Basketball fans can rejoice in the fact that 2K Sports has once again brought their best selling franchise back for another season. Last year’s title proved that even though it was the only basketball simulation game on the market, it could still wow gamers and onlookers with an outstanding presentation that was like no other. This year, the game releases among an NBA lockout, no roster updates, and the doubt that basketball fans will even see an actual NBA season. Luckily, you have the next best thing with NBA 2K12, as the teams that were scheduled to play are simulated in the game, giving you the chance to play what could have been.

NBA 2K12 Screen 1
For the most part, the controls will be very familiar to those who played last year’s NBA 2K game. There are only a few noticeable tweaks to the ball handling, but the controls definitely feel more fluid and responsive, especially with the more skilled players on the court. Defense and posting up also feel somewhat upgraded, and give you more technical control over your actions. Perhaps the best control feature is the options on the d-pad, where you can quickly select the optimal play for the situation and get everything setup. This dramatically opens up the accessibility for even the most novice of players, so you won’t be able to make the excuse that the play calling was too cumbersome, if the one-the-fly decision making is not your thing.

The Playstation Move controls are probably the most welcome in the game. The developers haven’t just slapped on some last minute control scheme that doesn’t make sense, they’ve actually created a separate mode aptly named “On The Move.” In it, you exclusively use the Move controller and really only need to point and press one of two buttons, the Move button and the T button. An on-screen cursor helps you automatically select a player on the court you want to perform an action with, you press one of the buttons, and before you know it you’re adding to the human highlight reel. The basic controls allow almost anyone to get into the game and pass, steal, block, drive or shoot using the two buttons. Of course, there are more advanced controls that allow for more flashy moves, like alley-oops or pick and rolls, and are performed by pressing one of the other face buttons while pointing the cursor at your intended player.

The gameplay received a similar enhancement, like the controls, as it builds upon the success that 2K11 brought to the court. There wasn’t really any dramatic overhaul made, but there were a few tweaks that make the game more enjoyable. The AI, for whatever reason, seems more forgiving when on defense. Last year, opposing AI players were able to pick off passes extremely easily, even when you took the necessary precautions and weren’t throwing lazy passes. With 2K12, it feels like the AI doesn’t have that superhuman pass-stealing ability, and you have a decent chance of executing plays when not sloppily throwing passes in traffic.

NBA 2K12 Screen 2
The graphics again look amazingly realistic, and the movement and animations are so fluid that it’s easy to forget you’re playing a simulation game. Most of the players, new and from the past, are easily recognizable not only from their appearance, but also their movements on the court. You might come across a few, here and there, that you’ll need a closer look to determine who the player is supposed to be, but for the majority of fans this won’t be an issue. The sounds in the game follow the quality of the graphics, again successfully creating a realistic simulation environment that give you the feeling of being there. The commentators provide colorful conversations and will not hold back statements that, while constructive, mention key points about why a team isn’t doing that great. The soundtrack is made up of a variety of new songs, so it will be quite a while before they start to get stale. It would have been nice to have some of the Legends’ actual voices instruct you in the tutorials, but not having them doesn’t take anything away from the experience.

The multiplayer component runs fairly smooth, and you may only notice a few lag issues here and there. Even if the connection has any kind of issue, you will only notice your players reacting slowly, instead of jittery motion or any kind of weird movement phenomenon happening when you’re trying to defend or driving to the hoop. You carry along with you a rank card that quickly shows your online opponent what they are up against, and will clue you in on the challenge you are about to face. Searching for a quick match is as speedy as ever, taking barely a minute or two, and the ability to tweak your lineup and options before the game starts has always been a welcome addition.

NBA 2K12 Screen 3
The replay value can feel pretty shallow without an actual NBA season happening alongside your play sessions. The NBA 2K series provided an authentic experience, as it has the ability to update the game with living rosters and the latest additions and happenings in the league. Without the league providing updates during the downtime, you are left with last year’s roster and only simulated scheduled games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you plan to play through your own NBA season in the Association mode.

The My Player mode ditches the Draft Combine and D-League games of year’s past, and you jump straight into a showcase game, where the results determine in what place you get drafted into the pros. You can give a “C” grade performance in that first game and still get drafted in the first round. Immediately following the showcase game, you participate in coach interviews where you respond to questions that mold your new player’s personality. Next you watch as David Stern, voiced by the commissioner himself, announces the draft selections and you wait in anticipation as your name will be called at some point. It might not be as big a surprise, as you are given clues after the interview process as far as what teams might be interested in you and at what number pick. From there, the world of being a rookie in the league develops and you grow and become a seasoned veteran.

What gives 2K12 its legs is the NBA’s Greatest Mode, where you play as one of 15 NBA legends in a historic game against a rival club. You get the opportunity to play as superstars like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Dr. J, John Stockton, and nine other greats. You play a single game and determine how the replay of the historic game comes out in the end. It’s a little strange as the commentators talk about the game as if it is happening in the past, but the visual style gives the game the same look it had back when the game originally aired on television.

Overall, NBA 2K12 is once again the de facto standard when it comes to basketball simulation games. A strong competitor has yet to enter the court against NBA 2K, and if and when it does, it will have its work cut out for itself as the bar is now set pretty high. Players new to the series, as well as seasoned sports games fans, will have a lot of fun running with the greatest the NBA has produced thus far, making this game once again a worthwhile purchase.

NBA 2K12 Box
Title : NBA 2K12
Format : PS3 (Also on 360,Wii,PS2,PSP,PC)
Developer : Visual Concepts
Publisher : 2K Sports
Release Date : 10/04/11 (NA)

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

*2K Sports provided with a review copy.