Heir to the king
The NBA 2K series has been around for awhile now, and has always enjoyed some level of success. That being the case, most people assumed that NBA 2k11 would follow suit and be a solid if not ultimately forgettable balling experience. Then the game came out and fans and critics alike were blown away. The game featured some of the tightest controls basketball games have ever seen, impressive graphics and animations, and a new mode that let gamers play through the career of The Airness himself, Michael Jordan. The game pulled in more than a handful of sports-game-of-the-year awards, and won itself a large and well-deserved fan base. Despite this, 2K Sports and developer Visual Concepts aren’t content to simply ride the high from last year and hope that the game will sell itself. Instead, the talented folks behind the series are looking to push the envelope even further, and steal their previous game’s title of “Best Sports Game Ever.”
Lathe it with energy
Improving presentation seems to be a big trend this year across all sports games, and NBA 2k12 is following suit. Where Madden 12 and NCAA Football 12 focused on increasing their presentations’ realism by means of authentic team entrances and arenas, Visual Concepts is trying to add something that most sports games have been missing for far too long: energy. This of course improves every game, but the finals are what will really shine. In real life, no matter what the sport, championships are just different. There’s something about them that make them so much more engaging than anything in the regular season, and Visual Concepts wants to bring this out in their title. Fans will be crazier, and players will get special individual intros including the match up at their particular position.
Announcers Clark Kellogg and Kevin Harlan will also change to match, bringing up points from earlier games in the series, mentioning games to come, and conveying the sense of tension and excitement that their real-life counterparts would. It is yet to be seen if these changes will stay as exciting after seeing them a few dozen times, but so far I can say that I’m impressed by what I’ve seen.
Presentation doesn’t mean much if the actual gameplay is lacking. Luckily NBA 2k12 is making a big effort to build upon the already solid foundation laid by its predecessor. Last year’s game controlled very well. The branching animation system was of particular note, although I felt like it sometimes came off as a bit awkward. Player collisions also sometimes seemed off, with small players able to push through large ones on a drive, or shots being unaffected by someone running into the shooter. Issues such as these, and others, are being addressed on both sides of the ball. First of all, a brand new physics system is being implemented, improving all player interactions. Big strong player like Dwight Howard won’t be easily ran through in the lane by small point guards. If a player gets run into mid-shot, they’ll react accordingly with shooting animations that are breakable at almost any point. The offensive AI will also be improved, reacting in real time to what the defense is doing. This means no players standing around doing nothing when the defense has them well matched up. Instead they will be able to realize what the D is doing and take a new appropriate course of action.
It may not be the case in the real NBA, but 2k12 is focusing just as much in improving the defense as it is the offense. The biggest change to me is the removal of magnetic guarding assists. In theory this would help players play tight close defense on the ball handler. Unfortunately, in practice this sometimes meant being suctioned off of the player you were defending and onto a pick-setter or someone running by while attempting shift your defensive angle. Additionally the improved physics will mean that hard physical defenders will be better able to use their size and strength to pressure weaker or more inexperienced offensive players into choking up the ball. Add in better pick anticipation, smoother zone coverage, and the ability for the AI to recognize when the opponent’s stars are open and offer backside help, and defensive play should be just as in-depth and challenging as offense.