The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
With the NBA heading for a long and ugly lockout, the public’s
appetite for a basketball video game is tough to gauge. But if you skip
NBA 2K12 this year because you’re upset about being unable to watch
LeBron and Kobe in real life, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Like
a dream team on which all the right pieces fall into place, this year’s
edition elevates its game to new heights.
The centerpiece of
2K12’s banner year is the revamped broadcast presentation. Steve Kerr
joins previous commentators Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg to deliver
the most convincing booth commentary in video game history. This trio
breaks down team matchups, discusses roster moves, talks about player
streaks, and even has several anecdotes on hand about the players and
coaches. Most impressively, the audio programming is smart enough to
interrupt a discussion when a noteworthy play unfolds on the court and
then return to the topic at hand. Coupled with the TNT-quality stat
wipes and camera angles, this is the best sports presentation I’ve ever
The moment-to-moment basketball play is equally polished.
Visual Concepts didn’t bring any game-changing additions, but instead
tightened the already strong gameplay to make the controls more
responsive. Player collisions look more natural, it’s easier to string
together a sequence of impressive dribbling and shooting moves, the post
game feels more organic, and the deep player-centric playcalling system
ensures that teams attack the basket like they would in real life. The
only issues I have with the gameplay are the boundary awareness (which
is a slave to the animation system), the pick and roll system (which I
found tougher to execute), and that opposing teams tend to make an
inordinately high percentage of their shots. You may need to tweak the
sliders to get more realistic results.
Association mode has no problems making its shots, either. With an
informative scouting system, convincing player management that has you
juggling personalities as well as talent, and a robust free agency
system, you won’t find a better franchise mode in sports games. The
trade logic could use reworking (so many teams tried to acquire my star
players that I wish there was a way to deem them untouchable), and
AI-controlled teams tend to carry imbalanced rosters filled with too
many guards, but these are niggling complaints about an otherwise
stellar mode. Best of all? You can play this fully featured mode online
with friends, too. All of the major pieces of the offline Association make the transition, but the progression is automated to keep the league moving forward. This may peeve hardcore fans who want full control.
As good as Association is, I spent more time
with the drastically improved My Player mode. Last year’s version turned
me off because you started with less talent than a junior varsity bench
warmer, but for 2K12 Visual Concepts ditched the Development League
purgatory to start you in the pros, bumped your starting rating into the
60s, and fine-tuned the performance grader to make it less punishing.
With pre-draft interviews, player endorsements, post-game press
conferences, and contract negotiations, My Player is just as adept off
the court as it is when you’re raining down threes. The player
progression moves slightly slower, but if you’re performing well you can
crack the starting lineup sooner than later. I just wish the player
abilities and signature animations cost less XP so you could tailor your
star to your play style earlier in his career.
If you’re less
concerned with the modern-day action, head for the NBA’s Greatest mode,
which replaces last year’s popular Jordan Challenge. Visual Concepts
went to great lengths to honor the careers of 15 of the league’s best
players, creating era-specific presentation packages and asking the
commentators to wax nostalgic about the stars of NBA’s past. Not only
did I have a great time controlling the likes of Magic Johnson, Dr. J,
and Bill Russell, I also learned a lot of interesting facts about
players I never had the chance to watch in person. The only misstep 2K
made is in locking you from using these great teams online without
ponying up some extra cash.
In fact, Visual Concepts’ entire
approach to online (outside of the impressive Association mode) clanks
off the rim. You can play one-off matches, participate in
Virgin-sponsored tournaments, or team up with five other players for a
scrimmage, but not including a robust team competition infrastructure
like NHL 12’s EASHL is a lost opportunity for a game where individual
Online shortcomings and the lack of including last
year’s rookie class on the rosters until the lockout lifts aside (thanks
for that dumb rule, NBA), you won’t find a better franchise mode,
single-player mode, historical mode, or presentation package anywhere
else. NBA 2K12 isn’t just the best basketball game; it’s the most
complete sports sim I’ve ever played. This is the new benchmark.
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.