The box art for NBA 2K12 is awesome. In a beautiful, illustrative style dominated by exquisite flowing lines and inky flourishes, number 23, Michael Jordan, is pictured taking flight; a glow of kinetic energy emanating from his body as he once again transcends gravity and a sport that has seen more than its fair share of superstars. It’s an image that perfectly encapsulates the dynamic momentum that has driving the 2K NBA series forward over recent times. Other sports titles who year after year lazily Photoshop a picture of the current ‘player du jour’ onto the front of their packaging, please take note. This is the new standard against which you will all, henceforth be judged.
Last year, NBA 2K11 was something of a digital shire to his Airness. The game’s Jordan Challenges placed you so believably into the body of the man who sweats holy water to recreate a selection of his greatest achievements, that you could almost feel his still warm Nikes on your feet. It was easily the game’s most impressive new feature and, unsurprisingly, 2K Sports have expanded the idea and its historical focus for 2K12 to create its new NBA’s Greatest mode.
Along with Jordan, NBA 2K12 also gives you the chance to revisit 14 other members of B-ball royalty and replay some of their most famous games. Whether it’s operating a Dr Julius Erving and his 76ers as they make decisive incisions into the Milwaukee defence, landing soaring three pointers as Larry Bird, or lighting up the hardcourt with Magic Johnson, NBA’s Greatest is the natural successor Jordan Challenges and ratchets the nostalgia level up to new heights.
The recreation of each of these retro contests captures the era and occasion wonderfully, with a keen eye for detail in everything down to period fashions and TV presentation styles. In the wrong hands, the modern commentary that accompanies the games could have been incongruous enough to wreck the entire high-top-based time warp, but it’s done with such a respect and knowledge for the source material that it only compliments the action on the court. Most importantly of all, though, the removal of the stringent in-game challenges you had to meet with Jordan in 2K11, means that in 2K12 you can now just sit back and drink in the experience, with the added bonus that the successful completion of the tasks unlocks the historic squads and players for further use.
Aside from NBA’s Greatest, the remainder of the improvements in NBA 2K12 are incremental but still important. The My Player mode, which allows you to traverse the peaks and troughs of an entire professional basketball career with your own created individual, has been reoriented to make it slightly less realistic but significantly more fun. Whereas My Player in 2K11 was frontloaded with so much time dragging your feet in the D-League it really tested your commitment, some fine tuning now sees you fast-tracked through the more interesting parts of the draft process before joining up with your NBA team and work your way up to Hall of Fame immortality. As a result, My Player in 2K12 is an engrossing alternative to standard play and the best iteration of the mode to date.
Despite being fully deserving of all the accolades they received for the accuracy of the visual and technical simulation of basketball in 2K11, 2K Sports have also addressed some of players biggest complaints emanating from last year’s release. AI players on opposing teams are now noticeably less telepathic when defending than they were last year, while some of the more obvious kinks in player animations have been buffed out. There are still instances when you’ll encounter examples of both; a quick pass will see the ball shoot out of a player’s wrists rather than their hands or a defender will dispossess you whilst running with their back to you, but these are less glaring and fewer and father between.
If you’re looking to be callous towards 2K then, NBA 2K12 still certainly contains a number of nits for you to pick, but overall, it’s impossible to argue that this isn’t one of the best looking sports games ever. On the court, the smooth and complex animations do a majestic job of bringing the fine details of the control system to life, with differentiations to a player’s movements depending on such subtle things as which hand he currently has the ball in and where his centre of gravity is currently located. At times, the action looks only a few steps away from photorealistic and makes the rather less detailed player models in close up cut away shots stand out like horrific mutations.
While all these rich visual delights are instantly enticing, the icing on the cake for die-hard NBA 2K fans in things for the long haul will be the fact that in 2K12 the dynasty-building Association mode can now be played on as well as offline. With all its financial and tactical planning, Association mode was already deep enough to lose large parts of your life to, but the new ability to set up franchises online may mean it swallows you whole.
At the other end of the spectrum, the inclusion of PlayStation Move support allows for a more casual, pick-up-and-play game of basketball for energetic, affluent types who’ve splashed out on the Move controller, while for the even wealthier, the game also comes with 3D compatibility. These are nice, but unquestionably peripheral features, however, added to broaden slightly further the appeal of what is one of the best sports simulation games ever seen. The addition of NBA’s Greatest and the tweaks to the My Player and Association Modes may mean that 2K12 isn’t that far removed from last year’s game, but 2K Sports have produced an enhanced and expanded package from the one that 12 months ago caused EA’s NBA Elite to skip town the night before the big fight. With NBA 2K12, 2K Sports may well be standing on the shoulders of giants, but on this form, they’re exactly where they deserve to be.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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