NBA 2K12 hands-on preview

Real men wear short shorts. If you don’t believe me, just wait until you get your hands on NBA 2K12’s new mode NBA’s Greatest. Inspired by last year’s Jordan Challenges, NBA’s Greatest unearths classic match-ups from basketball’s long history for you to experience. But it’s not just limited to His Airness anymore. You get to dominate the glass as Wilt Chamberlain, play as the “The Logo” Jerry West, and rattle the rim with amazing dunks as Dr. J.

Fifteen NBA legends are spotlighted: Jordan, Magic, Larry Legend, Kareem, Dr. J, Russell, West, Isiah Thomas, Olajuwon, The Big O, Stockton, Malone, Pippen, Ewing, Wilt. Each challenge is simply to win a game with one of the Greatest. It’s a match-up of one of their best teams against a rival. The ’86 Lakers play the ’86 Celtics, the ’94 Knicks play the ’94 Magic (with a very young dance-lovin’ Shaq), etc. Win a Greatest game and you unlock both teams for use throughout NBA 2K12. This means you can pit Jerry West against Kobe Bryant or Shaq against himself.

In all, there are 34 teams to unlock in NBA’s Greatest. This includes two bonus teams – the ’90 Warriors and the ’01 Kings – which you’ll get if you buy NBA 2K12 when it releases this October. Essentially, these teams are “gifts” to anyone who buys the first pressing of the game. If you buy NBA 2K12 at a discount in January 2012, you’ll miss out on Chris Mullin and Vlade Divac. I’m not sure how you’d live with yourself if that happened.

2K Sports went all out with this mode. It’s not just that they got accurate rosters, but everything about these games is era-specific. Play with Bill Russell’s ’64 Celtics and the game is broadcast in black and white, with some graininess. The commentary has a tinny quality to it too. Smartly, 2K isn’t trying to recreate commentary from decades past. Instead, the broadcast are done as retrospectives. Russell’s place in NBA history is discussed, for example, and comparisons are made between him and other players. Playing games in the ’70s, before the three-point line existed, you’ll hear how the introduction of the trey changed the game forever. Cool stuff.

The rules have been tweaked to match the era as well. Games allow you to dribble for 10 seconds in the backcourt (modern day games allow only eight seconds), types of fouls will change, and the AI clogs the paint as players did decades ago. It’s a pretty amazing transformation and almost spot-on accurate. I will point out that I could call a zone defense in my games (zones have only been allowed in the NBA this millennium), but that’s pretty minor all things considered.

A mode authentic to by-gone eras in NBA history is probably not the best way to try and experience gameplay improvements. But the most notable is the improved fluidity, especially in the post game. Posting up is now a toggle (instead of having to hold down a trigger to stay in the post) and the post moves have been simplified. All this translates to quicker transitions from posting up to shooting to celebrating like no one has ever made a sky hook shot before.

The in-game play selection options, which were woeful in the past, received a streamlined element too. Now it’s easy to have the AI select the best play for the situation. All you have to do is execute based on the on-screen instructions. Those looking to get a bit more in-depth, can assign plays for specific players and even tailor multiple options in case a play breaks down.

I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with NBA 2K12, but it plays better than NBA 2K11. And the new presentation wrinkles for NBA’s Greatest show a lot of promise for the care being given to the game as a whole. Last year’s Jordan Challenges provided a sense of history to the NBA, something no other hoops game had ever pulled off. That history lesson is much stronger in NBA 2K12. Playing some old NBA matches for an hour was like taking a time machine and experiencing the League in different eras. You know, eras when players weren’t locked out of arenas.

Aug 29, 2011

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