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Unlike some sports franchises that function on a two-year cycle of big changes (such as FIFA and NHL), NBA 2K seems to fluctuate around wholesale changes every four years. NBA 2K7 was a decidedly impactful game for its time, and NBA 2K11 didn't just succeed because of Air Jordan, it also boasted a large number of huge improvements. We got our first hands-on time with 2K's new hoops game recently, and we noticed a distinct difference in NBA 2K13 compared to older games.
"We want to break the "four-year 'wow' and start hitting a two-year 'wow,'" said senior producer Rob Jones. The 2K13 team really wants to break out gameplay that'll boast smarter AI, more accessible gameplay, and that "wow factor."
We noticed the gameplay tweaks immediately. NBA 2K13 will modify offense so that you switch between analog dribbles and shooting, all on the right stick. Based on user feedback, the dev team has concocted a system that's not totally aping FIFA's skill move modifier, but uses a similar system. Ideally, as you drive down the lane as LeBron, you can pull off a variety of moves with the right stick, then, as you're ready to go up for a shot, you can pull on the left bumper (or L2) to modify the stick for shooting, dunking, or layups, depending on your position on the court.
It feels like an elegant solution that allows more precision for dribbles than in the past. Plus, with the dribble stick mechanic, you'll be allowed more leeway and technique for moves like making attacking dribbles on defenders by snapping from a standstill to an intimidating surge into the key. There's a degree of 1-to-1 movement with the ball. As a plus, the team has implemented even more moves than in previous games, nearly by accident. Thanks to unexpected movements during motion capture, the developers have incorporated subtle on-the-court moves, like maneuvers that switch from offensive to defense on the fly.
But it's not just about offense. The number of changes when your team has the ball needed to be balanced by a number of changes when you don't have possession. While the AI is super-smart and knows rotations and exactly how to get open, it also reacts to how you defend. So, if you're inclined to playing basketball in a more physical, "shove-the-opponent-off-the-ball" arcade style, the opponent will take advantage, and your teammates will sweat a little bit more to cover for your mistakes.
Plus, for both offense and defense, there are player-unique attributes that allow you to exploit the stars of your team to the most advantage. Yes, while there are still rating ranges, two players of similar ability and size can now be differentiated via bolstered traits that tie to elements that basketball fans normally see in the real world. Of the nearly thirty traits on display: with the Deadeye skill, your player won't be fazed by anyone trying to get in the way as you're driving down the lane and will take an unaffected shot. Of course, there's an antidote to Deadeyes, as the Locked-On Defender skillset will allow another player to cut through the crowd and shut him down. And that's not all. LeBron James can chase down blockers on a fastbreak, which not every player can do. Plus, there are team boosters as well as individual skills. Chris Paul singlehandedly boosts the team's collective performance as one of his traits, not unlike what happened when he joined the Clippers.
Animations have been tweaked for this year's upcoming game, too. So as you drive through a sea of defenders for a layup, the number of moves are strung together more carefully. Factors, such as weight, speed, angle, and collision all play into delivering more dynamic moments, and there are more factors for players to be able to adapt on the fly. There is a finite number of animations in the game, but Jones' hope is that you won't say "oh, I saw that animation a bunch of times already."