There is a very good reason that sports games sell well year after year. Of course, the fact that they're fun pick-up-and-play party games is a big help, but I think the core attraction is that these games facilitate people's "superstar" fantasies. From the guy playing air guitar as he listens to his headphones to the dude throwing wadded-up paper at his office wastebasket, who doesn't spend some moments here and there wowing an imaginary crowd? And what game makes you feel like a bigger star than NBA 2K12?
If you love basketball, NBA 2K12 will make you very, very happy.
Not content to rest on their impressive laurels, 2K Sports and developer Visual Concepts have made significant strides over even last year's impressive NBA 2K11. In addition to ramping up the realism in ball physics and player A.I., we now have PlayStation Move support and a fun new game mode that let's you relive legendary match-ups. If you loved the Jordan Challenges last year, you will find even more to sink your teeth into with "NBA's Greatest."
Fifteen basketball legends heading their respective historical teams are yours to control, including Michael Jordan and the 1992-93 Bulls, Magic Johnson and the 1990-91 Trail Blazers, Larry Bird and the 1985-86 Celtics, and Wilt Chamberlain and the 1971-72 Lakers. For each legend, you are placed in a career-defining match-up, dressed up in an appropriately modified presentation style where older events look older and true-to-life. Everything from the physical arena to the on-screen information to the quality of the color/picture is affected. When you play as Wilt "The Stilt" in the 70's it looks nothing like playing as LeBron James in 2011. Winning a Greatest game unlocks classic line-ups you can use in other game modes.
Once you've traveled down the road of history, learning facts about the greats all the way, you might want to finally put your own stamp on the NBA. 2K12's career mode is back, allowing you to create a custom player and make a grab for the golden hoop. I didn't do so well in my first career game (there are a few goals to meet for top results), so when it came time for the draft I decided to just shoot my mouth off and see what happened. Several team representatives came by to interview my player and I always picked the answer that made him seem the most arrogant and difficult to work with. The scouting report said my player was delusional about his own abilities and I was nowhere near the top pick. Play the game, right, however, and the fans and endorsement offers will come in droves.
As for the core game, it's even better than you remember. The depth is amazing, and you can dive in as deeply as you feel comfortable with, micromanaging players, setting up grand plays, and otherwise customizing the experience to your liking. Nevermind "There's an app for that" - in NBA 2K12, the slogan might be "There's a slider for that." You can affect nearly every aspect of the A.I., on both teams, to a fine level. This not only helped me get into the game a little more smoothly, it also introduced me to a lot of basketball concepts as I adjusted the settings for my optimal enjoyment. And "enjoyment" is the perfect word. If you love basketball, NBA 2K12 will make you very, very happy.
One minor point that really impressed me was the announcing. Remember how I said that the game called my player delusional for all his big boasts with little talent? Well, the game pays even more attention than that. On top of the smooth gameplay and the way the arena and fans are rendered, the announcing did a whole lot to bring me into the game world and make me feel like a star. Once, as I was controlling the Bulls' Derrick Rose, the commentator piped in with, "What a game for Rose. He's got fourteen points and four steals. He's really showing quick hands today." Just having that custom information inserted into what could have been much more repetitive and soulless computer commentary grabs your attention and pulls you in to the occasion. But this game is full of those extra touches.
The only weak area that stands out is the training. I realize 90%-plus of players will never go through the training mode, but I would have liked to see a better set-up for those that choose to. I had no idea there were so many terms I was unfamiliar with, but as I got more into the strategy of the game and wanted to dig deeper, I hit a bit of a wall with the training. There was just a lot of jargon in there that wasn't properly illustrated. What's worse, you are forced to go through a list of moves in order, with no way to save one for later. For whatever reason, no matter how closely I followed the instructions, I was not able to pull off a side hop jumper and so I quit the training pretty early on.
So if the developers take a few more ideas from wrestling games for the "create a player" and a few more ideas from fighting games for the training mode, I could probably run a sparse four-word review next year for NBA 2K13: "Buy this game. Now."