, including myself, have to perform a Jedi mind trick on ourselves to believe that this is the year Madden, NHL or FIFA will turn it around and deliver a real quality entry. in the franchises that have needed it for so long.
In a landscape of sports games dominated by games that justify their existence no more than a $70 roster update, NBA 2K stands alone as the only series that doesn’t make a habit of disappointing its player base like Groundhog Day.
With NBA 2K23, developers Visuals Concepts are committed to delivering a truly great game that has something for everyone, both old and new.
Key Details NBA 2K23
Developer: Visual ConceptsPrice: $59.99 / $69.99Release date: September 9, 2022Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Steam
No matter how much Visual Concepts tinker and update NBA 2K’s various game modes, gameplay will always be king. With NBA 2K23, the developers have done a great job balancing fun with delivering a realistic basketball experience, even with some tinkering.
The biggest change with this year’s episode is the new adrenaline rush that every player now has along with their stamina. Each player has three adrenaline boosts that fuel actions on the field such as an attempted steal, cross a defender, or jump for a rebound. This addition was made to limit players’ ability to dribble the ball infinitely and fake pump under the hoop dozens of times to guarantee a free basket.
While this change is certainly a welcome addition, it’s hard to see why the developers made sure every player got three adrenaline boosts across the board, as it balances the playing field too much. Why would LeBron James have the same amount of boosts as a banker on the Kings? It’s hard to understand why every player in the game would have the same amount of adrenaline.
Furthermore, the moment-to-moment gameplay feels much smoother than in years past. NBA 2K23 includes a handful of new contact layouts and shooting animations that make driving to the ring even more exciting, even for less skilled players. More dynamic players now have additional animations when shooting with the left stick, expressing the creativity of basketball more than ever.
Jumpshots have been completely reworked and gone are the generic animations of the past. Now jump shots have their own ratings of release height, release speed, defensive immunity and timing impact, giving real value to the more coveted jumpers like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. For MyPlayer, each jump shot is locked behind height and rating requirements, meaning no seven-legged friend can pull a Curry jumper out of their pocket.
Improvements to AI mean that the computer now doubles your best player more often and makes more mid-game adjustments depending on the state of the game. After spending most of my time playing offline for this review, it feels like the subtle changes in how AI plays the game makes playing offline a lot more fun than in years past.
MyNBA Eras shines
Every NBA 2K player has one mode that they spend countless hours diving into, and that one mode for me is MyNBA. As a complete sports nerd and stats geek, I’ve long been obsessed with taking the reins of every team, making all the decisions for the team, and playing the games for them. And as a Knicks fan, it’s liberating to give owner James Dolan the boot.
In this year’s episode, Visual Concepts delivered a love letter to longtime NBA fans with the new MyNBA Eras. The mode introduces four different starting points in the past. Players can choose from The Magic vs. Bird era, The Jordan era, The Kobe era and The Modern era. Each era starts from a key moment in basketball history and takes players to that exact moment to take over a franchise of their will.
NBA 2K23 with the vintage filter on.
Eras deliver fully realistic retro NBA courses and commentary, along with vintage logos and uniforms. There’s even a filter that slightly blurs the gameplay to resemble older broadcasts, which can be toggled on and off. The rosters have been accurately reconstructed, along with the players’ salaries. The gameplay also turns back the clock, as 80s basketball was dominated by big men with their backs to the ring, and three-pointers were a rarity. The pace of the game slows down, which is a welcome change from the modern game that is played at lightning speed in the transition.
Each playthrough of Eras begins by showing notable changes taking place during that time period. In the Magic vs. Bird Era moved the San Diego Clippers to Los Angeles and the Kansas City Kings to Sacramento. Over time, players can veto these kinds of changes to see what the league would look like, and playing God of the NBA proves to be incredibly addictive.
I took over the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics during the Magic vs Bird period and played out the 1983 season with mediocre results. I simulated ahead to the 1984 NBA Draft, possibly the most fraught in history with Michael Jordan, Akeem Olajuwon (without the ‘H’), Charles Barkley and John Stockton. Then I shipped all my picks to grab Jordan first, then I dumped All-Star big man Jack Sikma and more players for Olajuwon with the second pick.
NBA 2K23’s MyNBA Eras mode allows for all sorts of crazy scenarios to be played out.
Eras has been implemented in MyNBA to answer the biggest what-ifs in basketball history, and it delivers in every way. I haven’t stopped playing Eras since the game’s launch, and I certainly won’t stop anytime soon.
Jordan Challenges return
To celebrate the 23rd year of the century, NBA 2K23 celebrates Michael Jordan’s storied career and brings back the beloved Jordan Challenges mode that debuted in NBA 2K11. Playing through 15 great moments from Jordan’s career is engaging and fun, even if it’s much the same as when it was originally released.
For new basketball fans, it’s a fantastic history lesson for MJ’s greatest achievements, starting with winning the NCAA Championship game for North Carolina in 1982 to taking the winning shot against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. For basketball junkies, it’s a great trip down memory lane by playing every moment and appreciating the attention to detail.
Michael Jordan’s most iconic moments are recreated in NBA 2K23.
The challenges with each mode aren’t a cakewalk either, as grabbing tons of rebounds and scoring a bunch while controlling Jordan is harder than it looks, and is a testament to how incredibly skilled he really was.
The money grab continues
For many, NBA 2K is played primarily to discover the best MyPlayer build and put it online and compete in ProAMs, pick up games and more. While that experience is here again, it remains against a paywall. Progressing in your MyPlayer by collecting VC through playing games is at a snail’s pace, completely surpassed by simply buying VC and rating your player higher.
It would take an absolutely absurd amount of time to work your way through all the VC you need to give your player his maximum rating. Paying full retail price for a game shouldn’t exclude you from every mode the game offers.
The same goes for the MyTeam mode, which returns in identical form to the previous year. MyTeam is the 2K version of Ultimate Team and plays in exactly the same way: play your way to a mediocre team, only to be crushed mostly under the weight of other players who put down their credit cards.
MyCareer feat. J. Cole
MyCareer returns, completely revamped this year with a story mode that focuses on the friendship with star rapper J. Cole. The story mode involved is much more bearable than its sports game counterparts, as the writing and voice acting really engaged me with my player’s backstory and relationships.
Since I jump right through cutscenes in any other sports game, and I chose not to in NBA 2K23, I’d say that’s a huge success, although for me it’s not necessarily a highlight of the game as a whole .
NBA 2K23 is almost completely worth the price of admission because of how good the new MyNBA Eras mode is. What makes NBA 2K23 the best episode in years are the much-needed changes to gameplay and the return of the captivating Jordan Challenge mode. Unfortunately, 2K loves the fun behind an expensive paywall that just can’t be justified.