NBA 2K13 preview - Stepping into the arena

Where can you go after bringing His Airness back? Where can you go after legends like Magic Johnson are revived on-court with contemporary gameplay flourishes? The NBA 2K series has dominated the court for several years. With NBA 2K13, some big changes are afoot. We got first hands-on a few weeks ago, but were told that the team wasn't ready to talk about career mode. Now they are.

(Fake) Money in the Bank

At the root of NBA 2K13 is the Virtual Currency, or VC, system. It's not explicitly named as experience points, but it has the same functionality. It turns nearly every element of 2K13 into a metagame, from the time you spend in online games to single-player seasons. You can use it for character customization, or for other elements.

Welcome to My Career

My Player mode has been a staple of NBA 2K for several years. And while the team has tweaked and modulated different elements over its numerous annual updates--your created player's life off the court, for example--the new My Career lets your customize your player on three tiers. You can use earned VC to buy different items, from the latest shoes to wear for street ball games to suits for your press conferences. All of your tweaks will show up in cutscenes throughout the game.

Customization doesn't just extend to what clothes you put on your virtual athlete's back. There are a variety of custom animations, from how he enters the arena to how he celebrates after an especially standout scoring moment. Those unique moves also extend to real-life player's trademark traits, such as LeBron James' chalk toss-up. Plus, the new Signature Skills moves (which were unveiled during our prior hands-on) extend into your player. The triple-tiered perk system ranges from having a sharper eye for three-pointers all the way up to a player/coach role that lets you completely dictate the play of the team based on your whims.

There's also an incorporation of Twitter-like social media elements (without the Twitter branding) that offer feedback on your performance from fans, celebrities (Pauly D, among others, will fist pump his support for you), and real-life sports journalists, like Zach Harper. Your popularity among fans and in regard to team chemistry holds a great deal of weight throughout your career.

Popularity has a strong influence on your ability to sway the locker room. We got a glimpse at the Meet with GM minigame, and according to your fanbase and team chemistry, you can have more clout when it comes to demanding coaching changes or getting good teammates more playtime. And if you're having problems enhancing your popularity and pull, you can always cash in some VC points to buy yourself social media boosters.

His Name Is Hov...

Career mode isn't the only overhaul in NBA 2K13. 2K Sports has heavily promoted Jay-Z's involvement as executive producer of the game. It's immediately evident from the presentation that his thumbprints are all over this title. The flashing lights and marquees in the main menu throb and pulsate in sync with the soundtrack. When you start a Quick Game, you'll sometimes be treated to a highlight reel of the team's last encounter, interspersed with footage from Jay-Z videos (we saw footage of Lakers vs. Heat spliced with "Onto the Next One"), not unlike the drama you see before televised big NBA showdowns. It won't happen every time you play (nor is the soundtrack solely his discography), but it adds an authentic-feeling touch to the ambience.

A Mean Shoe Game

Speaking of authenticity, NBA 2K13 touts a fan-requested create-a-shoe feature. Gameplay producer Rob Jones walked us through the plethora of options, from brands (Nike, Adidas, Converse, Under Armour, Spalding) to types (from low-tops to retro hi-tops) and the number of possible layers (up to eight). You can shift the layering, not unlike working in Photoshop, to create different styles, and ultimately upload them to the official game's site. Plus, if you use 2K13's Nike ID integration, you can create a shoe in-game, send the blueprint to the Nike ID website, and order real-life shoes that both you and your custom avatar can wear.

Get Acquainted with Association

Finally, this year's Association Mode will have some new wrinkles. It's updated with the same real-world contract refinements that came out of last year's post-lockout collective bargaining agreement. There's also a new feature called Total Sim Control that gives you far more sway over the games you choose to simulate over the course of a long season. Want Steve Nash to shoot more than Kobe? Want to ensure that your team plays the defense they would if you were playing a full game yourself? Now you can program those choices into the process. And, arguably the biggest addition? If you're not picking the game up on launch day, you can download all of the real-world statistics and injury data up to the day you start playing.

Overall, between the depth of My Career, its level of customization, and the Jay-Z-curated presentation, there's plenty to be excited about with NBA 2K13. Plus, that's all on top of the revamped dribbling and shooting mechanics that the Visual Concepts team has unveiled. It'd be bold to set your expectations somewhere around "Lakers Fan," but there's a great deal to be excited about from this year's installment.

Sterling McGarvey