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 seen.
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.
The best-in-class 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 skill matters.
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.
If you skip
NBA 2K12 this year because you’re upset about being unable to watch
LeBron and Kobe in real life, you're doing yourself a disservice.