When the competition decides to cancel its game year after year, that’s when a product is doing something right. The NBA 2K series has all but squashed its rivals and has become one of the best selling video games every year.

It can’t have been without some apprehension that perennial developer Visual Concepts chose to alter the series’ signature control system for its latest outing, NBA2K13. Previously, ball control and movement was managed through the use of the left stick, while the right stick controlled shooting. This system worked well enough, but Visual Concepts appears to have decided that well enough wasn’t good enough; they wanted to try something new, and it has paid off.

The left stick still works as before by enabling players to move around the court. However the right stick is now where players perform all ball dribbling moves. This new control layout allows players to move around the court more smoothly and with much more precision, while pulling off some crazy ball control feats. Fans of the original setup needn’t fear, the shot stick is still there, simply pulling down on the left trigger activates it, and this modifies the right stick’s funcitonality allowing players to shoot as they did previous years.

But it’s the changes to gameplay that veteran fans will notice first. The change of controls has enhanced the flow and pace of the game by adding that extra layer of accuracy that was absent before. Improvements have also been made to the post-up system. Before, players would get boxed out of the key and any chance of a battle would end right there. In 2K13 players are now able to fight and struggle for the best position near the net. Finally, teammate AI has been noticeably improved. When moving a player to a position on the court already covered by a teammate, that player will move, and find another space to try and create an offensive opportunity.

NBA 2K13 comes packed with a number of extra modes to play, and all represent significant value. The popular MyPlayer mode has been renamed MyCareer, but other than the name-change, the fundamentals found within still remain the same. Players begin their career as a rookie trying to make it to the big-time in the NBA, with the ultimate dream goal of becoming a Hall of Famer.
In addition to raising a rising star’s statistics, a new range of Signature Skills can be earned and applied to give specific bonus attributes. For example, ‘Closer’ gives a baller a bonus towards the end of the 4th quarter in order to make those clutch plays. The Signature Skills can be stacked on top of one another but they do take time to build up, and because of this MyCareer seems a little harder than its predecessor mode. MyPlayer was always a brutal mode, and those unfamiliar with it might find themselves screaming at the TV while their athlete’s grade drops by a significant amount every time they make a mistake. It’s punishing, but it should be. MyCareer teaches players to think about their actions before executing them because they have can have lasting consequences that could ultimately cause the team to lose a game.

While MyCareer focuses on building up the ultimate player, a new mode called MyTeam goes in the other direction and sees players compete against others using a mashed-up squad of players from the NBA. It’s best thought of as a trading card game where out of the gate players are given a starter pack containing a bunch of players, team jerseys, play books, courts, bonus attributes, and so on. After putting the team together with everything players want, they can compete online. There’s also a chance to evolve that team and shape it into something greater. Throughout NBA 2K13 players earn Virtual Currency, conveniently abbreviated to VC. This is obtained whenever a game is played within NBA 2K13, and it’s spent in a number of different areas within the game. Over in MyTeam, the VC can be used to purchase a selection of tiered booster packs that again can contain a number of players, items, and so on. This is how teams evolve as players start swapping in new and better players from some of your old roster.

MyTeam also allows players to buy athletes outright using VC. An athlete’s worth is determined by both real world events in the NBA and various popularity attributes within game. Because of this it works much like a stock market would, and the figures are represented in a way that reflects this. Players are constantly shown information on the main MyTeam screen that details basketballers with the greatest fluctuation in their net worth. Because the NBA season hasn’t kicked off yet it’s hard to get a feel of how things will change over time, but it’s an incredibly interesting mode, and one that is sure to hook a lot of gamers.

Last year, NBA 2K12 was all about getting to take control of some of the greatest legends and teams in the history of the sport. However, some notable stars were absent from the line-up, including Charles Barkley who was part of the 1992 Dream Team. This year, the inclusion of the remaining member of Dream Team was possible all thanks to the new Executive Producer on the NBA 2K series, music mogul and co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Jay-Z. It only took a five-minute phone call from Jay-Z to get Sir Charles on board. But Jay-Z’s influences don’t stop there; his mark has been made throughout NBA 2K13. For example, each court game kicks off with a music video featuring the two teams who are about to go head-to-head.

The presentation is something that the Visual Concepts has always placed a strong emphasis on, and when judged side by side with other sports titles, the studio’s superior efforts are clear. Where most games stick with getting the gameplay right, NBA 2K always has the gameplay nailed down tight, but also an incredible overlay of detail that makes it look and feel like watching a broadcast, not just playing it. The commentary is outstanding compared to other titles; nothing else comes close to what has been achieved by these four presenters as they cover what’s happening on the court, or what has happened during the off season; whether they’re conducting interviews with the coaches, or discussing the history of individual players.

In spite of a lack of competition, Visual Concepts hasn’t eased off the brakes. Every year the developer continues to deliver. NBA 2K13 isn’t just the best basketball game of the year, it’s the best sports game of the year.