NBA 2K23 Review (Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Switch & PC)
Every year, 2K Games releases a new NBA game that merely improves on the previous one. As is common with most sports titles. And, unless you're a die-hard fan of the sport, you'll need more than the standard offering to justify the purchase. Because most of the time you wind up paying full price for more of the same. However, that's NOT the impression we're getting from NBA 2K23, which has turned some heads, including ours.
Exactly why that is? Well, a lot of it has to do with the ability to play as our favorite NBA icons. Which 2K Games was well aware was an easy road to our hearts. But, apart from the amazing game modes, which are undoubtedly a highlight, what we found most impressive was 2K Games' ability to make NBA 2K23 feel natural and responsive in terms of the on-court action. Rather than the janky and robust style we're used to. All of this contributed to and left a positive impression; nevertheless, as much as we enjoy the game, it can occasionally be a love-hate relationship, and here's why.
The Jordan Challenge
Let's start with the Jordan Challenge, which is the focal point of this year's game. The Jordan Challenge originally appeared in the NBA 2K series with NBA 2K11, over a decade ago. It's safe to assume it was a fan favorite, but it never reappeared in the following entries. Fast forward a decade later, and it's back in NBA 2K23 and we can confidently say that it's better than ever.
The Jordan Challenge allows you to relive and recreate 15 of Michael Jordan's most iconic moments during his career. Starting with his collegiate days at the University of North Carolina to his final game in 1998, which launched him as a six-time NBA champion and Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer. Each of these 15 movie-like situations is accompanied by three challenges that correspond to Jordan's performance in the games.
Instead of just going through the motions, you have an impactful goal to achieve as the icon, making each “moment” more engaging and meaningful. Once I accomplished these goals, and ultimately the moment, I couldn't help but jump from the sofa, fist-pumping the air, as if we were Michael Jordan himself.
Each challenge featured retro-style visuals appropriate for the year, as well as realistic broadcast and stadium components. There are also interview parts with players, coaches, and commentators who were present and recalled the stakes and atmosphere. Wow, did that ever build up the hype before stepping into a “moment” and putting us in the shoes of the NBA legend. You can feel the stakes, the pressure, the tension! You want to rise to the occasion, just as Michael Jordan did. Overall, the Jordan Challenge kept me on edge with heart-pounding excitement, and it's hands down one of the best sensations I've ever experienced from a sports game.
Treading a similar path is the MyNBA “eras”. This time around, the franchise mode lets you jump back in time all the way to 1983, with four distinct starting points: The Magic vs Bird era, the Kobe era, and the Modern era. And what I enjoyed the most was being able to rewrite the course of basketball history as a result of it.
Playing as the Lakers through the '80s, I switched up the roles. I traded Magic Johnson for Larry Bird, with some added sweeteners to secure the deal. Then brought over other iconic players like Clyde Drexler and Buck Williams. I was just attempting to put together the craziest squad possible. It's safe to say I lacked depth, but the starting lineup was a force to be reckoned with. And with the season done and the championship secured, then came the following season's draft. Which consequently left me out of picks following the trades.
To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of the MyNBA franchise mode because it's usually a monotonous process. But doing it with a completely new roster of players, most of whom I had never been aware of because the 1980s are far beyond my era, added to the whole experience. But executing a posterizing dunk with Kareem-Abdul Jabbar never grew old, and hitting shots from wherever on the court with Bird always felt gratifying. Sure, nostalgia helped make this a better experience, but the gameplay and mechanics is what made playing as these icons the best experience of them all.
Gameplay & Mechanics
I'll say it loud and clear: NBA 2K23 is the most realistic, responsive, and polished NBA 2K game we've ever had in terms of gameplay and mechanics. One complaint I've always had about the NBA 2K franchise is its sluggish movement. NBA 2K22 attempted to counteract this by emphasizing shooting and collapsing in the paint. However, this resulted in the game being a shooting fest. NBA 2K23, on the other hand, is the ideal blend of the two.
You'll notice in NBA 2K23 that players will have three bars on their indicator to represent three zones. The zone the defender is covering is highlighted red, and if a ball handler attacks a red lane, they’ll get cut off, lose their dribble, and possibly fumble the ball. Covering a ball handler becomes significantly more responsive as a result. It's a cat-and-mouse game of who's going to expose themselves first, just as it is in real life.
Adrenaline Boosts are another aspect that makes the gameplay more fitting. Every possession, each player receives three adrenaline boosts. These are shown by three little bars beneath the stamina meter, and once used, your player will be fatigued. This discourages you from abusing your star player and their strongest move in every possession. This combined with the Defensive Shading Mechanic has now made 1-on-1 play far more engaging than it has ever been.
The modifications to the pro stick were the last part of the gameplay and mechanics that wowed me. Instead of a locked-in animation for layups and dunks, you now have considerably more options when attacking the rim. To be honest, it was a little intimidating at first, but after you get the feel of it, you'll discover you have far more freedom and control than you've ever had in a 2K game.
Previous MyCareer storylines have all been dependably cheesy. You can see the developers are attempting to include all of the noteworthy stereotypes, sayings, and what's “hip” into a contemporary and trendy tale. That's not the case; it simply feels like they're trying too hard. And, we won't lie, the conversations, cutscenes, and exchanges once again fell into this stereotype. But at the very least, NBA 2K23's My Career storyline is finally one that we can cling to.
Instead of having us go through our “draft match,” which always resulted in us getting the same few teams no matter how many times we played it, this year you get to pick your team. The consequence of that, is the fans hate you. The entire audience boos you as you walk up to get your jersey from Adam Silver. That's because they want the college star Shep Owens, who is slightly better than you in every way and most likely far better looking than whatever you boiled up while creating your MyPlayer. Apologies to those of you who used the Face Scan feature, you're an exception.
Now we have to win over the city and it's fans by proving ourselves on the court with performance and off the court with persona. But it's exactly our love for the game that helps us persevere through this underdog story. Right off the bat, we have to root for ourselves and our ability. And you have one clear aim from the start: prove you're not a bust and that you're the superior player. This was a fantastic angle, and quite possibly the greatest I've seen in a MyCareer storyline, but I can still do without the typical corny dialogue.
Stepping Into The City
Last and most crucially, I want to discuss The City. This is clearly where the majority of us spend our time. Consequently, this is also where I have a love/hate relationship with the game. It's not The City itself that I have a problem with, which really is a spectacle with a lot of attractions, but rather what comes of it. It's those bothersome microtransactions to get VC and swiftly level up your character so you can dominate the streetball courts. I was an absolute liability on the courts because of it. And it actually made me want to step away from The City and into other game modes.
Now, there are certain players who are legitimately excellent with the new pro-stick abilities that I just cannot compete with. But obvious over-powering aspects like consistently hitting heavily contested shots or quickly speeding by me just don't make the experience worth playing. This got me thinking about the whole “era” talk in this year's NBA 2K23 when it hit me: we're in the micro-transaction era of gaming. And just for once, all I want is a AAA sports title to take the hint and hop off the bandwagon, but sadly, NBA 2K23 isn't the one to do so.
It's no question that NBA 2K23 is a notable addition to the franchise, and quite possibly the best. That is mostly due to the game modes, underdog narrative, and buttery-smooth gameplay. These three factors contributed to my enjoyment of this year's submission. And, at times, it even resulted in some of my new favorite gaming memories.
However, when you play NBA 2K23 online in TheCity, it practically pays to win. This strips away my motivation to improve, grind, and play this part of the game early on. That is, until I put in enough hours grinding to get to the same level as the players who, most likely, paid absurd sums of money for VC to get there in a fraction of the time.
To conclude, I believe NBA 2K23 is worth purchasing since it really has a lot to offer and is a serious contender for the best game in the franchise. However, if you want to enjoy the cosmetics and action of The City, you must be prepared to grind your MyCareer or fork up some cash.
NBA 2K23 Review (Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Switch & PC)
Legends, Layups, and Microtransactions
NBA 2K23 is one of the most pivotal entries to the NBA 2K series. This year’s entry truly puts the game at your fingertips by bringing in iconic legends and giving you more access to ball control than ever before. However, if you want a competitive online experience, be prepared to open your wallet.