Not many games can send the mighty EA running for the hills, but 2K Sports did just that thanks to the consistently outstanding quality of the NBA 2K series. By essentially perfecting the core gameplay way back in the Dreamcast days of yore, 2K has had the luxury of using the subsequent years to tweak and refine the already fantastic game underneath. Despite the money behind it, EA’s NBA Live simply couldn’t contend with the quality and content of 2K Sport’s franchise, and with the arrival of the truly fantastic NBA 2K12, it looks like it might be quite some time before EA dare show their face on a virtual basketball court again.
It was hard to imagine 2K Sports topping the all but perfect, Michael Jordan driven, NBA 2K11, but thanks to an array of small but effective improvements to the core gameplay and the introduction of fifteen new legends to take through their paces, NBA 2K12 once again raises the bar for anyone brave enough to contend their crown.
Much like last year’s Jordan mode which saw you taking on a collection of his finest moments and games – all of which were created with breathtaking accuracy and authenticity – this year sees the series expand on the historical aspect of the game by including a selection of players and challenges ranging from the sports early year’s right through to its golden era in the late 80’s. From the grainy TV-style presentation of Bill Russell’s domination of the 50’s with the all conquering Boston Celtic’s, through to the classic, muted colour presentation of the great match ups between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and the return of His Airness himself, Michael Jordan, NBA 2K12 is a game that delivers unmatched levels of presentational accuracy at every turn.
Each game and situation included in this mode is complete with the full player likenesses for the teams involved and includes authentic kits, coaches and TV presentation of the time – heck, even the animations are true to the time. The inclusion of modern advertisements are a bit jarring (especially for games supposedly played in the 50’s), but for the most part, this is a level of immersion and a commitment to realism never before seen in a sports-based videogame. Challenges play out much like they did last year, but with less of an emphasis on attaining specific player stats to progress, these challenges can be enjoyed in a more organic and realistic manner. Fans of vintage NBA will also be glad to hear that as you progress through these challenges, you unlock the teams to be used in all other modes. As someone with fond memories of the NBA in the late 80’s and early 90’s, getting a chance to relive some of the most memorable games of the era in such painstaking detail is a real treat and a true highlight of the series.
The other major change for NBA 2K12 is the overhaul of the all encompassing and highly addictive My Player mode. Now more engaging than ever thanks to the inclusion of interviews before and after games that, while not likely to influence your overall career progression in any major way, nonetheless do a great job of bringing your NBA superstar to life and certainly give you a better idea of how your player is seen by both the media and opposing teams. As deep and life consuming as ever, My Player mode has also been streamlined to make the previously long-winded and rather boring draft system a more simplified and less time consuming experience. It may be a tad less realistic, but it does get you into the action quicker and certainly doesn’t dilute the immersion that this mode has always delivered. This is still as epic a challenge as it was last year, only this time it’s not such a chore to get to the meat of the experience and it’s arguably more enjoyable than ever to take your superstar from bit-part player to hall of famer thanks to the collection of successful tweaks and additions made for this year’s release.
All the other usual modes return with the extensive collection of online game types once again ready to eat social lives whole. Adding to the usual selection of online options is the inclusion of Association mode which is now available for off-line and online play. Although essentially the same as it was last year, being able to take your carefully cultivated franchise online is a great addition, with the chance to create a true dynasty amidst the best that the online gaming world has to offer a very serious challenge for those eager to take it on. Online or off, Association mode, like the rest of NBA 2K12, is a fantastically enjoyable and hugely immersive experience. Its depth seems to know no bounds and is without question the most exhaustive sports sim on the market.
It may seem strange that I haven’t mentioned the actual gameplay yet, but to be honest, there’s not a great deal to say. Despite some minor improvements to offensive and defensive controls that improve overall versatility, thus making the game ever so slightly more realistic, this is largely the same game you were playing last year. Animations, while still home to the occasional blip, have seen some incremental improvements, but at a glance, NBA 2K12 isn’t hugely distinguishable from last year’s release. That’s not really a criticism though – the gameplay was already pitch perfect and is once again backed by some of the slickest animations seen in the videogame industry
Even beyond the aforementioned presentational quality of the historic matchups, NBA 2K12 once again strives to deliver a level of realism and TV-like presentation that puts even the Madden and FIFA series to shame. Squint at the TV and you’d swear you were watching a real game. Close your eyes completely and you’d be all but convinced by the industry-leading commentary, which does an almost scarily good job of following the on court action. NBA 2K12 isn’t just the best looking, most realistic interpretation of basketball ever seen, it’s the best looking, most realistic interpretation of any sport……..ever.
It may not be a huge leap forward for the series, but honestly, who wants to mess with something this successful. Change for the sake of change can be just as damaging as failing to evolve and 2K Sports shouldn’t be punished for nailing the core mechanics on the first attempt. The changes to the on the court action may be incremental at best, but the inclusion of additional historic superstars, the overhaul of My Player mode and the inclusion of Association mode online should be more than enough to bring fans of the series back for yet another year of on court action.
Y’know, I was going to give this game an eight for being too similar to last year’s release, but I just can’t do it. NBA 2K11 was already an all but perfect sports sim, but once again, the best just got that little bit better. Best basketball game ever? Definitely. Best sports game ever? Probably.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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