I’m on a mystic quest to find out why RPG fans shun sports games, so I’m trading in my Jakob’s sniper rifle for a pair of new kicks with NBA 2K13. You’d probably remember 2K13 as the one with Jay-Z as the executive producer. And after playing it, I must say: it’s a Jay-Z extravaganza!
I played the 2K11 installment and had a damn good time with it. When you first loaded the game there was no title screen, no bullshit video and no soda advertisements. You were placed right into the shoes of the biggest basketball superstar ever–Michael Jordan–in one of the most important games of his career–game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the rival LA Lakers. It got you hungry for some NBA action. When 2K13 starts spinning, what’s presented isn’t quite so epic.
The first thing I noticed is… Jay-Z. Not only does his name appear in the title screen in big bold letters, but before you see any of the stars of the NBA (the game’s namesake), there’s Jay-Z’s furrowed brow as he shouts about something (probably “NYC!”). Finally the stars show up (albeit as their digital avatars) in a montage of slam-dunks, high-fives, and Jay-Z looking constipated. Luckily it only lasted a minute (an awkward one) and I was able to begin my glorious quest to bring peace to the land of the NBA. That’s what these games are about, right?
This is where I was surprised by something very familiar to an RPG fan like myself: character creation! You start customizing your own basketball adventurer right off the bat. I felt right at home as I picked a nose, hairstyle, beard (or no beard… or wait, a goatee!) and skin color. I made a seven foot white guy (or a Nord or Barbarian if you will) and moved on to my specialization. There are limited classes in this game (only five), but each fills a unique role in the five-person basketball adventuring party you’ll be a part of during encounters with other teams. I chose the “Power Forward” class, which is sort of a hybrid of the “Center” and “Small Forward” classes. I started my campaign (or, as 2K calls it, my “career”) and was spawned on the “court,” which is where combat takes place. And wouldn’t ya know it, after my first battle, I found out Jay-Z added another one of my favorite RPG staples into the game: EXP! But they call it SP for some reason.
This is where the leveling system kicks in. You spend your experience from encounters to upgrade different abilities. If you want to play your class close to the hoop, you can level up your rebounding and lay-up skills. If you’re more the sniping type, you can choose to focus on your medium shot and 3-point skills. There are tons of ways to play, but they ironically all feel the same.
You’ll also earn loot during games, which can be used for new gear! You’ve got an array of Nikes to choose from that grant positive stat bonuses. They even have a system called signature skills, which gives you buffs before your battles!
The deeper I got into NBA 2K13’s career mode, one thing became abundantly clear: this game is basically an RPG–and kind of a shitty one–with basketball skin. That being said, the developers probably should’ve logged more hours fighting orcs because there’s a lot they could learn from modern RPGs. For instance, there are GM encounters where you have to make your case for being hired by or staying on the roster of a team, which could be compared with the conversation systems in Bethesda or Bioware crafted epics. They are the most awkward, poorly voice acted/written/executed video game experiences I’ve ever had. I urge you to play this game just to experience it, even if (and maybe because) it makes you vomit.
Despite all of the game’s short-comings in the genre, I can definitely see Mr. Z has been studying up on his spell craft. I can’t wait for what I hear is his next endeavor: The Elder Scrolls VI: Emperor Jay-Z’s Quest to Get Paid!