There may not be an actual NBA season this year but all hope is not lost. Furthering the unprecedented level of authenticity established in last year’s game, NBA 2K12 looks to keep fans busy during the lockout, bringing its genuine brand of basketball back to the hard courts for another round of simulation-fueled goodness.
Absolute realism is the thing. That’s the key differentiator from all the basketball games before it – a relentless devotion to replicating the essential components of the game and a feel for what ultimately makes basketball an important sport, at its outright best. Last year’s game made an impactful showing in cataloguing the career of the great Michael Jordan. 2K12 does it one better – taking on fifteen of the greatest players at the focal point of their careers. Whether you’re sinking threes with Larry Bird or taking on a stacked Seattle SuperSonics team with Scottie Pippen and company, the presentation values are top-notch across the board, applying ample film grain effects and hues indicative of the eras each match-up looks to evoke. Best of all, finishing each of these matches provides access to each classic team involved, which is sure to please longtime fans.
Beyond its excellent sense of the sport’s history, NBA 2K12 also has its eye on the present and the future with its NBA Today and My Player modes. One unfortunate setback is that there’s no NBA season this year, yet the game carries on, offering up daily match-ups and satiating your need for basketball in spite of the lockout. It’s an unfortunate reality, as a full-on simulation basketball game feels slightly less necessary on an off year.
The slew of improvements made to My Player mode very nearly makes up the difference. The main new inclusions are interviews with potential signing teams and journalists following each game and dynamic goals which bring immediacy that felt missing in last year’s outing. Overall, things go over roughly the same otherwise and the interview choices turn out to be too predictable and scripted to add all that much, but they’re a nice way of adding back-story to your faux NBA superstar and actually carving out something of a personality for them in the league. Because let’s face it, many of the most notorious stars didn’t pave their way to notoriety on pure skill alone. The dynamic goals also provide better, more persistent feedback throughout My Player and are a welcome feature.
Online play is highly functional, bringing some welcome challenge and highlighting the AI’s occasional inadequacies. The problem with the single-player is the AI can be too predictive. There are very few technical hitches and the game runs smoothly however you choose to experience it.
Also of note are NBA 2K12’s menus. This may sound like an arbitrary thing, but they’re nicely presented in contrast to so much of 2K’s prior output. While they may’ve once been notorious for poor interfacing and clunky presentation – often clashing with their generally high caliber in-game hockey and basketball products – NBA 2K12 is surely their most slick release to date. Everything from the home menu organization to the sounds clicking through each selection are enjoyable, the only setbacks being the slightly cumbersome 2K sub-menu navigation and some occasional weirdness with the HP media functions. Underneath it all, there’s an array of great features here, it just takes some digging to unearth NBA 2K12’s full potential.
NBA 2K12’s gameplay remains king. What works best are the wholly impressive animations – the way players react to their surroundings, whether it’s leaning into a block or jumping over some camera guy, or even re-stabilizing themselves against a bench when they go out of bounds. Good ball play is essential and while it doesn’t always feel that you’re under complete control of its movement, NBA 2K12 likely provides as much control as you’d really want. It is qualitatively the most realistic and the best depiction of simulation-style basketball in a videogame and the keen awareness for the feel and the presentation of the product are paramount to that appeal.
This is without a doubt a sports game worth experiencing and one which feels both utterly unnecessary and entirely essential at once during this year’s lockout season. NBA 2K is a series on the rise and it seems that it’s still yet to hit its absolute peak, but 2K12 is a great game and one which fans of the sport simply cannot afford to miss.