The National Basketball Association has canceled the first two weeks of its season, and there's no sign the lockout is going to end anytime soon.
That's no reason for hoops-loving video-gamers to suffer, though. 2K Sports has come well-prepared for the league stoppage with "NBA 2K12" (for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $59.99), which delivers enough upgrades and new features to keep fans happy until the real thing returns.
This year's edition of the best-selling basketball franchise introduces the new "Greatest" mode, an enhanced "My Player" mode and strong commentary, fluid gameplay and improved animation.
The Greatest features the league's top 15 players of all time, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as 30 teams from some of the most famous rivalries. The presentation is flawless, capturing the true essence of how television broadcasts looked in different eras. For example, a Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers matchup from the mid-1960s, highlighting center Bill Russell, is presented in grainy black and white.
Once you win a game in the Greatest mode, both teams will be unlocked, allowing you to set up games between past and present stars. You can create a head-to-head matchup between Magic Johnson and LeBron James, or pit the 1985 Boston Celtics against this year's champion, the Dallas Mavericks.
The most significant improvement in "NBA 2K12" is the revamped My Player mode, which lets you build a player from scratch. Rather than starting in the Development League, as in last year's game, your player is placed in a rookie showcase game. After the showcase, your created player is interviewed by three different teams and then heads to the NBA draft, featuring the likeness and voice of league commissioner David Stern.
On the court, "NBA 2K12" delivers improved artificial intelligence on defense and broader offensive skill sets, along with a precise play-calling system. The player models' faces and bodies are more on point this year - especially Kobe Bryant, who looked more like an alien in last year's installment.
The commentary is again impressive, with sportscasters Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg being joined by former NBA player and newcomer Steve Kerr. Unlike the sometimes repetitive commentary in other sports video games, the play-to-play from Harlan and Kerr provides a fresh outlook.
For newcomers - or regulars who need to brush up on their skills - the game offers a training camp mode to practice all your moves. There are nine training session led by mentors Jordan, Bird, Pete Maravich and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Thanks to the lockout, team rosters are frozen and you won't be able to play with any of this season's rookies. But you can simulate the season on your own in the Association mode - or go online with friends and create your own league.
In all, "NBA 2K12" is the best basketball video game yet. Four stars out of four.