When last year’s NBA 2K11 came out, it broke the mold. It took the bar and raised it high. It became the king of the hill. It did all of these things as well as several other clichés, and it went on win acclaim both critically and commercially. In other words, the game was swell.
It redesigned the way we play basketball, then added several layers of awesomesauce on top of it to create a burrito of incredible. So can 2K Sports go on and repeat by releasing yet another amazing basketball game? Yes, they sure can.
There are a few little nagging issues with this year’s model, but in general NBA 2K12 takes what worked so well last year, tightens it up and adds a few new elements. It isn’t a perfect basketball game, but it is the closest thing we have ever had to one.
Just Like the NBA! (Minus the Lockout, Contract Negotiations, Threats of Playing Overseas…)
As you might expect, NBA 2K12 is first and foremost a basketball game–makes sense, right? There are plenty of additional game modes, including the addictive My Player and the Association, but beyond the presentation, none of it would mean a thing if the gameplay wasn’t strong. And it is. Strong like bull.
The fluid motions and finely tuned controls from last year have returned, which means that you probably won’t be able to go NBA Jam on people and continually lay down reverse tomahawk dunks, but instead you will need to use your tactics and look for the best possible scoring opportunities. The shooting remains smooth and well designed, and most players have their own animations to gauge the proper time to release a shot. In some says it becomes like an insanely addictive mini-game, and someone that learns the timing can turn a game around with a rain of threes.
The passing is also improved—not so much in the way you pass, but the way you don’t. Last year’s game had an issue with passing down court off-screen and right into the hands of an opponent you didn’t know was there. It was also an annoyingly frequent occurrence to see a pass near a defender suddenly be sucked towards that defender as if the ball was metal and he was Magneto. That is less of an issue this year, and while you can still screw yourself over with bad passes, it is harder to do so and you will rarely do it by accident anymore.
The defense is also a little tighter, and it is fun to stick with your man, even when they don’t have the ball. Applying pressure away from the ballhandler can make a huge difference, and while someone like Carmelo Anthony may still put up crazy numbers, shutting down his teammates can make for an easy win. On top of that, the ability to run defensive plays is easier than ever, but you would expect that with a new version of an annual release.
It really is hard to fault the gameplay, but sometimes the AI can be a bit goofy—usually when it comes to off-court things like the supposedly automatic substitutions for your team that never happen and therefore make you do it to avoid your players going into the next game dead on their feet. This isn’t a big issue in single games because you can burn players up without a care. In a season though, it can be frustrating.
But a lot of that is due to the complexity of the options. You can choose to take total control of the game, from defensive sets to who to guard, or you can let the AI decide. It adds depth more than anything, and while most probably will skip it in a single game, when you get into a season having those options makes a huge difference.
Excellent control, with unique moves and animation for individual players is what makes a sports game great, and NBA 2K12 has that in spades.
Last Name Ever, First Name Greatest
While there is obviously a quick play option, NBA 2K12 has several game modes as well. The most touted though is definitely the NBA’s Greatest games. Where last year took you through Jordan’s best moments, this year opens it up to a much wider selection. There are 15 players highlighted, going as far back as Bill Russell’s 64-65 Celtics, through the modern days. Dr. J, Bird, Magic, Wilt Chamberlin and of course Jordan are just a few of the names, and every player is a massive stars.
Each player has one specific game highlighted for you to win, and there are also sub-goals as well. Once you win, you unlock both that NBA great’s team as well as the opposing team for use in the exhibition games–meaning that you can unlock 30 additional teams (plus two more you can download when you buy the game new). There are even a few hidden surprises—unlocking Jerry West also unlocks the 70-71 Atlanta Hawks, featuring “Pistol” Pete Marivich, and that is just one of 15 examples.
One of the best aspects of these legendary games is the presentation, which changes to match the time period. If you play a game set before 1984 there will be no three-point line and the visuals are grainier the older the game is. The displays will also be retro to match the period. The announcers will be heard as if the recording was aged, but the commentary will be current and some of the comparrisons between the legend you are playing as and their modern counterparts is actually fairly insightful. With 15 games, the NBA Greatest has a limited lifespan, but it is just one part of many, and an excellent addition to the game.
Going the Distance
The real value of NBA 2K12 comes in the My Player and the Association Mode–the Association is the name for the season/dynasty. It plays out very well, and the presentation is designed to mimic an NBA season as seen on TV. Between quarters of your game, you may even see an ad for another upcoming game, or at halftime it may show scores from around the league.
The Association essentially gives you what you want from a season, and it does it well. Every possible aspect of the game is at your control, or you can automate it all. If you want to renegotiate your coach’s salary, you can. If you want to change your team’s dynamic and make a starter into a role player you can—although you may then need to keep an eye on that player to make sure they are happy or their play could suffer. You could also propose trades and create your uber-team.
Sometimes the trades will just go through, as long as they are under the salary cap. To my surprise, the Nuggets were happy to take on Greg Oden from the Trail Blazers for Nene, but the Bulls were slightly more reluctant to give up Derrick Rose for Marcus Camby. An override showed them the error of their ways. I’m sure Luke Babbitt will flourish in Los Angeles, and Blake Griffin seemed perfectly content to move to Portland anyway.
There are a ton of options, and it all works intuitively, with enough customizable options for anyone to enjoy.
There is one slightly major downside to the season though—and it runs throughout the entire game—there are no rookies. It isn’t 2K’s fault. The Lockout has put a legal hold on including them, but it does take away from things a bit. Again, you can’t blame 2K for it, but it does hurt the game. The lockout will also affect the available quick games. When the season begins, you should be able to jump in a digital version of a real life game and play it through. That option is gone with the NBA season, as is the NBA ticker and stream of real-life basketball news. It was never a major point, but it was a nice touch to the last game. If the lockout ends, expect a major update with new rosters and games.
Your First Steps to Stardom
The My Player feature has also received an overhaul, and it is now dangerously addictive. Once you create your avatar, you then assign points and make him into whatever type of player you want. He can be a 3-point specialist, a monster under the paint, whatever you choose. You then go through the draft following a rookies’ game, and you answer questions from a few teams to find your best fit.
Once you are drafted, you then come in when the coach wants you in, play your minutes and earn both skill points and a teammate grade. If you play like a moron, your teammates won’t like it and your rating will drop during the game, and it will eventually hurt your playtime. Passing and choosing good shots will help raise your stock in the eyes of your teammates, but so will things like not breaking coverage and slowing down the opponent you have been assigned. Being the next Jordan helps, but so does being a role player—which is important since you start out with a low overall skill point total.
The gameplay is slightly different as well in this mode. The camera follows you specifically, and the angle changes to a pursuit cam style rather than a full display of the court. It would never work to control a whole team, but for a single player it works perfectly well.
As you progress you can then buy new moves, different shot animations, new skill points and a handful of other upgrades. You can even throw parties for your team or help out in the community to increase your teammate’s respect, or gain local fan support.
After each game you answer reporters’ questions, which can be fun, but slightly aggravating. You are given four choices, but sometimes the answers won’t be what you expect. Your character may start by saying that the win was a team effort, then go on about how the team’s best move was picking him up because he is the best thing since air was invented. Its entertaining.
The mixture of gameplay and RPG-like elements make the My Player mode a highlight of NBA 2K12, and something you may find yourself lost in for hours and hours at a time.
And Then There’s the Online
So there I was, playing online against a random opponent in a hotly contested, and fairly lengthy match filled with timeouts, substitutions and fouls that I still say he paid the refs to call. The back-and-forth was epic. It was the stuff of legends. Magic vs. Bird. Kobe vs. LeBron. Me vs. NoobPwner1881.
With a minute left, and me trailing by three, I took the ball down to the 3-point line and put up a shot. Then the game froze. Moments later I was greeted with a screen that will haunt my dreams “The 2K Sports Server is not available at this time. Please try again later.”
It was like the kid from Christmas Story hearing that he wouldn’t be receiving the Red Ryder BB gun. Nothing made sense anymore.
So after I went for a long walk, I returned and walked across the room to pick up my controller that had “accidentally” slipped out of my hands with great force and hit the wall. I tried reconnecting online, but the error returned.
My harrowing tale comes courtesy of Xbox Live, but it is also a common scene on PSN. When online problems plague a game, an update patch can usually go a long way, and to be fair the dropped games and connection problems were not the rule, but rather the exception–and yet I will always be wary with the game when playing online.
The online was also an issue in last year’s game, but not nearly as consistently bad. There has to be a patch on the way, but as of now it is controller-breakingly frustrating. There is also an association mode that you and your friends can all join to make an online season, but it will be tough to justify until the online mode is stabilized.
Despite a few minor things, NBA 2K12 is easily the best pro basketball game on the market. Sure it is also the only pro basketball game on the market, but that is beside the point. 2K Sports have managed to take a sport that has in the past been unruly and hard to control, and produced one of the finest sports franchises ever made. NBA 2K12 takes the solid foundation created by its predecessor, and builds on it perfectly. They tweaked what they needed to, kept everything that worked, then added an overhauled My Player mode as well as 15 NBA legends as a bonus.
Even without the NBA Greatest, which has become the focal point of the marketing campaign, this game would still be amazing. The lockout is going to hurt this game a bit, but it may also be an answer to fans that are desperate for some pro b-ball. It’s a shame that legal wrangling and things that have nothing to do with the game could hurt it, and you can’t hold it against 2K Sports, but it is what it is.
But while the lockout is out of 2K’s control, the online is not, and it needs a massive patch soon. You have to assume that it is coming, and once it does the game will open up a bit. Even without the rookies and the real life intertwining between the NBA and the game, NBA 2K12 is an amazing game that has a ton of appeal to any gamer regardless of whether or not you like pro basketball. For fans of the NBA it may not make up for a season that may be cancelled, but it is the next best thing.
Score: 9 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by 2K Games)