The Demo for the ubiquitous NBA series dropped earlier this week, and after struggling with my PS3 for a while, I was able to download it. It installed without incident and loaded up – almost immediately I started to buy into the hype for this game. This game was supposed to be awesome. While not a complete revolution in gameplay, it was supposed to give us NBA fans a little something more; which is essential with the looming cancelation of the next season. There are a number of splash screens that give little information and then the game loads up. You are treated to a different cinematic to start up the game, which is a finals game between the Miami Heat at the Dallas Mavericks. There is no commentary track in the demo so I will reserve my judgments of this new section until later – but right now it does not seem to focus on Team A’s starters and then Team B’s starters; it seems to focus on the big name players for both sides. Or maybe I missed it, just because it was not as overt as the presentation was for each team in NBA 2K11. For the Heat the starters are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, and Super Nintendo Chalmers. For Dallas you start off with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, and Rudy Fernandez.
Tip off is normal, and before long you’re controlling the Dallas Mavs in the first quarter of an NBA Finals game (very short quarters, and you only get to play till halftime). The first thing you’ll notice if you’re a power user of NBA 2K11 is that a lot of the higher functions are taken out of the demo. I can’t call for screens on the fly, or set up half court plays – or even successfully double team anyone on their team. Aside from those initial moments of hesitation (What? You mean I can’t double LeBron? Ever?) I was able to pass the rock around and notice that the icons have changed for the players. Last year the icons were pretty simplistic: a Star meant you were a star, and so forth. The star icon (I’m guessing for an over-all rating that’s in the 80s) is hard to miss – Dirk is the star on your team and he never misses if shake Bosh off of him for a second. Kidd has the three point icon (so does Chalmers on the Heat) under his name. Butler has nothing under his name (no straw eater icon yet). Chandler has nothing on offense, but on defense has a pretty obvious icon for inside defender. Rudy has a strange icon. I’m assuming it means he’s a high flyer, or someone who is prone to offensive goaltending. It’s supposed to look like someone dunking a ball into the rim, but could go for an analog film reel for a personal camera. The other major change is that the ‘turbo’ meter and stamina meters are both circular and map with the selected player indicator. An actual picture of this could be useful, but hey, I’m at work right now. I guess this removes some of the clutter on the screen – but I never found it too intrusive before.
The arenas look much more alive than before (the crowd was behaving much more animated, if you pardon the pun), and there appears to be better team AI on defense. Team AI on offense for floor spacing is still worse than rec-league ball. Yet, the demo of the game is significantly stripped down and did not allow me to really test out this system at all. Perhaps the playcalling is better this year? Perhaps in the retail version AI players will actually recognize that it’s not Dallas’ game plan to post up Tyson Chandler or Rudy Fernandez while Dirk hides out in the corner.
The one part of the demo that hurt me the most (besides stopping Wade and LeBron’s unstoppable jump pass maneuver) was the inability to look under the hood. There were no coaching options. There were no substitution options (Jub Jub and Terry stayed on the bench for Dallas, only Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller entered the game for the Heat). I couldn’t even dig deeply to see the player ratings . . . this Demo was for the casuals, I would have to say. Which is completely fine – because it’s the casuals that drive the sales. And as a result, that’s why small market teams with good players will always get lower player ratings / screen time compared to big market teams in video games. The video game industry, even in a series that is supposed to be a simulation that caters to realism, is bowing down to the same favoritism that has infected sports writing and media already. How else do you explain Kevin Love having a better three point rating than John Stockton in NBA 2k11? (It’s obviously not based upon ability . . . )
The Demo was fun to play, I’m interested in delving deeply into all of its’ game modes this year and seeing all of the changes. It’s more than just player archetype icons, for sure. NBA 2K12 drops sometime in October. The actual NBA season may be canceled by then.