My knowledge of basketball is humiliatingly limited... but I know a great videogame franchise when I see one. 2K's NBA series is so good that it literally forced its competitors out of the market, and numerous fans consider NBA 2K11 to be the best sports game of all time due to its authenticity and mechanical prowess. This year, the team faces a stiff challenge in topping and improving on their previous effort, and from what I saw behind the closed doors of the 2K booth, they're well on their way.
NBA 2K12 is all about "signature style": making sure that the virtual players don't just visually resemble their real life counterparts, but actively emulate their unique play styles and signature moves. Each player has has been studied in exacting detail to ensure that little details like Dirk Nowitski's familiar fadeaway jumper are authentically represented in the game, immersing fans in the most authentic representation of the sport to date. The attention to detail is much more than just enhanced ratios and animations, as 2K has been taking the huge amount of forum feedback into account. For example, Nowitski's player model has been completely revamped after fans pointed out that the NBA 2K11 design doesn't quite reflect his personality and grizzled, terrifying face.
Mechanically, NBA 2K12 plans to improve on its capable predecessor by using the right thumbstick as the primary control method for shot strength and direction. There's huge scope for a wide variety of different tactics, but this year, collisions will actively affect shot placement, direction and vector. Defenders can block lay-ups and bump into advancing players, and in doing so, will affect the direction and speed of the ball as it's thrown. In a fun twist, our demonstrator also knocked Dallas Mavericks' Jason Kidd into the bench - who all reacted by helping the player and shoving him back onto his feet. The devil's in the details as far as exacting sports fans are concerned, and 2K are doing their level best to make sure that each match looks as true to life as humanly possible.
Presentation has also been kicked up a few notches as 2K intend to emulate television coverage. Each match is prefaced by a dynamic music video featuring the players warming up, group hugs, stats, a licensed soundtrack and the cheerleaders whipping the crowd into a frenzy... which is uniquely generated for each and every game. As players advance through the season, these montages become more and more ornate and impressive, turning from a basic bare-bones presentation into an outlandish and epic introduction once they reach the playoffs. This should provide a real sense of progression and reward, as well as further grounding gamers in the experience.
NBA 2K12 will also be looking at the past for inspiration: specifically, the fierce historical rivalries between certain teams and the most famous grudge matches ever held. The NBA's Greatest Mode will be the natural evolution of last year's Michael Jordan's Challenge: a selection of fifteen legendary games that span fifty years of basketball lore. For example, Lakers and Celtic have a long-lasting rivalry that started in 1965... and this game, the players, their kits and the team rosters have been authentically (there's that word again) replicated. A black and white visual style and the older, more basic court design also make an appearance. There wasn't a three point line back in 1965, and thus tactics revolve around working the ball deeper inside opposition territory rather than relying on far away shots. Dunking was also a rarity, and these changes have been reflected by reworked AI. The commentary will provide a nostalgic look back at the game, as if two modern day commentators were looking back at archive footage and discussing how the sport itself has changed.
Naturally the legendary basketball players have been studied in minute detail. In the 1991 Lakers vs Blazers match, Magic Johnson's signature baby sky hook and other nifty little features have been painstakingly added, along with AI that reflects their unique skills. The fifteen matches can be played from both teams' perspectives, providing players with " a lot of gameplay and value."
Put simply, NBA 2K12 is shaping up to be the best basketball videogame... ever. It's set for an October 7th launch here in Europe, and we'll be sure to bring you the latest as we hear it.