NBA 2K11 set a standard for sports games. A very high standard. And as high as that bar was to clear, NBA 2K12 is better.
The latest incarnation of 2K Sports' NBA game is solid on all fronts — from presentation to gameplay. You know this the moment the chorus drops and the girls sing, "we're playing basketball," and then Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard appear on the screen in front of a dark backdrop. The catchy hook of that classic joint by Kurtis Blow is so apropos. This is a great basketball game.
The presentation is amazing. Seriously, it is brilliant. There are more in-game videos and lots of different camera angles, and it feels more like an NBA game. The commentators are more likely to drop real stats in the game. If you've gone on a tear inside the paint, they'll let you know the last 10 points were scored there.
In the gameplay, the ball handler is far more fluid, and the AI is smarter — almost to the point of annoyance. It's not as easy to grab 25 rebounds in a game, and scoring is actually hard work because the defense is much better. A pump fake is no longer enough to blow past a defender for a dunk. Defenders also seem to communicate now. You'll see the defense collapse or others offer help.
On the offensive end, the game has been injected with a number of new shots using the Total Shot Stick Control, which gives gamers more flexibility with their shots by making gestures with the right stick. Fastbreaks are better. The ball handler sometimes bounces the ball ahead and then chases it down as he rumbles down the court. Very cool.
As with everything else, the My Player mode was a great aspect of the game last year, and it's even better now. They've added so much more to this create-a-player mode — an all-new Rookie Showcase, the ability to negotiate contracts and a lot more endorsement deals.
The big change is you are playing to get inducted into the Hall of Fame. But to get there, you have to get drafted, so that means you must play well in the Rookie Showcase. After that, you are interviewed by team officials. Your answer will play a key role in where you are drafted.
My player had three interviews. The Utah Jazz executive asked me about playing in a small market. I told him Utah wasn't for me, and he said I probably wasn't going to get drafted by them. Houston wanted me to be the star but asked me to be patient while they rebuild. I told them I would want to see progress. That apparently caused some concern, particularly in a league that witnessed the LeBron James debacle known as "The Decision." Then there were the Indiana Pacers, who told me Danny Granger was their guy. He said they might use me at shooting guard. The Pacers drafted me, and I rode the pine a while before they traded Granger.
My Player is jam-packed with new features. You actually collect a paycheck and can spend money on attribute points, basketball camps, shots and other moves, or parties for your teammates. The post-game news conference has more depth, and you have more options when answering questions.
My Player is still the bread and butter of this game.
Last year's version of NBA 2K was the first game to feature Michael Jordan in decades. The "Jordan Challenge," which allowed gamers to re-enact some of MJ's greatest feats using historic Bulls teams, was addictive. Add that to the enhancements last year on My Player, and last year's game was a classic.
The conundrum here was this: How could 2K Sports follow up on a game that was so good it really did not have to be replaced? Compounding this is the fact that the latest game's release comes in the midst of an NBA lockout, meaning you essentially would be playing with last year's rosters because no rookie contracts were signed.
But NBA 2K12 is so good you don't even think about the lockout and, as good as the Jordan Challenge was, 2K certainly didn't strike out by replacing it with the NBA's Greatest mode. 2K has touted this mode, which features 15 of the NBA's greatest careers and rivalries, as a way, they say, to finally "end the debate" of who are the best teams and players in history. His Airness is now joined by his partner Scottie Pippen and greats such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving.
There were myriad reasons why NBA 2K11 was such a great game, and NBA 2K12 used that game as a foundation to make a much better experience for gamers. That's a winning formula every time. But, again, I ask the folks at 2K Sports: what will you possibly do next year?