I’ve already posted several of my impressions of NBA 2K12 in the NLSC Forum as well as in our recent roundtable discussion, but after playing the game for a month and seeing all that it has to offer, I’ve decided that a full review of the PC version is in order.
NBA 2K11 provided a tough act to follow and the lockout has certainly done NBA video gaming no favours, preventing the inclusion of this year’s rookie crop and cancelling portions of the 2011/2012 season, meaning no roster movement and no games to get excited about. However, NBA 2K12 has done a very commendable job of bolstering itself for the lockout and building upon last year’s success, with improvements to gameplay and My Player along with its expanded historical content.
Being a long-time NBA Live player, I’ve found NBA 2K’s controls a little difficult to master in years gone by but I felt that NBA 2K11’s controls were much better in that respect, being friendlier to those of us who aren’t quite as skilled and experienced with Isomotion. In my view, NBA 2K12 has taken another step forward in making Isomotion more accessible and intuitive. The responsiveness is pleasing and the game feels a lot smoother overall; NBA 2K11 still had some clunky, out of control moments and while there is still some room for improvement, NBA 2K12 has taken it up another notch in this area.
Having said that, while it’s not too difficult to pull off moves in NBA 2K12, I must admit there are moments when I find myself struggling with Isomotion even after making use of the new Training Camp mode. I like the depth of the controls but there are times when I feel they are too complex with moves that require both modifiers be held in addition to very precise stick movement. My own inexperience is certainly a factor here and Training Camp was a very helpful addition that I expect I’ll go back to every now and again when I need to brush up on the more advanced moves. However, there are times when the controls feel a bit contrived.
It also seems that a controller bug from last year has made its way into NBA 2K12, with the steal and block buttons being switched on icon passing and playcalling. They work properly everywhere else including the menus but when I need to make a direct pass or call a play, I have to remember to press the opposite button. I’m not sure whether the issue is simply limited to my controller (I’m using a Logitech Dual Analog gamepad) but it is annoying. Directional passing is also a bit sketchy, I’d like to see that patched.
The live ball physics are great, the speed dribble is a welcome addition and the interaction with the front row is very cool. Psychic steals have been toned down (though the CPU still comes up with a few that are a bit suspect) and it feels like you’ve got a good set of tools to work with at both ends of the floor. I’m not especially thrilled about the way the Intense D button works though. The defensive shuffle (hold both triggers) is effective when used properly and it is possible to play smart defense with good positioning and anticipation, but there are still moments when I feel a step too slow. I’m also not a fan of the way players can get stuck together, which makes some moments feel very canned.
I do like the addition of the shot feedback and release window indicators though. With so many signature jumpshot styles in the game, it helps to have some assistance when you’re trying to get the timing down for different players. The way in which attempt quality, defensive pressure and individual player hot zones work together is fair and realistic. I’d like to see 2K change things up with free throw shooting in future games though, as I’d prefer to be able to aim more precisely.
Shot distribution is fairly realistic, though occasionally the wrong player seems to be the go to guy for the CPU. For example, I have had a game where Caron Butler was the biggest threat on the Mavs, shooting 11/14 from the field to score 25 points and seemingly was the first player they were looking for on offense. The CPU is also a bit trigger happy on threes with attempts being a little too high on simulation settings, though it’s not too far off the mark in my experience. For the most part, player skills and tendencies are represented quite well.
On the whole, NBA 2K12 plays a very good game of realistic NBA basketball. It pays to call plays and learn how to run them properly; I’d recommend checking out Da Czar’s videos and switching the full play displays on so that you know exactly where to go and what to do. I do feel rewarded for playing smart basketball at both ends, with CPU controlled teammates and opponents also playing fairly intelligently…most of the time. The AI still has its dumb moments, some of which can be remedied through in-game settings and others which will hopefully be addressed by an official update, but the results are generally pleasing when it comes to NBA 2K12’s gameplay.
Moving on to NBA’s Greatest…well, what can you say that hasn’t been said already? The inability to license the likenesses of a couple of stars (notably Charles Barkley) coupled with the absence of some other key players does dilute the experience slightly, but that’s the problem with historical content and the reason it’s taken so long to get a feature like this in an NBA game. It’s an issue worth mentioning but it’s not 2K’s fault as their hands are tied so long as they are unable to reach agreements with certain former players. It’s great that they’ve been able to improve on the rosters featured in the Jordan Challenge last year, give or take some noteworthy omissions due to the aforementioned licensing issues.
The work they’ve put into recreating the different eras through different rules and especially presentation is simply outstanding. There are a couple of quirks though; zone defenses popping up here and there, the occasional shot from three point range in the 60s and some of the dribbling moves and dunks certainly aren’t era-appropriate. It would’ve been nice to have some more appropriate dribbling and dunking packages available for the older players but it doesn’t prevent the games from being enjoyable to play.
For the most part, everything is very well done. The length they went to in trying to replicate the era-specific broadcasts is very impressive and I really like the idea of the commentary being retrospective rather than pretending the crew of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr were calling the game at the time. It creates a vibe of watching a classic game with alternate contemporary commentary, which I think was the perfect approach for the mode.
NBA’s Greatest is afflicted with a rather nasty bug however, which causes games that you’ve already completed to be marked as incomplete and their respective unlockable teams get locked once again. A display on the NBA’s Greatest menu will still list X of 15 games won but they won’t be marked as completed and the teams won’t be available outside the mode. With autosave on, this means you can lose your progress in NBA’s Greatest upon exiting another mode like Association or My Player, forcing you to play those games again. It’s a pretty sloppy bug for the game to have shipped with.
Speaking of Association, it’s just as deep as last year but aside from a change to the free agency negotiation period, not much else is new. The new free agency system is a bit confusing at first and there’s not much in the way of in-game help regarding its connection to restricted free agency and matching contract offers. It’s functional and makes sense once you find out how it works, but without more information readily available it’s easy to mess things up the first time around.
The main problem with Association is that there wasn’t enough tinkering under the hood. Things like simulated stats and trade logic needed to be tweaked, but it doesn’t seem like they were paid any attention. The simulated stats could be worse but scoring averages are a bit high, assist numbers tend to be way off and blocks and steals are a bit low at the top. I’ve seen four trades involving major players occur in the first month and some really lopsided deals with teams far too eager to trade away their stars.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to enjoy what’s on tap in Association but for those of us who get a bit geeky about these things, it does take away from the experience. Obviously the further you progress into an Association game, the more a sense of fantasy has to take over and the less realism you’ll have, but the simulated stats could be better and there should be fewer trades involving star players, especially lopsided ones.
More attention was paid to My Player and while it’s also plagued with some logic issues when it comes to trades and coaching changes, it remains a fun mode that has received some excellent upgrades. I prefer the approach of starting out as a higher rated prospect with the ultimate goal of making the Hall of Fame, so that was a change for the better in my book. Expanding the endorsements was a nice touch and there’s a fun sense of accomplishment when you get on a billboard or magazine cover. The My Player experience has been fleshed out quite nicely with player salaries, more diverse answers in press conferences and new development drills.
The grading system has also been greatly improved and game-to-game, that’s what you’ll notice most. It helps that you start out with higher ratings this year but at the same time, it still takes a while to earn enough skill points to significantly improve your player. To that end, it certainly helps that the grading is fairer with more boosts for doing the little things out on the court. Some mistakes are still more costly to your grade than they should be but things that really dragged down your grade last year have been reworked. Most of the time, you won’t lose all the marks you’ve been awarded for playing great defense with a “let your man score” deduction after an opponent makes a difficult shot you couldn’t have defended any better. Stuff like that made NBA 2K11’s grading very frustrating at times, so it’s great that it was addressed in NBA 2K12.
However, even though the starting ratings are higher, they are still a bit low in some areas especially given the amount of skill points needed to level up. For example, ratings for athleticism could stand to be better in the all-around guard build, as that’s an area where players should be pretty much in their prime upon entering the league. It’s better than last year though and for those who want to be a star right away, the addition of NBA: Creating a Legend is most welcome. To see the Hall of Fame induction though, you’ve got to earn it the hard way and I guess that’s fair enough.
I’m afraid I can’t offer any impressions of online play at this time as I’ve still had no luck setting up a game. No matter how long I wait, I can never find a connection for a quick match. I’m not a big online gamer myself so it’s not a deal breaker for me, but these days a sports sim absolutely has to have robust online support. Judging by the match-up and connection problems that other people have had, not to mention the fact that the new community website has yet to be launched more than a month after the release, I think it’s fair to say that 2K dropped the ball with online support in NBA 2K12. There’s a lot to enjoy offline in the game but all the online issues are leaving a lot of people disappointed.
Touching upon presentation for a moment, NBA 2K12 has once again done a stellar job in this department. I’ve already mentioned the broadcast presentation in NBA’s Greatest but the presentation for contemporary games is top notch as well with variations to the starting lineup screens, commercials between quarters promoting upcoming games and the return of the HP Halftime Report. It’s all very slick and does a fantastic job replicating a real NBA broadcast. All that’s missing is real network integration; as it stands, it’s very close to being the NBA on TNT, only with 2K Sports branding.
Steve Kerr’s addition to the announce team has been handled very well and the conversation between the three announcers feels very organic. After a while you will start hearing the same lines but that’s just the way it is with commentary in a video game and there is a fairly good selection of anecdotes in the commentary this year. Nevertheless, the way the three man booth interacts with each other, reacts to the action on the court and mentions specific events during Association or My Player is fantastic. I’d say it’s the best commentary I’ve ever heard in an NBA video game.
Finally, I’m also a fan of the menus this year. I’m glad that the PC version features the same menus as the consoles as they’re easy to navigate with a mouse or gamepad and for my money, look a lot nicer too. I like the approach they’ve taken with the home screen as well, being able to quickly jump into your latest saved Association or My Player, play an NBA Today game or go directly into NBA’s Greatest. In short, the menus are stylish while remaining functional and user friendly, which is exactly what you want out of the UI.
NBA 2K12 is a worthy successor to NBA 2K11, another step forward in the series and one of the best NBA video games I’ve played. There are some troubling issues that present themselves the more you play and the online support leaves much to be desired, but aside from that it’s a well-rounded product that plays a good game of basketball. Upgrades in the form of an expanded My Player, NBA: Creating a Legend and of course NBA’s Greatest along with improved controls and smoother gameplay make NBA 2K12 a step up from last year.
A patch to fix some of the most egregious issues is definitely needed but as it stands, NBA 2K12 is a solid game and very enjoyable, so long as you’re more of an offline player. If so, I’d certainly recommend picking it up if you haven’t already and if you’re a console gamer, the big official patch likely isn’t too far away. PC users will likely be waiting until January or February at the earliest but until then there’s still fun to be had with the game. If the online problems can be resolved as well, NBA 2K12 should give most gamers their sim fix until NBA 2K13 and EA’s next NBA sim drop next October.