Game Review: NBA 2K12 (PS3)

February 21, 2012 in Basketball, Game Reviews, NBA, Reviews, Sport by pacejmiller

I really need to find more time to play video games these days.  Despite purchasing the game on DAY ONE, I have only recently found time (well, at least at the time I typed this sentence a few weeks ago) to play enough of NBA 2K12 to be able to give my thoughts about it and found the time to write the darn review.

It’s easy to proclaim 2K12 as the greatest basketball simulation of all time.  After all, 2K11 was the previous GOAT and there has been nothing to challenge it since, especially considering that the NBA Live (aka Elite) team is still on hiatus after the embarrassing debacle that was NBA Elite 2011, the game that never was.

That said, I’m not going to judge 2K12 as a an independent video game.  It’s only fair that I compare the game to its predecessor, 2K11, because that’s the only yardstick people can compare to.

So does the 2K12 compare favourably to 2K11?  On the whole, yes.  The best improvements are the controls, the simplified playcalling, the widened legends roster, more legendary teams, and the presentation.  But to be perfectly honest, it’s not a revolutionary advancement in the franchise.

Let’s break it down.

Visuals

The graphics are supposed to be improved, but I really could not tell.  In fact, some friends have told me that they felt the visuals actually took a step back this year.

There’s just something different about it, as though the level of detail has been pared back slightly.  The players don’t look quite as shiny during the gameplay, though the close up cut scenes are as impressive as ever.  Another improvement is the extent to which the computerised players resemble their real life counterparts (for instance, Kobe looks less like an alien).  One of the biggest problems before — the bad hairdos of white guys (including coaches) — has been fixed somewhat.  It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.

There has been an improvement, but white dudes' hairstyles still don't look quite right

This year, with the new NBA’s Greatest (discussed below), the creators of the game also ingeniously tried to emulate the TV broadcast quality of times gone by, so if you play an 80s game, the colours are less sharp, and if you play a 60s game, the game is fuzzier and in black and white.  Even though it’s kind of gimmicky, it’s a nice added touch.

Ultimately, I think it’s possible that the visuals are more realistic but less detailed.  It looks more like a live game you would see on TV rather than a video game with mind-blowing graphics.  Does that make sense?

Sound

Not a lot of improvement here.  New music, a new commentator (Steve Kerr, replacing Clark Kellogg and joining Kevin Harlan), but not a whole lot of freshness.  Not to say the commentary isn’t good, but in terms of variety and the amount of excitement it can add to the game, I think it has essentially peaked for the series.  The only real way to improve it is to make the commentary more varied, more dynamic and more excited when players make big plays.

Presentation

Improved again from last year.  Not dramatic changes in terms of the menus (just more streamlined) but I quite like the changes they made in stuff like player intros, the half time reports and the post game features like Player of the Game, etc.  You can tell they put a lot of effort into making the game seem like a real TV broadcast.

Gameplay

Last year I thought the gameplay was already pretty awesome, and this year they upped it another notch.

It might take a little while to get used to the changes, but it’s worth trying the various tutorials and drills to get the hang of them before playing proper games.  It makes a HUGE difference when you feel more in control of the players you are controlling.  It not only makes you a better player, it makes the games far more exciting.

The best improvements are in the areas of post play (offense and defense) and off the ball movement.  There is an entire tutorial teaching you how to fake out your opponent when playing without the ball.  You can learn how to pound the ball inside and wreak havoc down low like Kevin McHale or Hakeem Olajuwon by using an encyclopaedia of post moves.  It’s awesome.  Your ability to call for screens, utilise the give-and-go, perform up-and-unders, hop steps, spin moves, in-and-outs, behind the back dribbles, crossovers, Euro steps, face-up moves — the whole shebang — makes the game super real and will keep players coming back as they improve their techniques with the control pad.

That’s the best thing — you can play on the lower levels with just the basics and it’ll be fine, but as you get to the more difficult settings, you really need to learn the entire repertoire of moves to have a chance against your opponents.

The computer AI is also improved, though it might be hard to tell for casual gamers unless you line the two up side by side.  But it’s there.  Fast breaks are better on both sides of the ball.  Crazy passes are less likely to thread through untouched.  If you run into teammates you’ll lose the ball.  Playcalling has been simplified and you can simply call plays for particular players or just call the best play available.  It’s the little things that have made the biggest differences in the game.

Game Modes

You still have the same stuff from last year, so I won’t go through them all.  The new headline mode is the aforementioned NBA’s Greatest.  Last year it was reliving Michael Jordan’s greatest moments — a good idea that got old real quick.  This year, there are a lot more legends and you only need to complete one challenge game to unlock more stuff, and all you have to do is win the freaking game.  You got guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and so on.  It’s fine, but it’s still a single playthrough kind of mode.

The modes you’ll spend most of your time on are still the Association Mode and My Player Mode.

Association Mode is largely unchanged, but it’s still the most packed mode in the game that will allow you to play for hours and hours through years of NBA seasons, playing games, organising rosters, scouting new rookies, making trades, signing players, scheduling practices, developing young players and so forth.

A little overboard for the 14th pick of a weak draft, but these little touches make 2K12 fun

My Player Mode is slightly improved.  The biggest change is that instead of going in the D-League to start off, you get to play in a showcase game which will determine where you go in the NBA Draft.  If you play well enough you get drafted, which is pretty cool (they show the whole process, including handshakes with Commissioner David Stern), and you’ll get a chance to fight for a starting position straight away.  Jeremy Lin, anyone?

There are also add on downloadable features, such as the Legends Showcase.  I’m too cheap to get it, but here’s a review and it seems decent if you are into living in the past and playing with legends all day long.

Online

Not for me, but I hear that the online mode is not very stable, at least not on the PS3.  Apparently, a lot of people have flooded back to 2K11′s online mode, which is a huge indictment of this year’s game.

The good thing about having the Internets is that you can update your roster to keep them up-to-date with what’s been happening in real NBA (eg, I hear Jeremy Lin recently got a stats upgrade). You can also download fan-made rosters and players, so you can get your hands on players who aren’t licensed for the game — the main ones being Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson.  If you have a lot of time on your hands you can also create your own players and teams and share them with others.

Reckon there's going to be a lot of Linsanities online?

Playstation Move

This was one of the things 2K played up in the lead up to the release — you can play 2K12 with the Playstation Move!  Wow!  And it’s so easy and intuitive anyone can do it on their first try!

Err…no, that idea just stinks.  If you want to play real basketball, pick up a ball and go outside.   I haven’t even bothered trying the Move mode of the game.  It’s a waste of time.

Check this out and tell me it’s not lame.

Conclusion

So is 2K12 worth getting if you already have 2K11?  Now?  Yes.  Originally, when the game was first released, the NBA was still in lockout mode, meaning you had only a couple of the pre-signed rookies in this year’s class.  With the NBA now in full swing, you can download the official updated rosters or the fan-made ones.

For me, the greatest improvement was the controls and gameplay.  If you have the patience to lean the moves, 2K12 becomes much more enjoyable than 2K11.  All the other improvements, such as the presentation and the graphics (if you call it an improvement) were nice, but they’re not game changers.  If you can’t let go of the past and feel the urge to keep using Larry Bird to shoot over Chuck Person while saying, “Merry F&*%ing Christmas”, then the NBA’s Greatest Mode would also be a great reason to buy the game.

At the end of the day, 2K12 is of course a better game than 2K11, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would.  Nonetheless, credit must go to 2K for making the effort to improve last year’s game when they had zero competition.  It will still be the most played game in my collection until 2K13.

8.5 out of 10