NBA 2K12 review: Living the dream

I could never play in the NBA. Even if you forgive the fact that I'm significantly shorter than 7'2", and possess a jumpshot that's eerily similar to watching a pillowcase full of Jell-O get dropped from a roof in slow motion, there's no hope for me. Luckily, I can realize that dream through video games, and few titles allow me to do so with more simulated perfection than NBA 2K12.
%Gallery-133101% Last year's big draw was Jordan and his accompanying mode chronicling his biggest achievements throughout his illustrious career. In NBA 2K12, it's all about a far-less-known player: You. You're tasked with fostering a rookie in the game's expanded My Player mode, which chronicles his rise both on and off the court. It's the biggest time-sink in the game and, for me, easily the most rewarding mode.

Initially, you play in a pick-up game full of prospective drafts. Your performance in this game dictates your stats and placement in the subsequent draft. After the game, it's to the locker room, where several clubs want to grill you on why you'd want to play for them. Or you could just turn 'em all down, if they don't match your needs, or if you dislike their players, or if their logo isn't pretty enough. You can pretty much do whatever you want.

I'm a cocky 6'9" center who is a master of the offensive rebound, so if your club isn't going to foster my abilities and put me on the winning track, I want nothing to do with you. It's incredibly empowering to roleplay in this way, and NBA 2K12's My Player mode only takes it further once you're drafted to a squad.

Similar to the My Player mode in other 2K Sports titles, there are milestones to achieve during each game, and there's also a team chemistry component to consider, which will be familiar to those who've played NBA 2K before. You'll need their support to achieve dynamic clutch moment milestones; herculean tasks like attempting to mount a comeback against an outscoring opponent.

But none of this would be entertaining if the gameplay wasn't so smooth. The post game has been tweaked to be more responsive and allow for more subtle movements over last year's effort, and an improved shot stick means players have more options when trying to put the ball in the net. Last second fakes and finger rolls rule the day and are easily accomplished with a little practice. Franchise veterans will find plenty of new moves to add to their repertoire.

The game isn't without issues, however. The menu navigation is still cumbersome and the AI is still prescient at times, though it's been scaled back compared to the troubled launch of NBA 2K11. Subsequent patches to that game made the AI a bit more manageable, but in NBA 2K12, you'll see computer players diving for passes and rebounds they have no business knowing about. Still, it's hardly enough to keep me off the court.

Of course, My Player isn't the only mode of play -- it's just the most engrossing. The other big mode is NBA's Greatest, a collection of 15 different historic match-ups featuring some of the best ballers the sport has ever seen. It's impressive how much attention to detail 2K Sports took with these matches, mimicking the presentation limitations of the day and packing each game full of genuinely insightful, inspired commentary.

When you watch Larry Bird play, you see the shorter shorts, haircuts and grainy, barely-SD television filters of the day, but you also learn about his career and hear him being compared to the superstars of today. For longtime basketball fans, this is like sipping the sweetest juice.

Outside of all the single-player modes that will effortlessly extract hours and hours from your life, an online Association mode allows 30 friends to start their own league -- I barely have a friend, let alone 29 of them, but the prospect was appealing nonetheless.

With so much to offer this year, NBA 2K12 handily continues the 2K Sports tradition of offering the best basketball game on the block -- not only because it's a remarkable simulation of the sport, but because it also packs pounds of accessibility and fun for folks who don't give a damn about the other thing.

This review is based off a retail copy of NBA 2K12, provided by 2K Sports.

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