There have been plenty of competitors in the realm of basketball gaming. The sports gaming market has seen several types of basketball games, but no title has proven to be as consistent and dominant as 2K’s annual NBA video game. Over time, 2K has made incremental adjustments to their series’ graphics and gameplay, ultimately creating a product that players come back to buy every single year. Notably, if you’re a fan of NBA 2K games, the reasons to come back for NBA 2K23 include its “Jordan Challenge” and an updated MyCareer mode.
Lately, 2K has been enabling audiences to play through legendary athletes’ careers. Following in the footsteps of some 2K games that have come before it, NBA 2K23 boasts a new “Jordan Challenge” mode that allows people to play through key moments of Michael Jordan’s career. Playing through each experience in Jordan’s career feels like watching it happen in real-time. This element’s immersion comes from the addition of CRT lines and fuzzy graphics to help players feel nostalgic for a 90s television set. The highlights of Jordan’s career are also narrated by various influential figures in the legendary sports star’s life, such as Kenny Smith and Phil Jackson. The additional insight that these commentaries provide helps the game mode embrace the feeling of a documentary, which only makes the game more interesting.
Despite 2K’s tendency to develop and sell what often feel like shells of unfinished games, the “Jordan Challenge” mode is a fully realized and redeeming aspect of the game. Other 2K games, such as WWE 2K22, have incorporated similar modes in their games, but no 2K game has offered an experience as intriguing as this one. Suspenseful moments throughout Jordan’s career will often be broken up by narration and interesting sports history. By starting this mode with his college games and eventually shifting the focus to his famous run with the Chicago Bulls, 2K creates a relationship between the player and Michael Jordan, who feels like a developing character.
Although players won’t receive a lot of insight regarding Jordan’s actual thoughts about the key moments in his career, players develop an understanding of the relationships that he maintained during his time in the NBA. This may not be the first time 2K has offered this sort of experience in its games, but the “Jordan Challenge” provides one of the best career exploratory narratives and is one of the primary reasons this game has any replayability. Any Michael Jordan fan or people who found enjoyment in the recent documentary The Last Dance will find a lot of value in playing through Jordan’s career.
The new MyCareer mode has enhanced its story and voice acting to allow for stronger character development and player motivation. If players are new to NBA 2K games, it is unlikely that success will be found by jumping straight into the story mode; MyCareer mode does not offer a straightforward tutorial on controls, and players will likely have to fumble through a number of menus to figure out how to play if this is their first experience. The story of the new MyCareer mode focuses on a rivalry with a specific player on an opposing team and the PR conflicts that present themselves when the rivalry is exacerbated. Compared to other NBA games, this storyline offers a new level of profundity.
2K23 also has a new connected online experience that is instrumental in playing through many parts of the game. Players can explore an entire city that is so big that it at times doesn’t even feel like an NBA game. The online city connects to various games with other players, modes, and unlockables. Interestingly, the players can use various types of transportation because the online hub is so enormous. For example, a player might be on their way to play someone else in a 1v1 game and see others navigating through the world in a go-kart or on a skateboard. 2K has been marketing the experience associated with this latest title as “the most authentic NBA experience to date,” but randomly seeing others riding through can detract from the immersion and experience.
Although it is interesting to add an open-world element and diverse ways to navigate through the types of games 2K23 offers, the necessity of such a feature has to be questioned. The online hub doesn’t make navigating through menus easier and it makes finding a game to play online take twice as long. It’s clear that 2K spent a lot of time and resources developing this online city, but it probably would have been better if they had allocated their energy to make a more user-friendly and accessible menu that takes players straight to the game. As absurd as these additions might make the online mode feel at times, the redeeming aspect of it all is that players have an incredible amount of autonomy and control over the customization of their character.
Customization requires virtual currency that accrues over time throughout the story. Additionally, players will be able to purchase VC and unlockables rather than working for them in-game. Much like other 2K games, the microtransactions can feel pushy, and the immense number of in-game ads, screens, and menus can feel overwhelming. However, this will probably not hinder the experience for most fans of NBA 2K games.
2K has always been incremental and measured when it comes to improvements to graphics and gameplay for its sports titles. NBA 2K23 is no different. Here, very little is done to improve graphics and gameplay compared to its predecessors. Although some work was done to try and improve animations, most characters will continue to appear stiff and inhuman. The experience of playing basketball at times can vary greatly between feeling smooth and punitive.
While it is great to have simple controls for necessary actions like passing and having the ability to simulate the game until the next time your character plays, the mini-games involved with providing an “authentic” basketball experience often require an infuriating amount of trial and error. For example, shooting still requires a precise amount of timing, but the timing of each shot is hardly reflected accurately to players’ button presses. Players will learn to compensate for what is likely an error reading button input.
Most frustration, however, can come from fouls that are called at times for seemingly no reason. Foul calls often appear to be made randomly, interrupting any progress players may be making as though it is favoring the computer or opposing team. If 2K aims to impress audiences with graphics and gameplay improvements, the follow-up to 2K23 will likely have to take more bold risks.
Overall, if you are a fan of 2K’s work and the NBA 2K series, there are plenty of reasons to pick up NBA 2K23. The soundtrack, “Jordan Challenge” mode, and new storyline all help offer a generally playable experience. However, anyone that thinks that 2K23 will offer a new or highly improved experience may need to reexamine their expectations. The bottom line is that NBA 2K23 is aimed at fans of the franchise and basketball fans alike, delivering the exact experience that most people would expect.
NBA 2K23 comes out September 9 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.
Overall, if you are a fan of 2K’s work and the NBA 2K series, there are plenty of reasons to pick up NBA 2K23. The soundtrack, “Jordan Challenge” mode and new storyline all help offer a generally playable experience. However, anyone that thinks that 2K23 will offer a new or highly improved experience may need to reexamine their expectations. The bottom line is that NBA 2K23 is aimed at fans of the franchise and basketball fans alike, delivering the exact experience that most people would expect.