Even if you aren’t a devout fan of the sport that it depicts, very much like EA’s FIFA and NHL franchises, 2K’s NBA series established itself quite some time ago as a proposition that’s always worth the annual risk. It may not quite boast the same level of aesthetic perfection as EA’s duo does, but in terms of the gameplay (consistently pitch-perfect) and its studio’s continuing desire to push things forward each year, its renown as a top flight sports sim is very richly deserved. Many fans will have the same question going into this year’s edition though. Are those stirring Jordan Challenges from last year’s game going to feature again?

The answer’s no – primarily because NBA 2K11 was essentially the one-off Michael Jordan edition – but the mode itself has been preserved and broadened considerably. NBA’s Greatest allows you to pick from one of fifteen legendary NBA players (including Magic Johnson, Karren Abdul-Jabbar and, yes, Michael Jordan) and works in much the same way as the Jordan Challenges did, allowing you to play through some almost mythical matches with one classic game available for each player. You no longer have a set series of goals to achieve during play so the mode is markedly less difficult this time out, but if you’re a seasoned fan of the sport it’s difficult to lament this too much.

Standard practice with all sports games nowadays is to place a progressively stronger emphasis on copying the quirks and bluffs of broadcast television, and an exception hasn’t been made here. To its credit NBA 2K12 takes this obsession to a whole new pitch, and during the game’s My Player career mode you’ll see advertisement breaks, select your avatar’s own brand of exclusive Nike-branded footwear, and even begin your career by watching a recreation of the televised NBA draft, which unfolds in real-time and can’t be skipped. My Player mode continues to be a gripping blend of role-playing game, hardcore simulation and white knuckle arcade thriller.

The controls have also been tweaked, and shooting – which is now done by manipulating the analogue stick – allows you to adapt to your opposition completely on the fly. Like FIFA 12‘s Tactical Defending dynamic it turns something that was initially an elementary part of the package – shooting a hoop here, tackling in FIFA – into something that involves care, precision and a very sharp sense of timing. It will require patience in order to truly master it, but nailing an off-the-cuff three-pointer is now at least twice as rewarding as it was last year. The menu system has been streamlined rather brilliantly and the exhaustive in-game commentary remains the finest in contemporary sports games, and despite a moderately more slapdash online approach this year, if basketball is your poison, you can consider yourself spoiled once again.

NBA 2K12 is available now on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2 and Sony PSP. 

Watch the NBA 2K12 launch trailer below: 

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