Perfection Is Nigh

HIGH  The on-court gameplay is nearly flawless

LOW  The grinding is nearly endless

WTF  Fake social media stardom is just exhausting

NBA 2K23, the latest entry in the venerable basketball sim series, was released on September 9, 2022.

Most review sites published reviews of NBA 2K23 on September 9, 2022, but as the guy who reviews this title for Gamecritics each year, I’m happy to be ‘late’ in publishing mine because this series is built on gameplay depth and a growing amount of regularly-updated content. A fair review of the NBA 2K series requires more than a cursory glance at the features.

So, I will lead with the TL;DR approach before diving in — NBA 2K23 is a fantastic game of digital basketball and easily the best entry in this series in half a decade. The on-court gameplay finally achieves that elusive balance of realism and enjoyability, creating a broadcast-quality experience that is beautifully animated, but with movements that are always within the player’s control.

This level of interactivity extends across all modes, offense and defense, online and off. In short, users will enjoy feeling responsible for everything that happens on the court, even if an unwise block attempt leads to three costly free throws. The pre-loaded animations are (mostly) gone, and the ones that remain never impede the sense of freedom provided by the gameplay.

NBA 2K23’s Jordan Challenge is a wonderful companion to the MyPlayer story mode, letting users relive the legend’s finest moments from his freshman year at North Carolina to his countless heroic plays with the Chicago Bulls. With era-appropriate filters and graphic treatments, users are transported through each of these scenarios with stunning accuracy. Though recreating the exact endings can be tough, the man didn’t become a legend by taking easy shots, raising the sense of reward by several degrees.

Likewise, users can recreate entire historical seasons within the MyNBA Eras mode, allowing them to live out childhood dreams and fantasy scenarios. Magic and Bird on the same Celtics squad? Kobe and Iverson owning LA? All of it is possible through lovingly-recreated player models and shockingly realistic performance traits. Even the typically-strict referees take a more passive approach during the run-and-gun 1980s eras. This mode is a love letter to long-time NBA fans and a tremendously pleasant surprise.

In NBA 2K23, another long-time wrong has finally been made (mostly) right — the inclusion of a more fleshed-out WNBA experience. Now, fans can create their own WNBA superstars, taking them through an entire league season and a story mode all of their own. I wish the script was even remotely as substantial as the male-focused MyPlayer, but considering how long WNBA fans have waited for this, and how accurate the gameplay is to the full WNBA style, I’ll refrain from dampening the goodwill in the room. (Let’s just hope developers keep expanding this part of the 2K experience.)

The traditional, story-driven MyPlayer mode proves to be a mixed bag of enjoyment. On one hand, the storyline (another underdog narrative) is considerably more engaging than in recent years. The ever-neutral “MP” character is a strong draft pick right out of the gate but has to appease a fanbase that isn’t thrilled with the team’s choice of college standout.

On the other hand, there’s still nothing here users haven’t seen before. “MP” is still a faceless character, no matter which face designs a player chooses. He still has a best friend who doubles as a green, but relentless agent. There’s an obvious antagonist who always seems to get the upper hand during games. And The City is a well-designed portal for cash grab microtransactions, thinly veiled product advertising, and relentless grinding for experience points.

Full disclosure: 2K was kind enough to send Gamecritics the Michael Jordan Edition of the game, which gives users an immediate 100,000 virtual currency credits to advance created avatars faster than the normal player would. Without this significant head start, I can’t even imagine how long I would have to play (or pay) to get my character to a decent level. 

Despite the redundant tropes and often-cringeworthy acting, 2K23’s MyPlayer experience is the best it has been since that “other” Michael Jordan co-starred in the narrative. The grinding and shameless microtransactions get in the way from time to time, but the main story is different enough to recommend a playthrough.

Online, the game has performed wonderfully since the servers opened on launch day. Gone are the endless lobby waits, random mid-game bump-outs, and other legacy lags that typically haunt online sports gaming. Instead, I enjoyed crisp controls, robust player matching, and a sense of relaxed enjoyment — which is hardly typical of the series. Single-player modes are still where NBA 2K shines brightest, but if users have avoided multiplayer hoops for a few years, this is the year they should consider jumping back online.

In the end, NBA 2K23 isn’t a perfect game. But it is the strongest, deepest, smoothest, and most enjoyable showing for the series in some time. With a little less focus on microtransactions, and a little more focus on ramping up other modes, perfection is definitely within reach in the coming years.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by 2K Games and developed by Visual Concepts. It is available on XBO/X/S, PS4/5, PC, macOS, iOS, and Switch. This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 21 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Lyrics within the in-game music selections. Additionally, the single-player MyCareer mode has a narrative that includes some adult themes to which parents of younger children may object.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: NBA 2K23 features subtitles and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. The game is fully accessible.

Controls: The controls are not remappable. Examples of the control schemes are below.

Brad Bortone
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