Posted by John on October 10, 2011

Review: NBA 2K12 (360/PS3)

Even if the real NBA season is screwed, experiencing it through NBA 2K12 may be better than the real thing.

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    Tom Price
  • October 10, 2011 12:40 PM PT
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I’ve always found it remarkable that the NBA 2K series sells so well. Not that it doesn’t deserve to, it’s more than earned it, but a game that’s this dedicated to realism and is so demanding of the gamer — in terms of both understanding of the sport and precise controls — seems like it would turn off the average basketball fan. But maybe I’m underestimating them. NBA 2K12 continues the tradition of making the finest, most detailed yearly basketball sim on the market with an effort that builds on all of the good things in the franchise. But the biggest addition to the equation pushes it into the debate for greatest sports game of all time.

Of course, plenty of people — probably the entire product marketing team at 2K Sports — are worried that the real-life NBA lockout and any subsequent resentment felt by the fans could negatively affect their sales. It won’t. Because if you are a basketball fan, especially one over the age of 30, you will not want to miss this one. In fact, if the real-life season doesn’t happen at all, gamers would probably find 2K’s video game version a more than satisfactory replacement.

Review: NBA 2K12 (360/PS3)

But if you’ve never played the NBA 2K series before, be forewarned: the game — especially when it comes to mastering the controls for pulling off every possible on-court move like a turnaround jumper or hand-switching layup — has a very steep learning curve. Sure, you can hop in and play a very basic game of basketball, with the passing and the shooting and the running of the pick and roll. But if you want to get the most out of your players’ skill sets, you’re going to have to learn all of the fine movements made available by the two analog sticks and maybe one or two modifier buttons. Considering how many things you can do just with your footwork to get around or past defenders, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in training camp working on those. That mode could be presented better (why can’t I keep working on a particular move, even if I’ve “passed” by doing it correctly?), and the game could do more to teach casual fans of the game how plays work when executed properly. That’s one of the great things that Madden (and some other football games, including 2K’s much missed NFL franchise) did well: educate fans about the inner workings of the game. NBA 2K12 is in a perfect position to do that, but it needs to work on the presentation of its lessons.

Once you’ve made it past the learning curve, NBA 2K12 is a sports sim of a superlative nature. Players move in realistic ways that reflect their personal playing styles. Opponent A.I., which is only on occasion a bit cheap (do those guys have eyes in the back of their heads?) often makes you feel like you’re competing against real players. And strategy and planning are crucial to success. This is not NBA Jam, where you hit turbo, mash a special move button, then take the rock to the hole. NBA 2K12 is a game where momentum often shifts on a bad pass, or an ill-chosen shot. It’s a game where excessive flashiness, unless you’re Kobe Bryant, will often get the ball stripped away from you. In other words, it’s basketball as it’s played by real professionals, and not just a highlight reel from some street ball tournament.

Review: NBA 2K12 (360/PS3)

That core realistic gameplay is something the creators at Visual Concepts have been building on for awhile, adding features and modes to the overall experience that only give gamers more options for experiencing real basketball. Some of the bigger changes can be seen in the single-player “My Player” mode, which has you advancing through an NBA career with a single player-created baller. Your player’s early progression moves along at a faster clip, and the team interview section is an elegant way to define your player’s personality.

Other modes like The Association (aka Franchise Mode) have been brushed up in smaller ways, but that’s because 2K had them pretty nailed down last year. Taking your association online would be one of the bigger new perks. But even if you don’t want to get that deep into managing an entire team, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the game, both on an immediate and deeper level.

Review: NBA 2K12 (360/PS3)

The thing that 2K did this year though with the legendary players is an absolute home run. Er, a grand slam? Touchdown? Sorry, no play in basketball seems big enough to encompass it as a metaphor. NBA’s Greatest mode captures something very important about the soul of basketball by letting us not just play with some of our favorite players from the past, but also with their entire legendary teams of the period, against other legendary players in their own right. Imagine my surprise upon first playing as Jordan and his 92-93 Bulls when I see not just Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant (and his glasses), but also see Larry “Grandmama” Johnson and Muggsy “is he seriously only 5′3″?” Bogues on the other side of the court. 2K was smart enough to realize that playing as legendary players was fine, but it’s the legendary match-ups that define our memories of the sport. The small historical touches (short shorts, no 3 point line in the 60’s, Kobe with hair in his early days) are further evidence that the team at Visual Concepts “gets it”.

NBA 2K12 is one of those sports games that has to be appreciated by even the non-fans of the sport. It’s dedicated to the spirit of the game, both in the present and in the past, in ways that so many other sports games, even some of the great ones, have never really been able to do. NBA 2K12 is essential for any fan of video game sports.

PROS: Excellent simulation of the sport; vintage players and games recreated with amazing care; enough modes to keep you busy no matter how long the lockout lasts

CONS: Learning curve can be very high, especially when it comes to learning every possible dribbling move; the game could do more to educate people about how plays are called and work.

Review: NBA 2K12 (360/PS3)

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