It’s once again reached that time of year when another entry in the NBA 2K franchise slam-dunks onto our consoles and, yes, it’s sometimes difficult to muster much excitement for these annual instalments, easy to dismiss them as just another incremental update that looks and plays almost identically to the previous season’s effort. However, NBA 2K23 is perhaps worth getting a little more jazzed about than usual as it combines some sweet new modes with, what we reckon, is the best on-court action we’ve seen from the series thus far.
Let’s kick things off with the focus on the sport’s history here, and 2K has done a fantastic job of making the Michael Jordan Challenge mode feel like a fully fleshed out and richly rewarding part of the game. In this mode you’ll take part in 15 specific challenges based on events from across MJ’s career, with each and every one of them presented in exacting detail and featuring era-specific stadiums, kits, commentary and screen filters that genuinely make the whole thing look photo-realistic at times. This is no throwaway mode, it’s a full-on history lesson to sink your teeth into and enjoy that really brings MJ’s early career and biggest NBA moments back to life.
The history lesson then continues over in the MyNBA Eras mode where you can now set up a season that plays out in any one of four different eras from across the past fifty years of the sport. Whether it’s the Magic vs Bird era, Jordan, Kobe or modern era, just like the MJ Challenge mode, you’re treated to tons of detail here with filters, kits, stadiums, scoreboards and commentary that absorb you fully into the ins and outs of the recent history of the NBA.
Away from the historical side of things and MyTeam also sees a host of improvements, including the removal of the game’s annoying player contracts system, a new online co-op mode for Triple Threat and the introduction of the excellent Clutch Time as one of the main ways to earn those VC points and level up your squad.
The MyPlayer portion of the game also sees big changes this year. This has been one of the standout points of NBA 2K since its introduction, but this time around it has a bigger, more knockabout arcade feel to it as you explore your created pro’s rivalry with the pantomime baddie of the piece, Shep Owens, attempting to win the city’s fans over to your side, whilst you skateboard and buggy around an open world that’s littered with RPG-style quests and challenges to dig into. MyPlayer feels as though it’s got the mix of melodramatic sports storyline, super slick basketball action and knockabout open world fun just right this year and it’s a mode we’re much more eager to fully rinse as a result.
Across the board, NBA 2K23 just feels better in every department. The shot meter is easier to read this year – and it can be tinkered with if you don’t 100% gel with its default set-up – and matches have a slower pace that gives the action a more open and purposeful flow, with more room to manoeuvre, pass the ball around and build up to taking a shot at the net. There are new dunk controls that allow for more flexibility in how you show off on big shots, enhanced animations and physics and improved AI that makes for sharper opponents in single player modes.
There’s also been plenty of work done with regards to shot ratings, with stronger offensive players feeling noticeably more capable and able to pull a bit of magic out of tight spots, whereas weaker shooters will have a much tougher time. You can no longer just rely on getting any old player into the open and then netting some points regardless of stats, this time around you’ll have to plan your attacks and get your team’s biggest talents involved to see the best results.
We’ve also found that post moves are easier – or maybe we should say more intuitive – to pull off this year, we’ve really worked them into our overall game now, and the challenges in MyTeam do a great job of teaching you the ins and outs of some important fundamentals that will help you to improve the foundations of how you go about your business on the court.
Indeed, from the moment you boot this one up, accessibility seems to be something that 2K has really focused on this year. You’ll get a walkthrough of each mode and how it works, fundamentals are explained in detail for newbies and the general flow of MyPlayer and MyTeam encourages players to take on challenges and learn the basics more than ever before. If you’re willing to put the time in, NBA 2K23 has got a whole lot to teach you about the sport it’s simulating.
Graphically, this is easily the best this franchise has ever looked too. We’re still somewhat in the uncanny valley, for sure, but it’s oh-so-close now with player faces and animations looking super-convincing – apart from the odd jerky movement or strange facial expression here and there. Presentation, both graphically and in terms of the commentary and soundtrack, is what we’ve come to expect from this series and it’s easily the best looking sports game on next-gen consoles thus far.
Of course, not everything is perfect in b-ball land and, as expected, NBA 2K23 is a game that’s weighed down quite heavily by microtransactions. If you’ve been playing the franchise all along this won’t come as any kind of surprise, but newcomers should be aware that, especially in the MyPlayer mode, folks who splash out their real-life money are gonna have a big advantage here, especially in the early days and weeks before those of us who grind it out have yet to catch up and make some big name signings to our teams.
Microtransactions aside, however, and this year’s effort is easily a high-water mark for NBA 2K. There are a ton of modes to dig into here, mechanical and graphical improvements on the court that make for the best simulation of the sport we’ve ever played, and those historical aspects in the MJ Challenge mode and MyEras add a richness to this one that makes it a real treat for fans of basketball.
NBA 2K23 is the strongest this franchise has looked and felt in recent memory. With a fantastic focus on various eras from the past 50 years of the sport, a superb Michael Jordan Challenge mode, plenty of improvements on the court and series-best presentation, this is a super slick and polished feast of basketball for fans to dig into. Yes, microtransactions are still an ugly issue, especially in MyPlayer mode, but if you can look past this failing, you’re in for an absolute treat here with a ton of deep and addictive single player and online modes to get stuck into.