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NBA 2K23 Review – The Devil’s In the Details

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NBA 2K23 Review – The Devil’s In the Details

Play as you are in NBA 2K23, but at what cost?

NBA 2K23 on PS5

How often do you leave a theater thinking ‘Wow, I really enjoyed that’ only to let things simmer for a few days and realize ‘Well, this irks me a little, but…’ until that little list of tiny things starts to trickle off the page? On one hand, that’s a little like how experiencing NBA 2K23 feels. On the other, it’s nearly impossible to not be impressed by the level of detail 2K has gone to this time around. From an homage to the past of utmost sincerity and The City genuinely feeling like a place where all things basketball is attainable to arguably 2K’s best shot at nailing an authentic basketball experience to date, countless features stand out for both the casual sports gamer and basketball diehard.

And yet, a certain level of discontent lingers. Though much of that can simply be boiled down to the reality of sports videogames in the modern day, sometimes the devil within the details teases a dream of something more only to reinforce its fate upon you. Yes, we’re still talking about a basketball simulation, and I can think of no better way to describe the ever-detailed MyCareer mode. For those who gravitate towards the career-driven sports videogame narratives, NBA 2K23 gives you almost everything players like myself could possibly ask for—and then some.

The story itself is relatively straightforward: You play the part of MP, a first-round draft pick tasked with winning over your fanbase—the very fanbase that overwhelmingly boos your selection on Draft Night because your organization opts against drafting Shep Owens, who in turn becomes your ultimate rival.

From there your journey is set into motion, and while not everything lands, players could lose themselves within The City for hours if they chose to. Certain passages of dialogue are hokey and even sometimes border on cringey. The sense that you’re essentially guided into potentially becoming something or someone you may not be feels off, yet ultimately believable given where you’re at and just how harshly you’re pushed early on. Being addressed solely as “MP” throughout the game induces an eyeroll or two, and not being able to truly have control over your character’s name is a bit that irks. Again, it’s that little list of tiny things. It’s about taking the bad with the good.

So for that, the level of detail that goes into MyCareer is beyond commendable. From the seemingly endless offerings of clothing and accessories to bright, loud colors as far as the eye can see and a city that truly expands with ease, there is a lot to look forward to. Want to skateboard around the city while ticking off quest boxes? Have it at! Just know that you’re in for a little adjustment control-wise. Want to wear whatever the heck you dang while please while winning over the hearts of millions? Go for it! Just understand that it costs as much or more Virtual Currency (VC) to upgrade your player off the court as it does on it. Even with a 100,000 VC head start, it was pure agony.

Just some guy trying to be cool. (Image Source: 2K Games via Twinfinite)

Still, imagine a city seemingly without a car in sight; a city where all things basketball live and breathe; where a bright and inviting atmosphere resides on every corner. That’s where MyCareer peaks, with a level of detail that can be seen bleeding throughout the game. From the highlight reel that is the resurrection of the Jordan Challenge to a love letter admiring the NBAs of years ago, there are routes to take if you do not wish to lose yourself in MyCareer. How long one wishes to stick to those routes, however, remains up to you.

It’s been over a decade since NBA 2K gave its players the chance to relive Michael Jordan’s greatest star-making moments, and they spare no expense when it comes to making you feel the intensity of every single one of them this time around. Beginning with the National Championship between MJ’s North Carolina and Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown in 1982 and culminating with his final triumph over the Utah Jazz in 1998, players are given the opportunity to experience many of the highs that shaped Jordan into the GOAT many recognize him to be. And a big part of what makes this feel even bigger or better is the attention to presentation, which enriches this experience and noticeably enhances MyNBA’s Eras.

Every moment of the Jordan Challenge feels real while every instance can prove to be quite challenging. Experiencing that in-game provides a nice contrast to attempting to recapture these types of moments on the playground or, say, in your bedroom with a plush basketball toy and small garbage basket. That is not to say that those memories are less than, of course—especially the latter—but now you’re able to have it all, so why not enjoy it?

Within MyNBA Eras comes the opportunity to finally, once and for all, put this age-old debate to bed: Which NBA era is the greatest? Okay fine, that possibility only exists on a virtual or simulated plane and even then, it’s all opinion. But you shouldn’t let that distract from just how layered Eras is in NBA 2K23. Whether its the ability to choose between Magic vs. Bird, Jordan, and Kobe or the fact that every single era incorporates the laundry list of differences between them, these snapshots of the past present players with a wide array of opportunities.

Remember them? (Image Source: 2K Games via Twinfinite)

Have your say with a fantasy draft all your own or let these eras play out as they did, the choices are yours. And alongside ’em, you’ll truly feel what it was like to experience a game of basketball in the 80s, 90s, and through the 2000s. So much care is put into the presentation that it may sometimes overwhelm, but more often than not it is enhanced due to 2K23’s gameplay improvements. This feels like a basketball game through and through, even if the AI noticeably stumbles at points. Yet even then, some of those missteps will correct themselves as you increase the level of difficulty. As is often the case, finding a balance between authentic gameplay and a genuinely engaging experience isn’t always the easiest maneuver to manage, yet 2K does an admirable job.

So while the balance of what your player does well compared to what your player does poorly in-game can be jarring at times, it does make sense that one would most likely struggle early on in their NBA career. Especially here, where upgrading does not come cheaply and where not upgrading immediately puts you at a disadvantage. Once more, it’s all about what you’re willing to let occupy your time. If you do not feel like grinding daily, MyCareer may not be for you. On the other hand, if you’re willing to let the chips fall where they may, hours can be entertainingly lost to this very same mode.

NBA 2K23 layers itself with so much history, and the attention to detail is clear within every single one of them. Players can get lost in year after year of the past while seeing what it may have looked had things stood still in the decades that followed. Gameplay and presentation take center stage while the amount of customizable options feel more on display than ever before. From signature jump shots and various dunking styles to suits, tattoos, skateboards, and everything else in between, there truly is something for everyone.

And that’s why it is so difficult to look past the impact microtransactions—specifically in the form of VC with regards to NBA 2K23—already has and will continue to have on games of this nature. Despite there being hours upon hours of enjoyment to be had throughout The City, the NBA’s history, and even vicariously through the GOAT himself, it’s fair to come out feeling a little bit cynical. Such is the way of the microtransaction.

Still, for those seeking an authentic simulation, NBA 2K23 delivers. For those who couldn’t be bothered to invest into either MyTeam or MyCareer, you will find plenty else to occupy your time. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you’re willing to check at the door. There will always be things players take or leave. On the whole, it very much feels like a big step in the right direction. Underneath, I continue to let myself imagine ‘What if…’ which is why personally, it’s difficult to look past the ever-present elephant in the room.

Review Block

NBA 2K23

3.5
/ 5

Fair

NBA 2K23 Critic Review
Reviewer: Shaun Ranft | Copy provided by Publisher.

Pros

  • The most authentic NBA experience we’ve gotten yet.
  • Endless customizable options for your player and beyond.
  • Something for fans of all ages to engage with.
  • The perfect time for a Michael Jordan refresher.

Cons

  • Microtransactions remain King to a detrimental degree.
  • Customizing feels more expensive than ever.
  • Hokey, sometimes cringey in-game dialogue.
Release Date
Sept. 9, 2022
Developer
Visual Concepts
Publisher
2K
Consoles
PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
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