It’s a tough time to be a basketball fan. Regardless of which side you might sympathize with, bickering over money seems likely to wipe out the 2011-12 NBA season as the NBA’s team owners lock out the players. If you’re a hoops fan with a taste for gaming, however, then your basketball cravings can and will be satisfied. Let’s face it, though. If you ARE a video game playing basketball fan, you already know what you have to do: pick up NBA2k12.
There are so many aspects that come together to make NBA 2k12 the gaming juggernaut that it is, but perhaps the biggest wow factor comes in the form of the new “NBA’s Greatest” mode. If NBA 2k11 was an ode to His Airness, with its Michael Jordan-themed classic games and challenges, then 2k12 is a celebration of the rich history and tradition of NBA basketball as a whole. Depending on the copy you pick up, 2k12 comes adorned with one of three different cover athletes. Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Larry Bird, three of the game’s most complete and exciting players, share cover honors this year, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. “NBA’s Greatest” features 15 games, each highlighting a different NBA legend, that pit 2 great and/or exciting teams from a particular season against one another, spotlighting 15 different players. Your task is simple: play as the legend and his team, win, and then unlock both teams for use throughout the game. In addition to #23, Magic, and Larry Legend, you’ll get to control basketball icons like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, and even old-time greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Jerry West, among others. Win, and you’ll also get a chance to play with popular teams like the 1994-95 Orlando Magic, with a young Shaquille O’Neal and a tantalizing Penny Hardaway, or the 1999 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and their tandem of towers, the veteran David Robinson and a young Tim Duncan.
These games are presented in a stunning fashion, complete with era-specific visuals and presentation, and special commentary (the commentary team in the game has been expanded, with former player and general manager Steve Kerr joining series veterans Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg in the broadcast booth) tailored specifically to these classic teams.
Realism has always been the lynchpin to developer Visual Concepts’ critically acclaimed series, going all the way back to the earliest editions and the Sega Dreamcast, and that’s still the case today. NBA 2k12 is as realistic a sports game as you will find, and it builds significantly off of what the series accomplished in 2k11. Basketball at the NBA level is all about planning, preparation, and execution, and 2k12 manages to integrate the strategic and tactical elements of the sport better than any sports game has before. Never before has playcalling been as integral to a basketball gaming experience, nor has it ever been as intuitive and user friendly. Aside from a questionable change to playcalling controls, the playcalling system has been refined, allowing the player a multitude of options. More importantly, the execution of the plays on the court itself is much improved, encouraging you to use them more often. Use them you will, too, if you have any desire to win, that is. The AI in the game has been ratcheted up. It may even be too good, too strong, as any mental error on the user’s part tends to be capitalized on by the computer.
Adding to the simulation feel is the new and improved post game. With the touch of a face button, players can now enter into a post-up scenario, and the catalog of moves available is the widest its ever been. No basketball game has ever recreated the experience of playing with an elite skilled center like Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the way this game has. Fakes, shimmies, pivots, up-and-unders…they are all here, and they all look just as they should. Embarrass opposing centers with the Dream’s unpredictable post play, or frustrate defenders with Kareem’s unstoppable sky hook. Grow up and mature just as Michael Jordan did in his later years, and use the post to destroy opponents with perfectly accurate fadeaway jumpers. Every player’s shot is unique. Every player, practically, plays the way he does or did in real life. It means every player and every team is a different experience, and it keeps the game fresh.
Aside from “NBA’s Greatest,” there is one other new game mode that is rather noteworthy: Online Association. A sports gamer’s dream come true, finally players have the chance to engage in the entire franchise-running experience in an online scenario with other gamers. Unfortunately, this first attempt is rather barebones. One of the series’ strongest qualities is the vast opportunity for player customization (the 2k Share system allows users to upload and download custom rosters, sliders, draft classes, and videos that take an already great game and make it magical), but these options are missing from the Online Association, drastically deteriorating it’s fun factor. It’s reasonable to expect that this issue will be rectified next year, but it would have been nice to have it now.
The rest of the game modes are more or less the same as they were before, but that’s fine, as most of them were pretty solid. The game is not without its flaws, though. The regular Association mode still features some pretty whacky trading between CPU teams. Some of the classic teams in the “NBA’s Greatest” mode don’t feature full 12 man rosters, with some minor bench players replaced with fake players due to licensing issues.
These are all minor, issues however, that don’t take away much from the overall experience. It isn’t just the fantastic gameplay or the wonderful addition of classic teams and games (you could have a wonderful time playing this game and never once use any of the current teams if you so choose). The graphics are gorgeous. The presentation is phenomenal, absolutely blowing away most sports games, particularly those from EA Sports. The little touches and nuances, of which there are many, are immersive, nostalgic, and usually delightful.
This is a game that a basketball fan simply must play, even if you’ve played every entry in the series before. This one is clearly the best. Words can’t describe the feeling, for example, of suiting up as the 1992-93 Charlotte Hornets and draining pull-up jumpers with Kendall Gill all because you still remember exactly what his shot looked like. Remembering the way John Starks would get open off of a screen just in time to catch a Patrick Ewing pass out of a double team for a huge three-pointer is no longer enough. You can re-live it for yourself in NBA 2k12, and if you love basketball, you most certainly should.