Basketball fans, rejoice. Even though the first two weeks of the 2012 NBA season are cancelled with the team owners and the players' union nowhere near reaching an agreement, NBA 2K12 will sate your hunger for dramatic blocks and game-winning shots. Historians of the game have the Greatest Players mode to finish arguments on which stars from different eras were supreme, while fans can aspire to the NBA Finals with their very own players or carefully managed franchise. All the facets of NBA 2K12 are fun and accurate representations of the sport, but the game lacks a consistent theme and presentation to surpass last year's affair with Michael Jordan.
2K Sports made strides in perfecting its already extremely realistic basketball engine. To be effective, you have to get the ball to the open man and take uncontested shots. Even 7'2" Wilt Chamberlain will find it difficult to score when surrounded by opponents, and passing through defenders, especially on a fast break, just results in turning the ball over. The controls respond to your commands well, but you'll still pass to the wrong player unless you specifically select your target. Getting open off the dribble is not easy, and I liked that it takes some time to master head fakes and hesitation moves. And thank the maker 2K Sports figured out that lobbing full court shots after hitting the rebound/shoot button one too many times just wasn't very fun.
The simulation isn't perfect, however. The play calling interface makes it easy to get your team in motion, but I wish there was more visual feedback on how the players were going to move. Cutting through the lane is tough; getting too close to a defender will tie you up for a few beats. That may be physically realistic, but when it results in the whistle-happy refs calling a three-second violation, it's just damn frustrating - not to mention illegal. The game also has a difficult time distinguishing between tapping a button for a pump-fake and taking an actual shot. Too many times the shot clock wound down with my player endlessly pump-faking instead letting loose with the ball. These are quibbles though; in general NBA 2K12 plays about as realistically as a game can.
I had the most fun with the new Greatest Players mode, which lets you play 15 of the game's best players in their heyday. Debates over the selections aside - was it really necessary to give us 1998 John Stockton and Karl Malone instead of, say, Shaq or Bob Cousy? - the presentation of these games feels painstakingly accurate and the picture quality and on-screen stat graphics change with each era.The earliest game, Bill Russell's Celtics in 1965, is even in black and white. The players move and react closely to how they did on the court. I had a great time playing the Big Three from Boston in 1986, listening to the announcing team offer insight and trivia on all the players on the court, not just the star being featured. When Phil Jackson entered the game for the 1971 Knicks, Clark Kellogg was quick to point out that before he was the Zen Master who coached both Jordan and Kobe to 11 championships, he was also a fan favorite off the bench in New York.