NBA 2K12 might have been one of the strongest sports entries of 2011, but that isn't stopping Visual Concepts from trying to up its game even more in NBA 2K13. A laundry list of changes to both the control scheme and the presentation were immediately evident in our recent hands-on preview--the first playable demo of the game--and the mechanical changes in particular seem to be for the better.
It's all built around a new approach to the game's twin-stick controls. In 2K12, your right analog stick became your "shot stick," offering players added control of how they sent the ball toward the basket. Those controls still exist when you apply a LT modifier, but the new control scheme gives players a finer degree of control over their dribble via the right analog stick.
You'll still move around on the court with the left stick, but now you'll be able to control where you're containing the ball with the right. If a player comes from the left, for example, you can now shift the ball to your right for added protection. It's a subtle yet dramatic change, the sort of thing that a noob could safely ignore but a more advanced player could really use to improve their performance.
Also in the realm of new control features is an array of Kinect voice commands for the Xbox 360 version of the game. It's all sensible stuff that, again, really promises to enhance the experience for a more seasoned player. Think of the Kinect controls as an added "be the coach" button; you can do things like call a time out or direct your team with specific strategies like "pick and roll" or "cut to basket."
The coolest Kinect command only comes into play during blowout games, however. If your team happens to be up by 10 points or more with 24 seconds or less remaining on the clock, you can shout out "Gatorade Dunk" to have your team upend a cooler on the coach's head. The animation isn't finalized yet, but it's a neat feature that really enhances the experiential quality of the game.
You see that in other areas as well, with much of the presentation in 2K13 informed by Jay-Z, who serves as an executive producer on the game. Much of how he was involved during development has yet to be revealed, by 2K Sports has confirmed that he curated the new game's soundtrack. This, in turn, feeds into the amped up pre-game presentations that precede every new match-up.
The aim is to deliver an experience that more closely mirrors what you see when you watch an actual basketball game. Pre-game cinematics are much more varied now than they've been in past years. Sometimes you'll see live-action outdoor shots of the arena you'll be playing in. Sometimes you'll see concert footage--again, live-action--interspersed with in-engine player highlights. None of this affects how the game plays in any way, but it successfully adds to the overall quality of the experience.
There's more to be revealed in the coming months too. This first round of gameplay demos was almost entirely focused on putting the controller players' hands. You can expect to hear plenty more about Jay-Z's role during development, as well as the various new and returning modes. Fans of Legends Mode who are worried at the sight of whippersnappers Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Derrick Rose on the cover can rest easy: Legends mode will be back, and you can expect to see some familiar faces.
All in all, this amounts to a solid first hands-on showing for Visual Concepts. Last year's game delivered a quality experience, no question, but there are definitely some unexpectedly welcome improvement in this year's outing. Look for NBA 2K13 in stores on October 2, 2012.