Following up successful games is always difficult. Following up a game that garnered numerous sports game of the year awards and one that some critics described as the finest sports game ever, is surely doubly-difficult. However, that’s exactly where 2K Sports find themselves with NBA 2K12. Unless this latest entry into the well-aged series is handled with care and delivers something close to perfection, 2K are going to have a lot of disappointed b-ball fans knocking on their door (well, at least on their Facebook page).
“I can assure you that when NBA 2K11 shipped, the focus immediately went to NBA 2K12,” 2K Games’ Chris Snyder tells us. “We did feel there was room to improve the title and we’ve had a ton of great ideas as to how to go about that.”
The biggest of those new ideas is the inclusion of ‘NBA’s Greatest’ mode. A natural expansion of the focus on Michael Jordan in last year’s game, Greatest matches focus on specific players in specific games in their career. 15 different players are available in this mode, a brief scroll of those in our demo revealed the likes of Patrick Ewing, Bill Russell, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas.
More than a mere look back at these players, NBA’s Greatest aims to put you into the shoes of them by recreating everything as it was back in the time period in question. For example, go all the way back to the early days of Bill Russell and his Boston Celtics and you’ll be playing in black and white with screen flicker, an exaggerated ‘tinny’ effect to the commentators’ voices and the kind of short shorts that even Katie Perry would consider lewd.
Depending on which era you’re playing, the outfits, the television presentation and the commentary changes. The commentary is perhaps the most impressive feature, recorded especially for this mode and spoken as though you’re watching the game in retrospective almost like a documentary. There are other nice touches too; text logs that give the history behind the game in question and the removal of the three-point field goal line in matches prior the 1979-80 season.
While 15 legends may not sound like a lot considering the number of quality players that have passed through the ranks of NBA over the years, there are actually a great deal more when you consider the other players involved. For example, Clyde Drexler is not singled out as a legend but he is in the game as part of the 1991 Portland Trailblazers.
Presentation is ramped up for standard matches as well, most noticeably when it comes to the television-style coverage pre, post and during matches. Our first game, a Mavs vs. Heat rematch from last season’s NBA Finals, opens with all the razzle-dazzle you’d expect from a mainstream tellybox broadcast.
Team line-ups are communicated with the series’ trademark million-pixel character models walking towards the screen, stopping in front of the camera as their name pops up below them. Short vignettes highlight the key players and the key match-ups and cheerleaders, mascots and screaming fans add an extra dash of colour to an already vibrant visual assault.
These intros are dynamic in that different players will be highlighted in different games (usually depending on recent performances), cheerleaders perform different dance moves, camera angles change and the crowd displays various levels of excitement depending on the situation and the opponent. Playoffs intros are more elaborate than regular season games, presumably not only to provide some differentiation but to reward you for your efforts.
Presentation in-game has been ramped up, too. “NBA fans are very passionate,” says Snyder. “They know what their players look like, what their tendencies are and what their shots look like.” As if by magic Dirk Nowitzki sinks his own brand of fade-away jump shot just as Snyder says this, sparking a wry I-told-you-so smile from the 2K man.
It’s not just the shots and the AI’s ability to mimic the styles of real NBA team’s strategies that’s been taken up a notch though, the court itself has also been expanded. If you’ve been seen an NBA game then you’ll have no doubt noticed that there’s very little free space beyond the outer lines of the court. Whether it’s the commentary table, the two teams’ benches or the first row of the crowd, players now interact with whatever they come across past those white lines.
For example, players will jump onto (or over) the commentary table if they’re going too fast to stop; they fall into the spectators in the front row and their team-mates do their best to keep them upright when they collide with their own bench. While this ‘feature’ doesn’t add anything to the gameplay it does bring things ever closer to the dynamics of the real thing, at least as far as spectating goes.
As far as the gameplay is concerned the changes seem to be less obvious but still fairly impactful. A new collision system makes tussles in mid-air, on the floor and, according to Snyder, “in mid-air to floor” much more noticeable and more meaningful. The effect is similar to that in Fifa 12 in that you don’t quite know what’s going to happen when two players collide.
The right-stick’s use in shot taking has been expanded to allow you to attempt every kind of shot without resorting to the buttons; lay-ups, free-throws, dunks and all variations of jumpers performed with the stick and unique to the player under your control. Supposedly the AI’s offensive and defensive abilities have been improved also, but until we’ve played a few more games we won’t be in a position to comment on this properly.
Changing the gameplay too much from the genius game that is NBA 2K11 would be a mistake and it looks as though 2K understand that, sticking to a very similar formula as last year. The focus on presentation and NBA history is a safe move but probably a smart one. Let’s be honest though, given the reputation of the previous game, NBA 2K12 is going to go down with the audience as smoothly as a Ray Allen three-pointer.
Speaking as a Knicks fan, as soon as I found out you can play as Patrick Ewing and the 1992 New York Knicks I was sold.