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NBA 2K12 is the latest annual release in the long-running series of basketball games from 2K Sports.

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NBA 2K12 factbox

Developer: Visual Concepts

Publisher: 2K Sports

Formats: PC, PlayStation 2, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (PS3 reviewed)

Verdict: 8 out of 10 - If you’re a basketball fan buy this game. If you’re not a basketball fan then don’t. This is the most realistic basketball sim to grace consoles. How much that means to you determines how much you’ll want this game.

Due to specialising in American sports, 2K and its developer Visual Concepts are not especially known to mainstream gaming audiences on this side of the pond.

Say sports and you’ll probably think of EA, but 2K’s games are right up there with EA’s as the best in the business.

In fact, EA and 2K used to be rivals in the basketball genre, but with EA taking a break from its NBA franchise 2K has had the court all to itself and has really made the most of it.

2K12 is the best looking and most realistic basketball game I’ve personally ever played, and I’ve been through a few of them down the years.

An important thing to say about 2K12 is that it’s a super serious simulation. If you’re looking for crazy antics and over-the-top arcade action along the lines of NBA Jam or Homecourt you’ll need to look elsewhere.

This is a properly authentic basketball game which is designed for only properly authentic basketball fans.

Apart from containing all the teams and players from America’s National Basketball Association, it also contains all the intricate details of professional basketball - the laws of the sport, the tactics, the gamesmanship, the jargon.

This is a very technical and accurate representation of basketball and you will need a genuine and deep love for the sport to fully appreciate this game.

2K12 is one of the most punishing and demanding sports games I’ve played. Right from the start this is a tough game to play, with a very steep learning curve.

Many games will ease players in gently, with reduced control schemes, skill assists or lame AI so you feel good about yourself early on as you get to grips with things. Not so 2K12.which demands that you work hard to get good, and if you’re not prepared to do that then you can go away.

I struggled badly to begin with, suffering defeat after defeat until I finally recorded my first victory. Admittedly it was against the weakest team in the game, but it was still very satisfying after so many losses. Even the easiest difficulty setting is hard to beat.

The control scheme, while responsive, is very complex and takes a while to master.

Timing shots correctly is a difficult and often frustrating process. Plenty of bad words have come out of my mouth as I’ve missed what should be easy shots, and then failed to get the rebound afterwards.

Defence is also a tricky business. More often than not early on opponents were waltzing through my defensive line and smugly slam-dunking basket after basket while my players flapped at the ball. If I did manage an attempted steal it often resulted in a foul.

Even now, well into double figures for hours of game time, I can’t claim to be very good but things have at last started to click and the game has become more rewarding.

In fairness, even when the computer opponents have been ruthlessly inflicting yet another dismal defeat on me, there has still been plenty to admire about the game.

For a start the graphics are nothing short of brilliant.

Whether it’s during the cut-scenes in pauses in the action or during live action, the players look incredibly life-like while the animations are among the smoothest and slickest you’ll see. The physical side of the sport has been captured well so players move around, collide and interact with the ball very believably.

What really sets 2K12 apart from others and makes it one of the best produced sports game around is the broadcast-style presentation.

Pre-match build-up, breaks between quarters, the half-time analysis, play-of-the-game award and post-match summary - everything is presented as it would be during a TV show, complete with snazzy graphics and sponsored segments.

This is complemented by the best commentary I’ve ever heard in a sports game. It flows seamlessly, is rarely repetitive and most importantly of all always seems to accurately tell the story of the action on the court.

One minor but very nice little touch which I particularly like is how every broadcast begins with reference to the real-world day of the week. “Welcome to Tuesday hoops with 2K Sports,” it’ll say when I’m playing n a Tuesday night - brilliant!

Another strength of 2K12 is the large amount of content it provides.

There are several game modes, including exhibition matches, season, online and be a player - each of them offering hours of play.

The mode I’ve had most fun with is NBA’s Greatest.

This introduces some of the best players and most famous matches in NBA history. For example, you can go back to the early 90s to play as Magic Johnson for the LA Lakers or Michael Jordon for the Chicago Bulls.

The players are as lifelike as their modern compatriots elsewhere in the game, and also come complete with their signature moves.

Best of all about the Greatest mode is the way matches are presented in a retro style based on the relevant era, including arenas, team strips and TV graphics.

Incidentally, before concluding this, I should tell you PlayStation Move is supported in NBA 2K12, although not in the way you might expect. Instead of any gesture-based controls for dribbling, passing and shooting, which would have been pretty cool, the Move acts as a kind of point-and-click wand for issuing instructions to your players. It serves as a slightly simplified version of the controls on the usual Dualshock controller but wasn’t as interesting as I was hoping for from Move controls in a sports game.

The Move controller is continuing to prove an awkward tool for developers, one which they still don’t seem quite sure how best to utilise.

Anyway, if you’re not a basketball fan then you’re unlikely to have got this far down my review and you’re probably off playing your Battlefield or your Batman. This game probably isn’t for you anyway.

If you are a diehard basketball fan with a fascination for all things NBA then you shouldn’t be here either. You should be off playing 2K12 because it’s the most accurate and testing video game version of your favourite sport to have been made.

NBA 2K12 is the king of the court. In basketball it takes a lot to stand head and shoulders above the rest, but this game does it.

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