The 2010-11 NBA season is underway and basketball heads with a penchant for gaming know NBA 2K11 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC) is the only sim basketball game in town. 2K Sports decided to one-up last year’s cover athlete in Kobe Bryant to grab Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, for its cover. MJ’s and Jordan Brand’s incorporation sets a new high for NBA 2K’s brand awareness. But does its offerings manage to live up to his Airness’s greatness?
MJ’s inclusion isn’t just a bullet point. The 2K team included a mode called “Jordan Moments” where you can relive some of Jordan’s greatest career highlights. They come at all points of his career: from his 63 point scorching of the Celtics in the ’86 playoffs to his final game as a Bull in the ’98 NBA Finals culminating in a chip over Utah. You also have some interesting match-ups mixed in like out-performing Dominique Wilkins or dropping six threes on the Blazers in the ’92 finals to name a few.
What’s more is these classic games include accurate rosters and likenesses to please basketball geeks out there. It’s a joy to play as Michael as he feels like a cheat code. But dunking on heads with Dominique, shooting mid range jumpers with Patrick Ewing and stopping scorers with Pippen really sell the experience. The classic teams can also be played in quick games including the 94-95 Knicks and the Bad Boy-era Pistons. Fans will be miffed that they missed a few Jordan moments worth playing, some worthy clubs are omitted and the fact that current day changes are present like playing zone defense, using modern playoff logos and illuminated backboards for end time. Nevertheless, it’s fun to mess around with the vintage teams and relive old rivalries.
2K11’s My Player mode aka “Darvin Ham, This Is Your Career!” returns with some new tweaks. You once again start as a scrub rookie in the combine looking to get drafted. However, you can’t make a 7’5″ powerhouse with maxed out specs. Each player profile has limits and cost more skill points for attributes that don’t fit their skill set. You’ll get double XP for rivalry games and match ups with superstars, attend press conferences and make trade suggestions around the deadline. You can even get a Jordan Brand endorsement deal. Unfortunately, teammates often take horrible shots and there are no play guides, let alone play calling, unless you’re a point guard. Skill points gained in online pick up games don’t always register and it’d be welcome if your my player didn’t start off as such a bum. The experience encourages you to be a team player until you’re good enough to shine. Anyhow, it’s absurd to start out as a 39-42 ranked player and grind your way up while your draft class peers are mostly between the 50’s-70’s overall.
NBA 2K11’s controls and gameplay are largely top notch. Revamped dribbling, scoring and post moves implore stalwarts to practice them since they’re quite different. They’re not tough for vets yet they’ll have a considerable learning curve for new players. The new post moves are especially deadly and make offense that much easier once mastered. Team controls including on the fly team management, play calling, off the ball movement and manual pick and roll/double team calls are well implemented. Lead passing, pick n’ rolls, and dumping the ball in the paint aren’t as cheesy on higher difficulties and the incessant alley oops and put backs by the AI are just a memory. Perimeter shooting is also a bit easier and playing defense isn’t too tough depending on the player’s abilities. All these aspects come together to provide 2K11 with a layer of depth the franchise built its name on.
The online experience is worlds better than 2K10’s since it works consistently. Last year’s game had a terrible launch since online modes weren’t reliable until a month and a half after it dropped. Online games reportedly suffered the same fate when the 2K11 first came out. But I’ve had the game since about a week after it released and had few connection or lag issues.
That’s not to say NBA 2K11 is bereft of problems. There are a number of flaws abound like players getting blocked by the rim, hitting the back of the backboard on baseline jump hooks and up n’ unders and still getting locked in animations at inopportune times. These instances aren’t as frequent as they were in 2K10. With that said it’s mind boggling to still see them. Franchise mode hasn’t seen any significant improvements outside of a more user friendly UI and a trade watch list. Finally, The play by play by Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg along with sideline reporter Doris Burke constantly reuse lines and can be flat out wrong at times.
Despite touting similar graphics, NBA 2K11 is simply better than last year’s game. Too bad MJ’s presence can’t disguise its sore spots. Then again the game’s revamped presentation and crisp animations bring it all together to make for a fun experience. All in all, NBA 2K11 has a full season’s worth of basketball goodness despite its apparent shortcomings. It’s more than a roster update and makes for a good purchase if you can come up on a deal.