'NBA 2K13' hands-on preview

Russell Westbrook dribbles the ball as I call for the pick. Kendrick Perkins rumbles to the top of the key, and in pure brick-house fashion, he simply destroys Mario Chalmers, who made the very painful mistake of trying to run through the screen. Now that Westbrook breaks free, I use the right stick to spin the freakishly athletic point guard through the lane, and as Chris Bosh slides over to play help D, I pull the left trigger while hitting the shot stick away from the hoop to drain the step-back jumper.

“And one!?!” I scream at the TV. Bosh was all over him on the shot and it looked like he hit nothing but arm. “That’s bull----!”

This leads to the polygonal ref calling a technical foul on the bench for the way I cursed him out.

That’s right -- the first technical foul where the player is yelling from his couch. And that’s “NBA 2K13” and all of the new gameplay changes in a nutshell.

Now read the sequence of events again and tell me how many differences you can spot from “NBA 2K12.”

I’ll help you out: Kinect play calling using voice commands, signature skills to help further define player attributes (brick-wall screens, team leaders, corner men who love to shoot 3s), right stick dribble moves, left trigger plus right stick shot stick, and swearing at the screen now equals a technical foul.

And that’s just the beginning. As I got my hands on the latest build of “NBA 2K13” for about an hour this week, I have to say: What I just played blew me away. The game is already so smooth, so seamless, and so flat-out spectacular, having to wait until October to get my hands on the final build now seems like years away.

“For us, it seems like we hit a home run every four years,” admits the game’s producer Rob Jones. “In between those big games, we’ve made good games, but they weren’t games that resonated in a consumer’s mind like that one. We had ‘2K7,’ then we had ‘2K8,’ and in a lot of ways, ‘2K8’ was a better game than ‘2K7,’ but people don’t remember that. All they want to talk about is ‘2K7.’ Then we had ‘2K11’ and ‘2K12,’ and ‘2K12’ in a full picture, is a better, fuller, more complete package than ‘11’ was, but ‘11’ was incredible, and people will still go back to that.

“But to me, ‘NBA 2K13’ is finally going to break that four-year spell. It’s a game that’s evolving, and for the first time in a long time, I think the minute gamers pick it up and play, it’s going to be both familiar and different at the same time. The moment you feel it, the moment you play it, you’ll realize the differences right away.”

The biggest change to the game is that all dribble moves have been transferred to the right stick. Now if you want to cross over, dribble behind your back, between your legs, or spin, it’s no longer about dribbling with the left stick and shooting with the right stick. Now you dribble and make moves with the right stick while pressing the left stick in the direction you wish to move, and then when it’s time to shoot, you simply hold down the left trigger to switch the right stick to 2K’s famous shot stick. Sound complicated? It’s really not, and took less than a quarter to get used to. I had a beautiful crossover and shot one play, but the next play I’d pass to a wide-open Ray Allen but forget to hit the trigger, causing me to look pretty stupid as I dribbled directly into the oncoming defender and kicked the ball out of bounds. A few plays later, though, it was as if I’d been playing with the new controls for years, and they just became part of the game.

“For years, we’ve championed our shot stick, and it’s still the only way I ever want to play our game because it gives me all of the options that I want,” says Jones. “On the flip side, we’ve always struggled with not having the dribble controls that are free from movement. With the left stick dribble moves, we just couldn’t achieve everything we wanted. So this year, we’ve added the control stick. It’s the first year where we have the control stick, with dribbling first, then you modify it to shot stick. So you now have both controls on the right stick, separated by the trigger. Now you have the full stick for dribbles, and the full stick for shots, so your options are pretty much limitless.”

In addition, post moves have been consolidated to use the same controls, so once you back your opponent down, the moves on the right stick are mapped to be the same as what you’re trying to accomplish in the lane. If you want to spin, spin the right stick. If you want to drive, simply press and hold toward the hoop.

“We’ve also done a lot to the defensive end using the right stick,” adds Jones. “We have crowding, shading, hands up, quick cutoffs ... there are a number of advanced moves you can now do on defense thanks to the right stick controls, and it’s so much more than the usual hands up or take a charge. This is actually one of the things we’re most proud of. Our defensive control is very, very tight this year. If you play honest defense this year, you’ll force the A.I. to look for other solutions beyond attacking the guy who you’re controlling.”

Another cool addition is the ability to throw alley-oops off the backboard to either a teammate or to yourself. Using the Xbox 360 controller, alley-oop is the simultaneous button press of X and A. But now if you want to do a little something even crazier to get the fans on their feet, while hitting X and A, simply press the left stick toward the basket. My first attempt was a bit wild and actually went flying over the backboard, but on my second attempt I was able to pull off a sweet-looking play where Ray Allen threw the ball off the backboard, went up in the air, caught his own pass, switched to his left hand, and finished with a scooping layup (I guess even polygonal Ray is a bit old to finish that one off with a slam).

Voice commands have also been added to “NBA 2K13” via the Kinect mike. Simply say, “Give me a screen,” and a player will set a screen for you. Or you can shout commands like “Post up Chris Bosh,” or “Sub in Mike Miller” and you’ll see everything play out in front of you, from Bosh going to the post and calling for the ball, to Mike Miller getting up off the bench as he gets ready to enter the game (I think he needs to stretch out that back first).

As I said in the intro, though, with the Kinect mike on, you have to be careful when questioning the wisdom (and vision) of the virtual officiating crew. Technical fouls are actually tied to certain curse words and phrases, and a technical foul will be called on the bench. “We didn’t want a player to be kicked out of the game for something you said,” laughs Jones. “We just wanted to make it fun.”

Also entertaining is the game’s new dynamic shot generator, where collision and physical reaction come into play with every move. Kevin Durant drove hard to the lane but was fouled hard across the top of his head, and I actually saw him stagger and rub his forehead, looking like a punch-drunk boxer as he tried to run back on D.

“This creates a fluid and physical offensive, defensive, shooting and dunking game,” Jones said. “And since these animations aren’t canned, the reactions are going to be completely dynamic every single time you play them.”

The ability to quantify and differentiate between player traits is the final piece of the gameplay puzzle Jones showed me, introducing what he calls Signature Skills.

“If you played last year, and you were good, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between playing as Rudy Gay and playing as Kobe Bryant,” admits Jones. “If you knew how to play as Rudy Gay, he was pretty much the same guy in our game. The truth is, Kobe has these intangibles, he has these abilities in real life that Rudy just doesn’t do, and we needed to find a way to bring that into the game.”

With Signature Skills, there are 28 special talents that affect the way you play, giving up to five of these special traits to certain players in the game.

Explains Jones: “This isn’t as simple as saying Kobe’s better at this, and giving him an attribute boost. This literally changes the way the game reacts to certain things that happen. LeBron is a chase-down artist. You’ve seen him run down players all the time to block their layups. So now in a situation where he’s chasing someone down in ‘NBA 2K13,’ this comes into play, and we make it easier for him to run down and make the block. I look at it like a game trait.”

Other skills include Kendrick Perkins as a brick wall who will floor players with his hard screens, while a lockdown defender like Andre Iguodala will neutralize the brick-wall screen because he will know how to get around it while keeping his hands in the shooter’s face.

“It becomes a matter of not only knowing what a guy’s attributes are, but what he’s good at, and this is a fun way of learning that,” says Jones. “It’s not rock-paper-scissors because not everything has a full counter. Chris Paul is a floor general, so he makes everyone’s awareness on the floor better, and that helps him execute plays quicker. Shane Battier is a corner specialist, so pass him the ball in the corner and you know that ball is going in because that’s where he likes to shoot it from. We want you to be able to differentiate why Kobe is better than Rudy Gay in the video game, and these signature skills will help you figure out why while having a really fun time doing it.”