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The Passion of NBA 2K12

After an hour with 2K Sports' latest hoops simulation, it's pretty clear that fans won't have much to gripe about this season--even if there is no season.

There is a quality in 2K Sports/Visual Concepts' NBA 2K franchise that often seems at odds with the modern crop of sports games we find ourselves afflicted with on a yearly basis. That quality? Passion. It's just something you don't often see in a yearly series, one so seemingly dedicated to existing purely out of a need to fill a licensing hole.

That lack of passion in yearly sports games is something that I remarked as being especially prevalent in my review of Madden NFL 12, though that doesn't mean it doesn't exist elsewhere. You've perhaps seen flashes of passion in EA's other franchises, like the NHL and FIFA games, and in Sony's MLB: The Show series. But year in and year out, NBA 2K always seems to stand out as the sports game most thoroughly built for the sports gamer. It's not just a didactically built series of menus and accurate rosters pushing a listless agenda forward for, again, the mere sake of existing on store shelves. It feels like a game made by people who legitimately love basketball, and love making basketball games.

Maybe there won't be an NBA season, but with NBA 2K12 just around the corner, you're probably going to be just fine.

NBA 2K11 was perhaps the pinnacle of that development passion; arguably one of the most realistically rendered and deeply satisfying basketball experiences ever put on a disc. Seemingly, 2K Sports and VC know this, because NBA 2K12 doesn't screw with a good thing. What you liked about last year's game--the controls, the feel, the atmosphere, and the presentation--is all here fully intact. What 2K has done is add a number of upgrades and new bells and whistles to the package, some of which I was able to take a look at late last week. And while NBA 2K12 doesn't seem quite as poised to revolutionize basketball gaming quite the way its predecessor did, what the developers plan to offer up certainly looks to be enough to justify another trip to the court.

One of the things that has always marveled me about the NBA 2K series, especially in recent installments, is how well it manages to go about not making me feel like a damnable idiot. I am a basketball fan, but not to the point where I understand the minute differences in strategies, plays, and methodologies employed by various coaches. I recognize that there is a strategy to it, I am just incapable of deciphering it, hence why my basketball career never extended beyond the 7th grade. In NBA 2K12, I was able to pick up a controller and play reasonably well against a PR representative whose sole job it was that day to play NBA 2K12 against online writers. I could pass, score, steal, and block as needed, though given the many months that had passed since my last play-through of NBA 2K11, I obviously fell victim to some of his more devious strategies. Still, that a basketball simulation as beloved for its realism as NBA 2K is anything other than an impenetrable, fear-inducing behemoth is a wonderful thing.

The game on the court feels remarkably tight. Controls are extremely responsive, and now play-calling--if you're into that sort of thing--has been made easier with a new control system designed to allow you to call plays much quicker on-the-fly. There are also subtle changes to the post-up game, which honestly I could barely decipher, but the thing I took away the most from NBA 2K12 is that it plays a hell of a lot like NBA 2K11, and I don't mean that as an insult.

If you love John Stockton's tiny shorts as much as I do, then this is probably a pretty exciting screenshot to you.

The gameplay was pretty phenomenal last year so rather than borking up what was already a good thing, Visual Concepts switched the focus on the court to improving the presentation. That, in and of itself, already seems rather challenging, given the high quality of animation, camera work, and commentary already included in last year's title, but by Jove, they seem to have done it. Watching the movements of the players, the camera, just everything on the court, it's nothing short of remarkable. Visual Concepts even went to the trouble of adding a bit of dynamic interaction with the edges of the court, making it so players can hop over tables and cameramen into the first row. Sorry, still no dynamic player/crowd brawls, but maybe someday, right?

Even better is the commentary from the trio of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr. After spending a solid week with Madden's repetitive, jarring commentary tracks, it made me appreciate all the more how well this trio's dialogue flows together. Never over the course of several games did I hear any generic lines repeat, nor did I hear any odd hiccups in the flow of the conversation that weren't intentional. Indeed, VC has actually programmed it now where the commentators will instantly react to a big play on the court, regardless as to whether a line of color commentary has already begun. After nailing a particularly nasty dunk, all three let out a particularly excitable "OOOHHHHH!" followed by a comment on that specific play, right in the middle of one of Kerr's diatribes about my team's performance last season. He then actually resumed that story once they'd finished praising the dunk. Commentary is so easily dismissed and derided in most games, I must say that it's really refreshing to actually want to pay attention to it while playing a game.

While 2K isn't yet talking about NBA 2K12's Association mode, nor any of its other offline play modes, one feature has been touted heavily: the NBA's Greatest mode. This mode features 30 classic teams from 15 of the league's most memorable rivalries. While the focus of these rivalries usually tends to be on a few key players, like the Larry Birds, Magic Johnsons, and Michael Jordans of the world, this mode also includes some of the lesser known players in those great rivalries. Every single team included has its complete lineup, right down to the least-noteworthy point guard on the 1970 Atlanta Hawks. Other games have done variations of classic team modes, but often focused on licensing the biggest names while just creating generic players with correct player numbers to supplement the rosters. Here, everyone from Dikembe Mutumbo and Dominique Wilkins down to Cazzie Russell and Paul Mokeski is included.

The presentation of the games in this mode changes significantly as well. If you're playing a match-up between '64-'65 Celtics and Lakers, the in-game camera switches to a black-and-white view, with commentary appropriately filtered through the slightly less intelligible technology of the time. Moving up in decades, the visuals will shift to color, albeit with more washed-out visuals. All the appropriate rulesets of a given era are included, so if you're playing back in the '60s, there is no three-point line, for instance. The commentators will also give a mix of real-time play-by-play with historical explanation of the situation between these two teams, shifting between past and present tense that is, initially, a bit off-putting, but ultimately works because, again, the commentary is so good.

The presentational adjustments made during classic games look legitimately phenomenal.

With all of that in mind, I remind you once again that NBA 2K12 does actually exist in something of a vacuum. Much as Madden is the sole option for football gamers these days, NBA 2K is the only game in town for NBA fans. Granted, in this case, there is no exclusivity at work. EA has simply declined to release a new basketball game until it finishes rebooting its previously canceled reboot, NBA Elite. And yet, despite this utter lack of competition over the last two years, it doesn't feel like Visual Concepts has been sitting around, throwing darts at a wall in the hopes of finding something to do with its time. The changes here seem smart, well-reasoned, and exquisitely implemented.

It has been ages--ages I tell you--since I actually found myself looking forward to an NBA game that did not have the words Jam or Street affixed somewhere in the title. After NBA 2K11, and spending a little time with NBA 2K12, I can say that I'm sincerely looking forward to this one.

Alex Navarro on Google+
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Posted by Alex

There is a quality in 2K Sports/Visual Concepts' NBA 2K franchise that often seems at odds with the modern crop of sports games we find ourselves afflicted with on a yearly basis. That quality? Passion. It's just something you don't often see in a yearly series, one so seemingly dedicated to existing purely out of a need to fill a licensing hole.

That lack of passion in yearly sports games is something that I remarked as being especially prevalent in my review of Madden NFL 12, though that doesn't mean it doesn't exist elsewhere. You've perhaps seen flashes of passion in EA's other franchises, like the NHL and FIFA games, and in Sony's MLB: The Show series. But year in and year out, NBA 2K always seems to stand out as the sports game most thoroughly built for the sports gamer. It's not just a didactically built series of menus and accurate rosters pushing a listless agenda forward for, again, the mere sake of existing on store shelves. It feels like a game made by people who legitimately love basketball, and love making basketball games.

Maybe there won't be an NBA season, but with NBA 2K12 just around the corner, you're probably going to be just fine.

NBA 2K11 was perhaps the pinnacle of that development passion; arguably one of the most realistically rendered and deeply satisfying basketball experiences ever put on a disc. Seemingly, 2K Sports and VC know this, because NBA 2K12 doesn't screw with a good thing. What you liked about last year's game--the controls, the feel, the atmosphere, and the presentation--is all here fully intact. What 2K has done is add a number of upgrades and new bells and whistles to the package, some of which I was able to take a look at late last week. And while NBA 2K12 doesn't seem quite as poised to revolutionize basketball gaming quite the way its predecessor did, what the developers plan to offer up certainly looks to be enough to justify another trip to the court.

One of the things that has always marveled me about the NBA 2K series, especially in recent installments, is how well it manages to go about not making me feel like a damnable idiot. I am a basketball fan, but not to the point where I understand the minute differences in strategies, plays, and methodologies employed by various coaches. I recognize that there is a strategy to it, I am just incapable of deciphering it, hence why my basketball career never extended beyond the 7th grade. In NBA 2K12, I was able to pick up a controller and play reasonably well against a PR representative whose sole job it was that day to play NBA 2K12 against online writers. I could pass, score, steal, and block as needed, though given the many months that had passed since my last play-through of NBA 2K11, I obviously fell victim to some of his more devious strategies. Still, that a basketball simulation as beloved for its realism as NBA 2K is anything other than an impenetrable, fear-inducing behemoth is a wonderful thing.

The game on the court feels remarkably tight. Controls are extremely responsive, and now play-calling--if you're into that sort of thing--has been made easier with a new control system designed to allow you to call plays much quicker on-the-fly. There are also subtle changes to the post-up game, which honestly I could barely decipher, but the thing I took away the most from NBA 2K12 is that it plays a hell of a lot like NBA 2K11, and I don't mean that as an insult.

If you love John Stockton's tiny shorts as much as I do, then this is probably a pretty exciting screenshot to you.

The gameplay was pretty phenomenal last year so rather than borking up what was already a good thing, Visual Concepts switched the focus on the court to improving the presentation. That, in and of itself, already seems rather challenging, given the high quality of animation, camera work, and commentary already included in last year's title, but by Jove, they seem to have done it. Watching the movements of the players, the camera, just everything on the court, it's nothing short of remarkable. Visual Concepts even went to the trouble of adding a bit of dynamic interaction with the edges of the court, making it so players can hop over tables and cameramen into the first row. Sorry, still no dynamic player/crowd brawls, but maybe someday, right?

Even better is the commentary from the trio of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr. After spending a solid week with Madden's repetitive, jarring commentary tracks, it made me appreciate all the more how well this trio's dialogue flows together. Never over the course of several games did I hear any generic lines repeat, nor did I hear any odd hiccups in the flow of the conversation that weren't intentional. Indeed, VC has actually programmed it now where the commentators will instantly react to a big play on the court, regardless as to whether a line of color commentary has already begun. After nailing a particularly nasty dunk, all three let out a particularly excitable "OOOHHHHH!" followed by a comment on that specific play, right in the middle of one of Kerr's diatribes about my team's performance last season. He then actually resumed that story once they'd finished praising the dunk. Commentary is so easily dismissed and derided in most games, I must say that it's really refreshing to actually want to pay attention to it while playing a game.

While 2K isn't yet talking about NBA 2K12's Association mode, nor any of its other offline play modes, one feature has been touted heavily: the NBA's Greatest mode. This mode features 30 classic teams from 15 of the league's most memorable rivalries. While the focus of these rivalries usually tends to be on a few key players, like the Larry Birds, Magic Johnsons, and Michael Jordans of the world, this mode also includes some of the lesser known players in those great rivalries. Every single team included has its complete lineup, right down to the least-noteworthy point guard on the 1970 Atlanta Hawks. Other games have done variations of classic team modes, but often focused on licensing the biggest names while just creating generic players with correct player numbers to supplement the rosters. Here, everyone from Dikembe Mutumbo and Dominique Wilkins down to Cazzie Russell and Paul Mokeski is included.

The presentation of the games in this mode changes significantly as well. If you're playing a match-up between '64-'65 Celtics and Lakers, the in-game camera switches to a black-and-white view, with commentary appropriately filtered through the slightly less intelligible technology of the time. Moving up in decades, the visuals will shift to color, albeit with more washed-out visuals. All the appropriate rulesets of a given era are included, so if you're playing back in the '60s, there is no three-point line, for instance. The commentators will also give a mix of real-time play-by-play with historical explanation of the situation between these two teams, shifting between past and present tense that is, initially, a bit off-putting, but ultimately works because, again, the commentary is so good.

The presentational adjustments made during classic games look legitimately phenomenal.

With all of that in mind, I remind you once again that NBA 2K12 does actually exist in something of a vacuum. Much as Madden is the sole option for football gamers these days, NBA 2K is the only game in town for NBA fans. Granted, in this case, there is no exclusivity at work. EA has simply declined to release a new basketball game until it finishes rebooting its previously canceled reboot, NBA Elite. And yet, despite this utter lack of competition over the last two years, it doesn't feel like Visual Concepts has been sitting around, throwing darts at a wall in the hopes of finding something to do with its time. The changes here seem smart, well-reasoned, and exquisitely implemented.

It has been ages--ages I tell you--since I actually found myself looking forward to an NBA game that did not have the words Jam or Street affixed somewhere in the title. After NBA 2K11, and spending a little time with NBA 2K12, I can say that I'm sincerely looking forward to this one.

Staff
Posted by scarace360

basket ball.

Edited by ahgunsillyo

Oh man, is that a Seattle Sonics jersey I see? 
 
EDIT:  Man, that's totally Shawn Kemp.

Posted by thornie_delete

Thank you Alex for being a worthy voice for sports gaming on Giant Bomb! Great article, can't wait for this to drop.

Posted by BoG

I only care about an image of my team: The Jazz. Stockton and Malone, my childhood heroes. Ah, those were the days. 
Moderator
Posted by The_Nubster

Looney Tunes DLC?

Posted by JJWeatherman
@thornie said:

Thank you Alex for being a worthy voice for sports gaming on Giant Bomb! Great article, can't wait for this to drop.

Word. 
 
I wish I had money to buy this. :/
Posted by thirteenyahs

I see Sonics in this article, sooooooo happy.

Posted by PoToSkull

Great preview Alex. NBA 2K is definitley one of those franchises that every game enthusiast should try out. Most hardcore gamers give sports games a hard time, but like you said the passion in creating these games are the same as any other AAA game. Visual concept doesn't just want to make a great sports videogame, they want to make a great videogame period.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

Basketball. Sounds like more of it!

@JJWeatherman: 2K11 was one of the better iterations I've played recently. Maybe pick that up on the cheap.

Edited by JJWeatherman
@AlwaysBeClothing said:

Basketball. Sounds like more of it!

@JJWeatherman: 2K11 was one of the better iterations I've played recently. Maybe pick that up on the cheap.

Oh, I already own that. Bought it day one just like I have for all of the NBA 2K games since 2K5. I just don't have money right now, and I probably still won't by the time this game releases. Pretty sad about that, but I'll live. Besides, these games always drop to $40 fairly quickly. Probably in my better interest to wait.
Edited by JayDee

2k11 didn't revolutionize shit, game journalists just never played 2k10. or 9 or 8 etc. its incremental improvements. the addition of classic stuff has been great, but it isn't why you get it.

Posted by daggon55

Stockton to Malone!

Not usual a sports game guy, but this actually sounds pretty interesting.

Posted by CrashTanuki

Don't care about the gimmick mode, so I just want to know if passing is fixed in the career mode and what changes/improvements are being made to career/franchise. I also don't want commentary that repeats so often as NBA 2K11 did, though that may just be a limitation of the medium since real announcers continually have new material to talk about for the nine months that the season lasts.

Posted by blacklab

Basketball is my favorite sport, I love the way they dribble up and down the court

Posted by leejunfan83

as a basketball junkie I enjoyed the read also good to see coverage of sports games

Posted by forkboy
@BoG: Shit yeah.  Stockton & Malone!  Those NBA 2K guys really do know how to create a bloody good sports game.
Posted by JayCee
Posted by heatDrive88

Hell yeah. Maybe I'll actually buy a real basketball game this year, rather than just laying it down in NBA Jam.

Posted by alexisg

Dear Alex, Coonce and I want to play! Sincerely, -Alexis

Staff
Posted by Kato

Great preview! Unfortunately, not EVERY player from the classic teams is in the game. Charles Barkley is noticeably absent. :(

Posted by Cake

Awesome article.
Thank the GODS that 2K Sports started releasing it on the PC a few years back. Can't wait.

Posted by yevinorion

Great article. Really can't wait for this game.

Posted by TheGreatGuero

Glad to hear Steve Kerr's now one of the commentators. Though, I have this to say...
 
I would really like if it if they'd hire other commentators for the earlier eras. Commentary was a different kind of style back then, it's very weird to hear the current commentators being involved in games from 30-40 years ago. I think it would really help sell the presentation so much more.
 
With that said, everything else sounds great and I can't wait to play it.

Posted by iceman228433

On the survey i asked for more sports game coverage and here we go thank you.

Posted by Cirdain

@iceman228433 said:

On the survey i asked for more sports game coverage and here we go thank you.

You were.. that guy..?

I really don't care (because I'm really bad at all sports games for some reason)

Posted by ohjtbehaaave

This is how you build and tweak an awesome sports game engine!  NBA 2K 11/12 is also the proof of QUALITY and reason most feel that Visual Concepts would have had an NFL 2K12 football game  being so much better than Madden at this point that it would be on another planet and blow Madden's doors off.  Seriously... if they gave VC the same amount of Dev time and $$$ that Tiburon had with Madden... NFL 2K12 would be light years ahead of Madden in every category.  We'd actually be EXCITED for a FB game... just like we are for this NBA game.  

Edited by Dark_Lord_Spam

I exist purely out of a need to fill a hole of a different kind.
 
...Sorry, everyone.

Posted by afjkidd5

This is looking fantastic. I just wish the lockout wouldn't rain on the game's parade.

Posted by lead_farmer

I want this game so bad.

Posted by Luck3ySe7en

@Dark_Lord_Spam said:

I exist purely out of a need to fill a hole of a different kind. ...Sorry, everyone.

Your bunghole? ... Sorry sir.

And shit that classic era stuff sounds so awesome

Posted by SavoyPrime

I LOVED NBA 2K11 and can't wait for the this installment!

Posted by sublime90

i loved 2k11 and this is looking pretty awesome as well. had no idea they were changing the color and graphical style while going vack to the older teams in the 60's thats just icing on this already delicious cake.

Posted by hwy_61

Great preview Alex! October can't come soon enough!

Posted by hermberger

As a fan of 2k11, this could not sound any better. Can't wait!

Posted by Redbullet685

Sounds good. Really love 2k11. 

Posted by Brendan

I'm pretty impressed with the sheer amount of detail the devs seemed to have put in this game. I don't plan on playing it or anything, but hats off to them.

Posted by YoungBuck

Please have a quick look for NBA 2K12.

Posted by JustinAquarius

The old camera filters and presentation effects for those Greatest games looks amazing.

Posted by paulunga

Another series I feel has been getting better and better from year to year is Tiger Woods PGA Tour. The Masters is one of my favourite games of the year and I'm not even interested in golf outside of videogames.

Posted by DevilChocolate

Can't Wait!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Fjordson

Absolutely loved 2K11, the only sports game I can remember buying in the last decade. Great to hear that 2K12 is continuing the upward trend.

Posted by Slaneesh

Alex you belong on video games. This was a fantastic article

Posted by sins_of_mosin

I've skipped basketball games the last 2 years but I'm excited to get this when it comes out.  And much love for Stockton baby!
Posted by vinsanity09
@JayDee said:
2k11 didn't revolutionize shit, game journalists just never played 2k10. or 9 or 8 etc. its incremental improvements. the addition of classic stuff has been great, but it isn't why you get it.
What? ask any b-ball fan they'll tell you that NBA 2K11 is probably the best NBA simulation game that they've played. I myself think that it's as good as NBA Live 2003 was at the time.
Posted by leejunfan83

@YoungBuck: yes even if coonce has to do it

Posted by JayDee
@vinsanity09: i loved it too, but it plays exactly the same as 2k10. not revolutionary at all. the mj stuff was the only reason sites covered it.
Posted by JCTango

Damn.. I can't wait for this to come out!
 
Great article, Alex!

Posted by Strike11249

hopefully everyone cant make a 99'er again like last year. NBA continually gets better but I just really hope crew gets fixed this year

Posted by jthomas1117

This'll be a day-1 purchase for me.

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