Despite some of the highest television ratings in recent history for the sport of basketball, the NBA announced a lockout on July 1st of this year. Even more disturbing was that just a few weeks ago on October 10th, they announced that the first two weeks of the season would be cancelled. For the time being, we are devoid of great shooting from Dirk Nowitzki or the spirited play of Derrick Rose. Heck, we can not even boo LeBron James. But 2k and Visual Concepts could have the cure, NBA 2k12 for the Xbox 360.
NBA video games have been increasingly realistic when it comes to recreating players with their signature jerseys, hairstyle and shooting motions. This year with the NBA’s Greatest mode, we can see legends move in familiar ways like Hakeem Olajuwon’s dream shake or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyscraper tall sky hook. This is recreated beautifully. The retro look of the game in this mode is also a neat thing to see with faithfully created arenas and slightly washed-out color to emulate an older broadcast.
However, the game does take some missteps in graphics. I feel as if the My Player mode does allow you to create somebody closer to your personal image than last year but is not quite where it should be. Also, who designed the mascots this year? Every one of them looks lifeless and shooting the same degenerate t-shirt gun to boot. It is not a huge distraction but worth mentioning. Overall, there are some fantastic graphics and it ranks about in the same league as last year’s presentation.
Sound is presented in the usual 5.1 Dolby Digital dynamics. This is the one feature that again stands above all others. All the sounds, whether it would be the squeaking of the floor, fluid passing and the gratifying feel of slamming it home are done well. The arena sounds put the player in the thick of the action and I really enjoyed the television style commentating. But goodness, the music that is played during the menus will get on your nerves.
The first tune when one boots up the game are these female singers who actually sound out the word Basketball to begin a song. Truth be told, it does not improve a whole heck of a lot from there. Other songs come from Travis Barker, Kurtis Blow, Bad Meets Evil and Aceyalone featuring Cee Lo. Plenty of tracks to choose from but I have never been really a fan of “Basketball” themed music. Again, this is a great audio mix overall, the music unfortunately is always going to miss in some regard.
The final buzzer sounds. The score, the Dallas Mavericks 105, the Miami Heat 95. Dallas has done it and beat the team just about everybody thought was going to take out the aging Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki, emotional and finally so happy after thirteen years of being so close runs to the locker room to shed tears. (Eventually he did come back later to accept accolades and the trophy for the NBA Finals MVP). This is a great day for basketball. Ratings are through the roof and the sport is at a high not seen since the good ole days of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Then of course, the lockout came and pretty much crushed any energy the game had. 2K Sports was arguably left with a hard choice. They could include no rookies and there were no trades or free agent signings to incorporate. The rosters were exactly as they had left them last season. But, if you remember last years 2k Basketball game, they basically dedicated the game to the great Michael Jordan. Due to the success of that mode, it opened the door to something wonderful.
So, 2k Sports capitalized on that idea and gave us a NBA Greatest Mode which includes fifteen of the greatest players on their respective teams against rivals from the same time period. 2K has included names like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but also others like Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone and “Dr. J” Julius Erving. They would pit them against their rivals and give it a sleek retro style look. As a reward, if you are able to win the game, then you can play with that team in single player mode and their rival as well (and sometimes an additional team depending on the player).
One might be thinking at this point, that’s great, we get a bunch of legends. But how is the actual gameplay? In many ways, it is the same as last year. Dribbling is fluid (even a bit improved) and shooting is crisp. Open shots and good passing are rewarded rather than sloppiness and ball hogging. This is a slight change from last year as I often had to ball hog (with my point guard primarily) to get anywhere. A gamer can either go for stick shot control with the analog sticks or the classic controls that are based on actual shooting percentages.
Naturally, due to my 20+ years of playing video game basketball, I went for the latter. But in the process, I noticed something quite different this year. The computer AI had went through the roof. Remember those games last year where the opposing team would shoot 40% and lower? Forget about it. Start to get used to 55% and beyond. Thirty feet threes with your player right in his face? Nothing but net. Fifteen, twenty feet jump shots from the opposing center? Easy peasy.
But reserve that situation and put somebody like the seven foot tall Moses Malone two inches from the basket and what happens? Block…rebound…block…rebound…block… and then perhaps the opposing team will get the rebound and take it down the floor for an easy two. It does not seem to matter even which way the person is positioned. They block all. One can try faking or shooting the ball differently, it does not seem to matter.
Blocking is a beast in this game. It is as if they transformed your team into a bunch of Mugsy Bogues and pitted you against a bunch of Manute Bols. It is frustrating. In fact, difficulty is ramped up quite a bit unless you are willing to knock yourself down to Rookie. That is the other side of coin too, pro typically becomes the happy Medium difficulty. Then for the people who want the extra difficulty can take on something like Hall of Fame. Here we have too easy and then too hard.
There are plenty of modes to play through this year as typical in NBA2k. My Player mode makes another appearance and even though I am still not entirely happy with the mode, it is significantly improved. Gone is the Draft Combine and the Summer Circuit. It also starts a little different. A Rookies game is the first order of business and from there the created player goes through different question and answer sessions with three NBA teams.
From there it is on to the draft. Depending on where you go in the draft (and team selection) determines your playing time. Drills as well as various other activities will help you to gain skill points, team chemistry and popularity. Another neat feature is that you do not have to play every single game and can choose to only play key matchups if you so desire. If you do well, then more playing and superstardom await the NBA character of your dreams.
A similar mode is the Creating a Legend feature. Unlike taking a rookie all the way to the holy grail, you can take any current NBA star (or not) to the same promise. Some of the things in My Player such as Press Conferences are not available but by and large it is the same mode but made for people who might want to take a John Wall and have an easier road to a NBA championship. However, as expected there are issues with both modes that will make the road for anything but the most dedicated a rough one.
It is true that skill points are more openly given but the “grading” of your player is as harsh as ever. As usual, if you make a shot, steal, assist, etc you get some skill points and improvement in score. If you miss a shot or commit a turnover, you lose a few skill points and get knocked down in grade. But as with last season, if you make a bad call for the ball or leave your assignment at the wrong time, the player is knocked. It seems drastic and for the casual player it might create a nightmarish situation when all they really want to do is get the ball and slam it home.
Association mode is also back with single player and multiplayer modes. The NBA Blacktop is again also included along with the usual quick game touches. Once you unlock teams with the Greatest mode, those are also available in the quick play mode. As mentioned earlier, the greatest is the best thing about the extra modes and without it, I don’t think this game would be anything special. I only wish it was more than 15 special games to play through.
As usual, we get achievements. Fifty of them in fact for 1000 points. However, as you will soon realize if you are a veteran of NBA 2k11 that the achievements are mostly the same from last year. From The Closer (Hold the opposing team to 0 points in the last two minutes of regulation) to Five by Five (Record 5 or more in 5 different stats with any player) to G Performance (Score at least 48 points with Kevin Durant), the achievements are littered with repeats. It is hard to fathom that they could not pick another player at random to get a new career high for an achievement.
As I write this, there are two things in the works for the game. One is an updated patch that will turn down the success of things such as contested threes and dribbler steal success. It will also help accuracy of directional passing and help defense. Great adjustments in my opinion. Maybe blocking can also be addressed in a later patch. Also, some DLC is coming in the form the Legends Showcase.
The Legends Showcase will include a few more modes such as 2v2 Teammate Challenge, 3v3 Era Challenge, and the ability to play online with the Legendary Teams from the Greatest Mode (honestly this should have been included already). Also, a lot more players from days past (I have trouble calling some of them legends) will be added for enjoyment.
2k and Visual Concepts really figured out that the only way to really sell the NBA series this year with the lockout was create a game that focused on the past and the future as opposed to the present. The difficulty has been ramped up quite a bit and some people (including myself) might be knocked down to Rookie until they work out some of the bugs. My Player is also improved this year but again, casual players might find themselves skipping this mode all together.
I am even sad to report that achievements are mostly a repeat of last year. But if can live with all of that, there is the trademark 2k basketball feel that has been running roughshot over every other game in existence from Live to Elite to even NBA Jam. That leaves us with the recommendation. It is a tough call this year and if you really loved NBA 2k11 like I did, I can’t sit here and tell you that you should buy this one.
However, once the DLC gets rolled out, this might be the best game to play with the legends of basketball ever. So, a decent recommendation is my final verdict. It is tough but if one takes the time (which you might have more of this year since it looks like we might not be watching any professional basketball), then it looks like it just might be worth the reward.