I've been playing sports games for a very long time. It's funny, but I was a bit backwards - I grew interested in the video game versions of sports first, and then started an interest in the real thing afterward. I cut my teeth on Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble, RBI Baseball and more before really diving into the Tecmo Super Bowl and Basketball games, Madden and EA's NBA offerings.
Over the last few years however, the NBA 2K series has really taken over the market share from Electronic Arts and their NBA titles - so much so that they did not even release a proper NBA title this year. Normally - I'm all for a bit of competition. I think it would be great if the NFL license was out there for other companies to combat Madden with. That said? Just as well EA stayed home this year, because NBA 2K12 is one of the best sports titles I have ever had the pleasure of playing - and that's saying something because I really liked the last two iterations of this series, and they are nowhere near as polished as this season's outing.
The NBA season got off to a late start - finally tipping off on Christmas Day. Ironically enough, I got this title from my wife the same day and fired it up. Let's break this thing down, shall we?
There's a few odd animations, jerseys maybe don't sit on shoulders perfectly and some of the players' faces are frighteningly zombie-like, with all too dead and soulless eyes. Sound like I'm nitpicking? I am, but that's because those things are about all I can complain about visually. I love how games are starting to blur the line between what you see when watching the game on television, and what you see when you have a controller on your hand. The stats, the visual flair, the player animations and the courts themselves all look spectacular. I have attended quite a few Pistons games over the years, and the arena looks fantastic with its reflections, panned out shots and more. The crowd is a bit generic, as usual, but I hardly ever notice it while taking in the action itself.
Sound & Music - 10:
I can't think of a game that's had better commentary. After the abomination that was this year's commentary in Madden, it was refreshing to see it handled so well in this game. Is it perfect? No. Sometimes a name sounds a bit odd, like it's been shoehorned into the sentence - which obviously it has, but this is rare. You will get some repetition if you play using the same teams over and over again, but not nearly as much as in titles in the past. Beyond that? The sounds of the game being played are excellent, and I actually liked the soundtrack too. It's varied, and there were some tunes that stuck with me even when I was not playing. Excellent all around effort.
Gameplay - 8:
Of course, all the bells and whistles in the world mean nothing if you dribble the ball off of your foot. Thankfully? The game handles pretty well. The default settings get the job done, but there are plenty of sliders and options to tweak if a part of the game frustrates you (steals are a bit too common - it's much harder to run and gun on here, which doesn't necessarily bother me, but I know it bugged a friend of mine. Personally - I was okay with the game punishing me for bad passing, even if it did seem to happen just a BIT too often).
The menus are a bit odd to navigate around if you are unfamiliar with the series, but I was not and had no issue flying around from one screen to the next. I'm okay with the slight learning curve because it's so intuitive after you've gotten the hang of it.
My biggest two complaints are:
1) the online - I've never had much luck with online basketball. The controls are a bit too laggy and that happens again this year as well. It's better, but it favors gimmicky team settings like high pressure and gambling for steals. Fast, reckless play is rewarded because that moment's lag puts you so out of position. I've always found football, baseball and hockey easier to deal with online than NBA games, and unfortunately that is still the case here.
2) player controls - they are generally excellent. Things like the post play are a bit more user-friendly, and calling plays on the fly is easy enough. That said, the lockdown defense has been made worse while the computer-controlled stealing attempts seem to still get their hands in the passing lanes more. Also, some of the canned animations sometimes cause problems they shouldn't. On the fast break and calling for the ball? Better hope your teammate gets it to you immediately because any hesitation means your player may go up with the wrong hand or set themselves up to get blocked from behind. Getting double-teamed near the mid-court? You're probably going to step over it if you stop in the wrong place, no matter what you try to do about it. It's a bit too easy to step out of bounds - especially in the corners - while trying to set up for a three pointer.
Intangibles - 10:
Man, there is a lot of basketball to be had here. I mean that: a lot. There's of course most of the standard modes like quickplay, a franchise/association, create a player, online quick matches, online leagues, minigames/drills and so on. But there is so much to do and so much depth to most of these options that it is easy to blow a ton of time on it. Add in the NBA Greats (I've hardly played this feature yet, but the ability to play classic teams and players during great matchups is a lot of fun as well as I recall many of those games and players) and the various image/video media options, and if you are a fan of the game, you should not find yourself bored any time soon.
Overall - 9.25:
This is a sports game I'll be spending a lot of time with. I'm playing in 2 online associations, and I find the online to be one of my least favorite parts of the package. I love messing around with different teams in the association mode. Without a doubt though, I've spent the majority of my time on the court using the created player mode - having made a different character for each position and trying out different build types. In the past, you started as a nobody trying to avoid the D-league. Now you start a bit higher, make a team, have plenty of ways to tweak and customize your character and the skill points per game formula is a lot of fun. You feel like you are always making progress with your character - it's an addictive formula that gets me playing at least a few matches every night. If you like NBA games, this is one I have to recommend.