NBA 2K23 Review: Not Quite a Perfect Release
The NBA season is right around the corner, which means another entry in the NBA 2K franchise is again taking its shot to be the best sports game available. This year, NBA 2K23 brings a slew of new gameplay enhancements, a revamped Jordan Challenge, a big city to explore in MyCareer, a new spin on MyNBA with different playable Eras, and other improvements that will keep fans busy for the rest of the year.
However, the cracks begin to show after a few games, and the immersion breaks a lot easier than in previous games in the series.
NBA 2K23 Review: Not Quite a Perfect Release
From the moment you enter a game, which happens lightning fast on the Playstation 5, the atmosphere conveys the feeling of watching a real NBA match-up. The arenas are electric, the crowds are energetic, and the player introductions are entertaining. This has always been the case for the 2K series, but it is especially prominent this year. Without a doubt, NBA 2K23 is one of the prettiest games on current-gen consoles and in the series; the player animations coupled with signature taunts and shots help create a sense of place few other sports games can muster.
It’s too bad, then, that excitement fades after playing a few games and hearing Kevin Harlan and Brian Andersen provide the same commentary they did two games ago. 2K23 hasn’t done much to improve on the already stellar lineup of broadcasters, and if you played last year's title, you know what Harlan and Andersen will say after and between every big play.
And while the players look their best this year, there are still a few issues that get in the way. Players’ eyes move around randomly, and there are moments where they clip through each other while interacting on the bench, all things that ruin some truly fun moments and celebrations. Overall, it’s indicative of the series taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” stance without updating and upgrading old systems to feel fresh.
2K23 has a lot to offer on and off the court, though the modes are just about the same as those in 2K22. The differences lie in the choices you can make within those modes.
MyCareer is exactly what you’d expect: it’s a story that follows a blossoming star facing an uphill battle to prove they deserved to land where they did in the NBA Draft. There are dialogue choices that affect in-game boosts and shape the player you’ll become as your career moves forward. The system takes cues from Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade system, only replaced here with the confident Trailblazer, á la Mamba Mentality or General, who lets their game speak for itself.
MyCareer is filled with quest markers and points of interest; there is a lot of walking around and meeting quirky characters around the city, which is big for a sports sim title. However, what you do between games is a bit tedious: you walk in The City to a quest marker, talk to a character, complete trivial objectives, like running two drills at the gym, working out, and completing time trials on a skateboard, and then jump into the next game before repeating it all again. Navigating in these areas feels especially slow, and the pace suffers because of it, further exacerbated by consistent frame rate drops while exploring.
Overall, the experience is a bit cumbersome, especially because it’s a shared online hub, and 2K23 relies on an internet connection, causing quite a few hiccups with connectivity and the inability to even access the mode close to launch. It was something especially prominent when using the NBA 2K App to apply a face scan for the player, which just didn’t work during my review.
In recent years, fans have lamented MyCareer’s story for poor voice acting and goofy inclusions like Jake from State Farm. While the voice acting is a lot better this year, 2K23 still really wants to lean into its quirkiness: Jake is still here, and joining him is Ronnie2k and a bunch of NBA legends and stars like Zion Williamson and Kevin Garnett. While these characters are a lot more grounded and help push the narrative toward making your player a Legend, the interactions are still awkward, and a lot of the dialogue, while acted well, isn’t written well.
Aside from MyCareer, there have been some big additions to MyNBA that create more replayability and opportunities to experiment with the addition of Eras. With Eras, you can play from one of four major periods in NBA history: the Magic vs. Bird Era, The Michael Jordan Era, The Kobe Era, and The Modern Era. Each has different options and rules that are set before jumping into the first game of the season.
The All-Star game in the Kobe Era and prior, for example, still has fan voting but no captains. There’s also the inclusion of the play-in tournament for the Modern Era. These differences are a great way to create more variety on the path to an NBA championship and create a lot of fun “what-if” situations to play around with. The Kobe Era takes place right before the legendary 2003 draft class, so what would happen if Cleveland didn’t get the Number 1 pick?
Within each game, however, the on-the-court experience is relatively the same, with the exception of the Eras before the Modern Era, which don’t include half-time shows but have fun, old-school replay animations and graphics alongside a retro filter that conveys the feeling of watching historic broadcasts. Ultimately, MyNBA is still a great mode, and while it’s been lacking major updates, these updates are a step in the right direction.
There are also new additions to the WNBA modes across the board. However, the changes in these modes only mirror the NBA modes at a basic level. Even the game broadcasts feel staler compared to its NBA counterpart. It’s heartening to have the WNBA involved more with the 2K series, but like in real life, there needs to be more attention drawn to these modes and players to offer better experiences.
The Jordan Challenges return this year with 15 different career-spanning games to play through as the legendary Bulls shooting guard. Each requires you to meet three conditions, like scoring 19 points, winning a game by 15 points, and/or securing 9 rebounds in a game to earn three stars before moving forward. That gameplay is complemented with authentic commentary matching the specific game being played, and the videos that launch before each match-up help encapsulate the importance of the individual moment.
The difficulty of the Jordan Challenges is not exclusive to the mode. The changes NBA 2K23 brings to the court make schemes around isolation play a bit more demanding. First and foremost, the shot meter has been overhauled – and includes a variety of different ones to choose from – making it so the player doesn’t know if they green’d a shot (hit a perfect shot release) until after the ball drops in.
It’s also a lot harder to green a shot if a defender is difficult to shake, making adrenaline boosts that help ball handlers create their own shots important. The offset is that those boosters deplete energy faster if you continue to hold the ball. This balancing act is meant to create more ball movement and keep players from ball-hogging, especially in online play, and it ultimately meshes well with the systems around it.
NBA 2K23 Review – The Bottom Line
- Challenging experience.
- One of the best-looking games on current-gen platforms.
- Further expansion of the WNBA is a solid step in the right direction.
- Presentation is top of the line.
- Attention to detail for players and their signature moves is still great.
- Player emotions and expressions are off-putting, mainly because of odd eye animations.
- Not as much attention given to the WNBA modes.
- Broadcast starts to feel stale after a few games.
- Online connectivity creates problems for MyCareer.
- No major updates to differentiate from last year’s title.
- Astronaut in the Ocean included unironically.
NBA 2K23 brings quite a few changes to the court while making sure things feel the same and players feel comfortable. While that strategy mostly works this year, 2K needs to start implementing better changes moving forward.
Just because something isn’t broken, doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t cracks in the foundation, and unfortunately, that is where NBA 2K23 is, even if it is one of the better sports titles available.
[Note: 2K provided the copy of NBA 2K23 used for this review.]