Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina reviews NBA 2K12
Though the future of the real 2012 NBA season is currently in danger, the virtual NBA season, as realized by NBA 2K12, is in full effect. After 2K Sports landed a rim-shaking slam dunk with NBA 2K11, many were left wondering where developer Visual Concepts could go from there. While an obvious downward trajectory seemed more likely, NBA 2K12 is actually another step forward for the franchise, albeit a much smaller one.
In fact, the game isn’t as noteworthy as NBA 2K11 in terms of advancement or new features, but is a better iteration of the core basketball experience. All of the minor grievances players had with 2K11, from the animations still being a bit “sticky” to the wonky passing, have been improved in NBA 2K12, making the game much more engaging and easier to control.
That isn’t to say that NBA 2K12 isn’t without its flaws — even 2K11 wasn’t perfect — but what it gets right is just as, if not more, exciting than last year’s version. Jordan Challenge, which worked extremely well to deliver a unique take on a “season mode,” has been upgraded to the ‘NBA’s Greatest’ mode which sees players not only taking on the Jordan role but also Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and John Stockton during one of their marquee games.
The mechanics in the mode are still that of a more fluid, 21st century sports title, but the presentation, which is perhaps the biggest highlight of 2K12, is pitch perfect to each era. But it isn’t just about looking into the past that NBA 2K12 does so well, it also delivers a flashy, TV quality presentation to its current matchups, whether they are in Association Mode or My Player.
Commentary is top notch, with insightful analysis stats provided (when applicable), and is bolstered by quality replays, opening cinematics, as well as camera angles. If one were to cut quickly between a live game (which they unfortunately won’t be able to do just yet) and NBA 2K12, the differences in terms of audio and video (awkward character recreation aside) would be almost negligible. This is sports presentation done to perfection.
Beneath that ultra delicious candy coating is also a meaty basketball experience — one that is as brutal as it is rewarding. A win must be earned through a competent understanding of both the fundamentals of basketball and the mechanics of 2K’s game.
Association Mode hasn’t been touched all that much, but that isn’t a complaint, since it was already near-perfect in 2K11. Menus might still be an issue, but there are plenty of workarounds to keep navigation from occupying too much time. Team AI, making trades and handling subs, is hit or miss, but keeps the game evolving in the here and now- and past 2012. Everything outside the court is there to be fiddled with, but only for those who enjoy it.
The ramped up difficulty seen in 2K11 returns, but is mitigated by a more forgiving combination of animation improvements and intuitive controls. Switching between players on defense is simpler, and smarter, and being able to create open lanes and realistic plays is much easier.
A limited understanding of basketball game theory isn’t required and the game does provide opportunities for mechanic mastery through the training camp feature – it’s just that each mode is going to require a player’s full attention. NBA’s Greatest, with its one-and-done excitement, is probably the easiest to swallow, with the My Player mode requiring the most determination.
Visual Concepts has made creating your player, and making them into a starter, easier – but they haven’t made turning them into stars of the game like Kobe or LeBron faster. Just as any one matchup requires dedication, so does turning a nobody into a virtual champion in NBA 2K12. But honestly, no matter which mode draws the bulk of a player’s attention, there’s plenty of fun to be had. It all feels so polished and so well done that it’s hard not to marvel at the display regardless of the score on the board.
That said, 2K12 isn’t all glitz and glamour: there are some minor gripes to be had. The difficulty is a huge detractor, and one that will discourage those who came into the experience as a casual observer. Often times the AI doesn’t go for the big play or the quick score, but makes each game feel like a war of attrition, played out in the incremental last seconds of the shot clock. Regularly, players will end up causing a foul out of frustration or boredom, because covering the point guard isn’t as exciting as making a fast break dunk.
Additionally, players still look a bit off – which is forgivable but no doubt makes for some weird on the court visuals. There’s so much put into the animations of the game that it makes close ups of even “NBA’s Greatest” feel like the second fiddle. They aren’t drop dead ugly, far from it, but the giggles that come when a player like Steve Nash steps to the free throw line cannot be avoided – and definitely break the immersion.
Lastly, online play, in its handful of iterations, pales in comparison to the robust single player modes that are on display. It’s so much fun to take a high profile, or even bottom-of-the-bucket, team through their 82-game season, that turning that into a team effort should have been fun. Instead, there are too many hands in the pot for one team – which can often lead to high point losses. While some will argue this as a negative, it should be seen as a positive for a proper alignment of priorities. Most sports games try to invest so much in multiplayer that they end up losing out on the die-hard fans, but 2K Sports and Visual Concepts know where the attention needs to be paid.
It’s no small marvel that Visual Concepts was able to keep the ball rolling with NBA 2K12. Improved features and mechanics across the board make this the perfect follow-up to not just a sports but all-around game of the year contender. Every element, from the NBA’s Greatest mode to the on-the-floor dribbling and passing have been taken a step further to keep players impressed once again.
There’s still some work to be done to really dial the experience in, but if 2K12 were to be facsimiled into next year’s iteration, 2K Sports would be hard pressed to find that many complaints. The NBA Season for 2012 might be in flux, but there’s still plenty of exciting basketball to be played on the virtual courts.
What has your experience with NBA 2K12 been like so far? How do you think it stacks up when compared to last year’s stellar iteration?
NBA 2K12 is available now for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PS2, Wii, PSP, and iOS.