I’m going to do the total opposite of just about every NBA 2K12 review to date and just flat-out say that this game has actually made me more excited about the players and owners working in tandem to ensure that whomever at the collegiate level projects as the next Jerome James will never have to work an honest day in his life. That’s not to say that I have a particularly vested interest in the regular season: all the talk about whether the NBA can maintain its momentum after one of the most exciting years in its history ignores that some of us are Sixers fans; and even if the new CBA allows the possibility of random Eastern Conference teams contracting river blindness, I still don’t see how they’re getting out of the first round in the next three years. And that’s not to say that NBA 2K12 is somehow an inferior product: it’s almost certainly the most realistic and distinguished basketball game ever made, if not the most fun (mostly because it is the most realistic). Nah, after spending a few weeks with the game, I absolutely loathe the Phoenix Suns organization in a way that makes the stakes of the lockout feel real: I cannot fucking stand the way they operate.
And the reason? Well, as much as I probably should’ve familiarized myself with even the basics of the NBA 2K12 experience—drills, franchise mode, making sure I know the difference between the pass button and the one that shoots, etc.—I dove right into the My Player role-playing mode, and the Phoenix Suns triggered mutually assured destruction by drafting me in the first round. And that franchise is a complete fucking sinkhole—the most obvious demonstration of which is this decision.
Of course, my apoplectic reaction to the situation leads me to believe that My Player is the finest of its ilk for one reason and one reason alone: It punishes me for being me. I occasionally hear about psychological studies saying that men are more likely to fantasize about their coworkers than lingerie models due to attainability; and perhaps a parallel drive exists in my desire to involve myself in these Road to the Show-type endeavors rendering my frame as accurately as possible. And despite all evidence to the contrary in real life, being 5’6” and about 150 lbs. isn’t much of an obstacle to having a career in professional sports. Maybe I can’t snag an errant pass or two in NCAA Football, but otherwise, I make do just fine on account of ensuring an exorbitant number of slant patterns call my number. Likewise, Tim Lincecum is seen as a physical freak and possible creation of applied NASA science for being 5’10” and about 175 pounds. However, my dimensions allow me to not only be a closer tossing 98 MPH heat, but I can easily move up to the majors and be an innings eater as well. The first sign that NBA 2K12 has its shit together? The shortest your player can be is 5’7”.
Still, maybe Fake Ian Cohen made some friends on the Fake AAU circuit back in the day, because I somehow got invited to the most exclusive pre-draft workout, which is basically a 5-on-5 game where you’re to show as little regard for your teammates as possible in order to achieve a predetermined set of player goals—if it were possible to underhandedly tack on a few additional rebounds, Ricky Davis-style, I totally would’ve. After that, you simply get to move on to interviewing with three separate teams in your draft range, and it’s essentially a 22-year old’s dream in that they don’t ask you anything about what you accomplished in college. And it seems logical, if you manage to get past teams overlooking certain scouting flaws on your behalf, such as “tremendously undersized” and “lacks offensive skill.” The Golden State Warriors, acknowledging that their best and possibly only good players are interchangeable with each other, asked about what I fit rather than, I dunno, searching for something other than a 5’7” point guard (albeit a pass-first PG). The Milwaukee Bucks asked how I felt about the possibility of actually living in Milwaukee. My first time through, I avoided the “fuck off” options (there’s one in every situation), but I will undoubtedly get a little more Tommy Vercetti with it next time around.
But come draft night, both passed me over. The Phoenix Suns drafted me with the 14th pick of the first round (and you’ll notice that they had the 14th pick in the draft last year too. In other words, you’re gonna wait until 2K13 to play as Jimmer or Tristan Thompson or whomever). I vowed to make them pay.
Problem is, my Phoenix Suns are just phenomenally bad. We lose and lose often and lose by the kind of margins you only see in women’s college basketball when a team in the top 10 plays any other team not in the top 10. Sometimes we’re already down by double digits by the time I get subbed in—this usually occurs midway through the first quarter. And most importantly, I’m clearly, clearly the worst player on the floor every time I get subbed in, yet there seem to be no individual repercussions whatsoever. This is clearly a team that has no vested interest in winning. And I actually get to participate in the post-game press conference—just me and Alvin Gentry answering the tough questions from reporters while Steve Nash stares off into the middle distance, trying to remember times from a decade prior where he could very well have chalked up a triple double and slept with Elizabeth Hurley on the same night.
That is, until it was Aaron Brooks fielding heat about why we somehow managed to let the Golden State Warriors bomb out on us to the tune of another 30-point loss. I’ve seen a few complaints about how superstars get traded too easily in NBA 2K12 (which obviously compromises its realism, post-lockout), and yeah, my 25% shooting clip from the field gave the front office the incentive to trade Steve Nash to … the Kings? For a package centered around Jason Thompson? I’m not saying the trade was wholly unfair, I mean, we did get Sam Dalembert.
And so, your 2011 Phoenix Suns field a starting lineup that is clearly the worst in recent memory. Will Bynum is our starting point guard and I vacillate between forgetting he isn’t at Georgia Tech anymore and that he’s even still in the NBA. There’s Aaron Brooks, who wants to handle as much as a point guard but pop off like a shooting guard. In the rare event that Vince Carter crashes the boards, he’ll just drive to the hoop hoping to get fouled. Jason Maxiell or Jason Thompson starts at the 4. I forget which. And Marcin Gortat … holy shit.
Now THIS is where NBA 2K12 really earns its money. See, in nearly every other RPG-style mode, you find yourself pretty much marooned from the rest of the team. Even though your answers to post-game interviews have some sort of effect on team chemistry and your league-wide popularity, that doesn’t necessarily translate into me being able to make a layup one out of every four attempts—mostly I just find it remarkable that my player is given the whitest attributes and court attire, and he still shows up wearing a Chopper suit and talking with a “black” accent.
But holy shit, does Marcin Gortat have a raving anti-Semitism that I’m unaware of? Because the only explanation for his very specific ineptitude is that he’s trying to starve out a future generation of Jews, starting with my own offspring (it’s assumed Fake Ian Cohen has his fun on the road, nahmean?). He’s not so much of a problem when I’m running the transition game, but that’s rare seeing as how the other team tends to shoot something around 75% when I’m on the floor (and yet, somehow it always hovers around 50% when the final statistics come in). But I’m stuck relying on outlet passes to Aaron Brooks to rack up my assists, and that’s probably why I average about two a game.
Which goes back to the earlier warning about NBA 2K12—it’s not easy to play at all. If it’s not a straight-up Power Pad/“fitness game,” my preference is that the simulated action should, I dunno, feel more intuitive than the real-life version. The assumption inherent in all NBA 2K12 previews thus far is that there are no converts—everyone comes in with the same level of familiarity, and as a pass-first point guard with a limited skill set, imagine the problems caused by passing being by far the most frustrating thing you can do in this game—you can either scroll through a battery of time-consuming touch passing, or you could take the time and practice and learn how to do it the real way. Once again, I assume all the raves on Metacritic don’t account for those of us who haven’t picked up a 5-on-5 sim since Bulls vs. Blazers. And beyond that, Sim Ian plays defense like he’s on roller skates.
So yeah, when I make a pass that’s not wholly errant (usually to a wide-open Channing Frye or a marginally interested Jason Thompson idling 17 feet away from the rim) or to my backcourt mate who’s simply hanging around the perimeter, it goes into Marcin Gortat, who’s nowhere near the basket, but insists on backing down the opposing center in order to make one of his two post maneuvers, a fadeaway with two on the shot clock or a grounded skyhook. I’ve never seen a seven-footer play entirely under the rim, but here we are.
As for the game itself, the presentation is absolutely phenomenal—usually, the highest compliment you can pay a simulation is that it’s indistinguishable from the real thing at a distance, but with NBA 2K12, it’s perhaps the first sports game that’s indistinguishable from the real thing if you put it on mute (which is not to say the graphics aren’t top notch, aside from some eerily Botox’d uncanny valley shit). I mean, the sheer depth of the backhanded compliments the announcers can pay the Sixers about their youth and the effect of Doug Collins!
And, you know, it realizes that it’s 2011 and you don’t have to resort to NBA Jam-style tactics in order to have fun with this stuff. And that’s what makes NBA 2K12 so great—it leaves to the imagination whether your creation in My Player really is that bad or whether the game itself overshot its level of difficulty on account of realism. And thus, you want to improve, because that’s the only way you’ll know. You want to win. You react to turnovers and “bad steal attempts” that lower your Teammate Rating by overcompensating out of frustration with wild shots and worse steal attempts which will almost certainly dig a deeper hole. It becomes something close to emotional. Lang Whitaker did a great piece on this game in The Classical, which acknowledged the nuclear option anytime your significant other asks why you dedicate so much time to videogames—what’s the point at getting better at them, when the only reward is getting better at them? And yet, “getting better” is the reward of My Player and—when I hit a three-pointer to put the Suns up by six in the last minute, not only was I ecstatic to actually hit a shot, but holy crap, we were going to win! We stood at 4-19. But that’s the mystery of NBA 2K12, a game which either lacks AI adjustments or hides them incredibly well—what exactly is the learning curve? Do my outlet passes move with the velocity and flight arc of a punctured air balloon because of a mechanical flaw, or because I need to get better? Will I start hitting shots if I stop hoarding skill points? Do I really need to take my teammates out to dinner, because that is an option? Fuck, I better get more games under my belt.
But seriously, though—fuck Marcin Gortat.