I picked up NBA 2K12 at midnight last night (well, technically shortly after midnight, since there was a sizable line at my local GameStop*) and I wanted to share some early impressions of the game. Sure, I've only had it for about 13 hours, but I ran through the initial setup of the game and created a "My Player" career and played some games, so I just wanted to share my initial impressions of the game.
*Including 2K12, there were four major games being released at midnight, but the vast majority of the people at my GameStop were there for NBA 2K12, not Spider-Man or Dark Souls or Rage. My brief observation of the piles of copies of 2K12 behind the counter showed that sales were evenly split between the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and the Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan covers. Almost no one was taking the Larry Bird cover.
Last year, when you first popped in 2K11, it dropped you right into a classic Bulls-Lakers game, immersing you in the whole Michael Jordan experience, which was the big selling point of the game. This year, 2K12 starts you off by building your "player", which I thought was the My Player character but is actually your online avatar. It's a sign of the increased emphasis on online play this year, and the game even has you link up your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, which was a pretty seamless process (though I haven't actually tried posting anything to my accounts from the game yet, so we'll see how that goes).
Once I was through that set-up process, I jumped right into "My Player", which was apparently the most popular mode last year. I had two big complaints about the mode last year, both of which have been addressed with changes this year. First, the process of getting your created player to the NBA has been drastically streamlined from last year. No more extended pre-draft camp, no more preseason, just one "rookie showcase" game, three pre-draft interviews and then the draft itself. The creators of the game have admitted that it's a step back in terms of realism, but a step forward in terms of fun, and I have to agree. The pre-draft interviews were surprisingly fun to go through, particularly for my player, a 5-11 point guard who I created with the hope of landing on the Heat (one change from last year I didn't like: the option to just choose your team has been dropped entirely. You are now forced into the draft process, which kind of sucks if you're really a fan of one team). My pre-draft interviews were with the Pacers, Rockets and Knicks, and they're not generic at all. They're team and position specific, which was evident right away, when the Pacers asked me how I'd fit in on a team that already had Darren Collison and George Hill.
I ended up getting drafted 17th overall by the Knicks, who apparently liked how I answered their questions about playing in the New York spotlight. Of course, that buries me on the depth chart behind Chauncey Billups and Toney Douglas, which, honestly, is fine for now. My player is rated a 60 right now, which would be terrible for a starting point guard, but is fine for a third stringer (last year, My Player rookies came in which significantly lower rankings, which is the other big fix I like this year. I'm bad, but not unplayably bad). And while the new "My Player" mode allows you to skip right to "key games", I started off playing every game, mostly because I'm only playing 10 minutes a night, and the game allows you to sim everything when you're not on the court. Because of the quick sim, it's very easy to get into a never-ending "just one more game" routine, where you end up blowing through a couple weeks of the season very quickly.
I haven't tried my hand at all the drills yet, but the ones I did play seemed like a step up from last year's. Also, there's now a two-pronged approach to improving your player, both through ratings points (the traditional method) and skills. The latter costs a lot more skill points, but if you have the balance, it makes it easier to make a big step up in one particular aspect of your game.
The gameplay itself seems marginally improved from last year's already impressive mechanics. If anything, shooting might be a little easier, though that may just be a function of me not being as terrible as I once was. Once again the in-game announcing adds narrative to the standard play-by-play, but once again it gets surprisingly repetitive very quickly. The graphics look improved from last year, though hair is still a challenge. One thing I really like is the "turbo" button doesn't just speed up the existing animations, but actually has its own set of them. When you use the speed burst in transition it's really noticeable, as your player will now dribble far out in front of him as he speeds up the court. It's a huge improvement from both a look and play perspective.
It's really hard to make any sweeping generalizations on a game after just a few hours of playing, but NBA 2K12 seems to be really good, and just from looking at the menu, there's a lot of depth to keep me interested. I'm planning on setting up an online association at some point, so I'll let you know how that goes and what my impressions of that are.