Last year's NBA 2K11 was a sublime tribute to the league's greatest ever player, Michael Jordan, and one of the finest sports games ever created. This year's follow-up NBA 2K12 takes things a step further, bringing in 14 more legendary players and a host of new game modes.
Whereas last year's effort was built around the famous number 23 and his whole career, 2K12's mode — called NBA's Greatest — picks 15 key games from players including Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Wilt Chamberlain and more, presenting them as archive games complete with period detail: '60s games are in black and white for example, and scoreboards and text changes appropriately too. Winning each game unlocks classic teams — '96 Bulls, '61 Lakers and so on — providing ample reward for each victory, and although there's no mini-challenges as in Jordan's mode last year it's still a phenomenal spread of NBA legends, presented as they were in their prime.
The other two big additions this year are Online Association – an online Dynasty mode of sorts where you manage a team in a league with other players – and the similarly EA-inspired Create a Legend mode, better known as Be a Pro from most recent EA Sports titles. While the former is plenty sufficient to keep hardened ballers satisfied – particularly considering the ongoing lockout – it's Create a Legend that really engages.
Whereas the returning My Player lets you build a rookie from scratch and start a career, Create a Legend puts you in the shoes of a real-life player and lets you steer his development. By playing well, practising regularly and fulfilling challenges you'll gain skill points, which can be used to increase attributes and player abilities, with the aim of creating the best player possible. It sounds familiar, and of course it is, but the fact you only control one player puts a totally different strategic spin on proceedings: you may not even be on the court for half the game, with the option to watch or fast-forward to your next appearance.
In the top-right sits a player rating bar that shows your performance grade, statistics and notifications of how you're doing. Pick up a few points and make good runs and your grade increases: let opponents score against you or miss a couple of shots and it goes down. There are game-specific challenges too – limit your opponent to two turnovers, score 20 points in a game – which also net you skill point bonuses.
Controlling a single player doesn't make the game any easier or any less exciting, but it does require that extra level of thought: where to run, who to block, whether to go for the skill point challenges or pass off to your team mate for an easy bucket. Whoever you choose you're guaranteed an engaging, involving and lasting experience that's every bit as enjoyable as last year's Jordan mode.
The other option on the menu with the “New” tag next to its name is the self-explanatory NBA On the Move, and it's here things waver slightly. Whereas in 2K11 the entire offline game – training and all – supported Move, here the motion controller only works in the NBA On the Move mode.
Played with just the Move – no Navigation or DualShock 3 required – the controls switch to a point-and-press style, with an on-screen cursor showing who's selected. Pass with the Move button and shoot with T are the basic options: the AI controls all player movement and dribbling, turning the Move mode into a far more accessible affair than the often overwhelming complexity of dual analogue controls.
Of course, the controller is called PlayStation Move not PlayStation Point, but the motion-sensing is only used from the free throw line. Visual Concepts has instead opted for a light and intuitive control scheme – while the manual lists seven pages of DualShock 3 controls, Move commands barely span a page.
Whether you enjoy the controls is a matter of taste: anyone seeking the complexity of the IsoMotion controls with Move will have to admit it'll simply never happen. While it's understandable that control options are simplified for Move, it's unacceptable that other options are removed too: there's no replay feature with Move, meaning your best plays are lost forever. In fact, you can't do anything but play one-off games – no play-offs, no seasons, no practice mode even. The controls are serviceable, but they're also under-used, and won't come out for any reason other than to play with friends.
Like last year's effort, NBA 2K12 is best enjoyed with DualShock 3 in hand, where it once again proves itself to be a phenomenal sporting game: frequently beautiful, with stunning presentation and even more stunning commentary, its breadth of game modes and depth of control take another step up over last year. The biggest disappointment is the fencing-in of Move controls, limiting it to a side attraction rather than a principle feature, but otherwise the game is as close to legendary as we've seen.