Developer: Visual Concepts / Publisher: 2K Sports / Played On: Xbox 360, PS3 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone
The NBA Lockout threatens to be a long one as owners and players dig in their heels and refuse to cave on any of their demands. It seems that this would be the year for basketball fans to take a pass on the NBA 2K series, right? Well that couldn’t be further from the truth. NBA 2K12 takes its predecessor and turns it up a notch in every category imaginable. Simply put, if you are not playing this game you are missing out on a very compelling basketball experience.
NBA 2K12 builds nicely on each of its game modes from last season. The “My Player” mode has been beefed up while at the same time become more accessible. Instead of a summer circuit leading up to the draft, this season you get one Rookie Showcase game with all the presentation elements to grab your attention right off the bat. After the showcase, a new pre-draft interview session adds a bit of a roleplaying element to where you end up being drafted. Go ahead and tell off the GM of the team you just don’t care to play for if you wish. The only drawback of the real life NBA lockout is that you will have a roster full of fake rookie players entering the draft. This year you are actually playing to get your player to the very pinnacle of NBA stardom: the Hall of Fame. You can earn many endorsements and achievements along the way that make this mode gratifying. My only pet peeve is that it would be great to have more than one voice for created players during post-game interview sessions. It looks and feels strange to have each and every player sound exactly alike.
Perhaps my favorite mode this year is the Legend Mode. Visual Concepts builds on last year’s popular inclusion of Michael Jordan and the series of challenges that recreated his greatest career milestones. This year’s game features 15 of the greatest players to ever grace an NBA court, such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and “The Logo” himself, Jerry West. The most intriguing part of this mode is the era specific presentation, game rules, and commentary. Fire up a game between Russell’s Celtics and West’s Lakers and you will be teleported back in time to grainy black-and-white era television with no TV-style graphics overlay and no three point line!
My best moment came while controlling my very favorite Legend, Larry Bird. Just taking to the court with Larry Legend, McHale, Danny Ainge, and company was a thrill. To make it even better I squared off against Dominique Wilkins in his prime with the Atlanta Hawks. I traded baskets back and forth; Larry’s lethal jumpers and three pointers against Wilkins’ thunderous dunks. This actually brought me back to my early years of watching the game. This mode does such a great job of capturing the essence of an era of basketball, and actually caught me by surprise. You get to see Spud Webb (all 5 feet 6 inches of him) dwarfed by even the most average-sized point guard. Each game you win with one of the 15 legends will open those teams for use in exhibition mode.
Association mode has not changed a whole lot, but this is where the game’s presentation really excels and immerses you in the grind of an NBA season. The promotions for upcoming games and commentary that hits on all aspects of a season really make this a cohesive experience.
NBA 2K12 is all about the presentation. In every mode you will see stat overlays, promotions for upcoming games, and highlight segments pop out at you that will make you think you are watching a network broadcast. This is true for many of today’s sports titles, but no game goes as far as NBA 2K12. From the era-specific TV graphics of the legend mode, where you can play as Bill Russell on a fuzzy, black and white broadcast with very few frills, to the action-packed replay and motion graphics-oriented television style of today’s NBA, every type of basketball visual in history is here. Crowds are half-full or worse if your team isn’t in contention for the playoffs, but make a run and watch the people show up and fill the seats. Each game across all the modes features promotions for upcoming games, as well as half-time updates from around the league. The highlight packages are full of flare and add a great recap to the on-court action. The announcers are always great in 2K Sports titles, and Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr really shine in the legend mode by recapping the astounding careers of many of the game’s greatest stars.
Gameplay has always been the marquee aspect of the NBA 2K series in my mind. The games have always provided every tool you need to pull off some sick moves against your opponents. This year, you won’t see any canned animations as you control virtually every aspect of your player’s on-court behavior. The AI feels a little more human this year, more prone to mistakes; the occasionally unfair computer defense from last year will no longer make you toss your controller across the living room. They will play smart, but they can’t always anticipate your every move as they did in the past. That said, AI-controlled players are a little deadly from three-point range if left alone, and your computer controlled teammates will often leave your opponent open from long range. The pacing of the play, however, feels great and this is just an excellent game of basketball. There is nothing more rewarding than working your offensive plays and screens just right to get your sharp shooter open and knocking down a bucket. Your players will hustle for loose balls, fall and dive all over the court if necessary. One great sequence I encountered was when my player nailed a clutch jumper and as he turned to run back down court he stumbled and shifted himself in order to narrowly avoid the scorer’s table. All the little animations are here to make the pro game come alive.
While NBA 2K11 was widely accepted as one of the best sports titles last season, 2K12 has done the improbable and ramped up the electricity of the pro game. Tweaks to the My Player mode as well as the growth of the Legend concept has led this franchise to even greater heights. A wonderfully tasty mix of presentation and solid gameplay make this game a keeper, even in a year when the actual NBA may never appear. Visual Concepts continues to set the bar for NBA videogames despite no direct competition from EA for the second straight year. So much for becoming complacent. In my mind, the decision to pick up this game is a fast break slam dunk.
9.5 / 10