(Editor’s note: this article was first published as Xbox 360 Review: NBA 2K11 on Blogcritics. B.J. Brown has allowed us to use his work, edited and adapted to our scoring metric.)
2K Sports’ new revision of the NBA2K franchise, NBA 2K11, is receiving a lot of attention nowadays. Beginning with getting the rights to feature Jordan on the cover AND in the game sparked a buzz that continues well after its release. On top of that, the game is receiving rave reviews. IGN.com claims that it is “the greatest basketball game ever made”. So, what makes this game so much better than the rest?
Historically, 2K has done as well if not better than its competition since its genesis back in late 1999 on the Sega Dreamcast. What has set 2K above all other basketball games is its signature shooting. Maybe the concept works better because of the sport than in other sports games but the mastering of multiple players’ shot separates the good from the great players. Also, the ISOmotion move set is something that is available yet not mandatory. Pulling off certain dribbling maneuvers helps you get into the paint more, but you can do so by other methods of course.
In NBA2K11, they continue this attention to detail and incorporate the personalities of the players as well. Each player has a tendency scale that shows where a majority of their scoring takes place whether it is driving to the hoop, launching threes, or somewhere in between. This makes for the AI actually running more accurate offensive sets that won’t have J.J. Redick the high scorer on the Magic as you simulate games. This personality set also shows a bit more in the plays that the teams run as well. Play as or with Boston with the playcalling on “auto” will certainly lead to virtual Doc Rivers calling Ray Allen’s play where he runs cross court along the baseline to the corner for a three point catch-and-shoot. Even as you play on the My Player mode, 2K enforces this play-calling mantra. At first, it makes sense as your My Player goes from rookie to established starter. Later on it becomes annoying since not running an assigned play for a player that isn’t as good as your created player results in a demerit.
The Jordan Challenge Mode is ultimately the casual sports gamer draw of this 2K revision. 2K Sports had no choice but to be impressive once Jordan allowed them to have him as a playable character in the game and they did not disappoint. You’ll play as Jordan in different parts of his career which will cause you to use him differently (especially since you’ll face different legendary stars and teams). The ten challenges are set up to recreate nine different games and 1 playoff series that Jordan wowed basketball fans with during the entire span of his career. You’ll face Magic, Bird, Gary Payton and the Supersonics, Stockton, Malone, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, the Cavs, Ewing and the Knicks, as well as the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. Not only will basketball fans enjoy using Jordan in these challenges, they will no doubt appreciate the attention to how these teams and stars play. The Celtics will slow the game down on offense and lull you to sleep. The Detroit Pistons will bang Jordan around and make him work. The Lakers will razzle-dazzle and run every chance they get with their seemingly unlimited amount of scoring weapons. 2K even sweetens the pot by allowing use of all of these classic teams (except the different Bulls teams) in the various single player modes (Association, Season, Playoffs, etc.). This feature is one that has been on hardcore sports fan’s wish list for most pro sports games for YEARS! Of course, hoping and praying for certain classic teams such as Barkley’s Phoenix Suns were not possible due to licensing issues.
Sports fans love to talk about “what-if” situations and NBA 2K11 delivers. The award for finishing all of the challenges makes Jordan available to be drafted into the single player modes as well. This allows you to see “what-if” Jordan was still playing today. This has its appeal and makes it so that you don’t have to ‘create’ MJ and build him up in the My Player mode so this novel little bonus is certainly welcome.
The My Player mode is also another mode that has received a lot of praise and attention as well. Though this mode still has its flaws, 2K has made improvements to its experience system and even added a few features to give it your created player a bit more personality. Now the Insider thankfully talks to you less between games and instead, your character has a voice by the use of a post game media conference. This allows your character to gain and lose popularity that affects not only team chemistry but endorsements. As you play longer and choose the different choices for responses (Arrogance, Professionalism, Loyalty, Indifference), you’ll see arrows noting how the different choices affected how others view your character. Though the team chemistry changes could understandably change how often plays are run for your character, I don’t see how the others would affect the gameplay or the team’s choices concerning your character. Local popularity seems to be a pointless choice and league-wide popularity would only seem relevant to the endorsements. Still, after receiving an endorsement there is not a visible benefit to the feature.
Then as you advance your created player to superstar status, take them online with your friends in the My Crew mode. Here you’ll create a team based on current rosters and play with a number of your friends against another user created team. The gameplay will cause you to be locked to a particular position much like the My Player mode is conducted. This is in addition to their typical online features such as ranked matches, custom player matches, leagues, tournaments, and blacktop games. Unfortunately, the execution of this mode is sub-par. Matchmaking for the My Crew mode is horrendous and constantly receives a number of online forum fix requests. Also, the ability to use created players leaves you open the ridiculous number of superstar created players with unlikely stats across the board. This is a great feature in concept but needs a lot of changes in the way of balance. Theoretically a My Crew could have five 99 rated My Player superstars at every position. This certainly leaves little to no room for the occasional My Crew players to have any kind of fun with this mode.
With addictive and competitive modes like simple 1 on 1 Ranked matches and Team-up, 2K has laid the groundwork for a very robust online feature set. On the Team-up mode, you jump into a max 5 on 5 game where the server actually randomizes the teams as well as the position that everyone in the lobby plays. While playing, you can only play as that position (just as in the My Crew mode) and you can only substitute bench players into your position. Though this is kind of a burn it does keep things fair so that you can’t have Kobe running PG, Lamar Odom playing SG, and on down the line with teams that are stacked on talent with their bench.
The online modes are in serious need of repair. Despite the number of patches that 2K promises to alleviate matchmaking issues in virtually all of the modes, more time is probably spent searching for a game where your friends won’t get dropped out of the lobby or left out of a game than actually playing one. Then there are the constant network problems that repeatedly cause the game to end prematurely. 2K would be much better of creating a lobby feature to allow for players to set up their own ranked matches in each of these modes rather than the busted matchmaking setup that rarely works.
2K Sports attempted to continue the usage of their V.I.P. stat tracking feature as well. Too bad it only tracks Ranked 1 on 1 online matches and local games. With all of the different online modes that are available, apparently it was too hard for 2K to allocate the results or even the Leaderboards accurately. Even the 2K Sports website provides little to no stat tracking for any of the online modes aside from the My Player progress or Online Leagues. For a sports game, this is unacceptable.
When it comes to controls with this game, there are still a few gripes. In previous 2K games (NBA2K10 especially) there were canned animations that once they started, you knew the outcome and those outcomes were typically bad ones. Then, you would be forced to watch your player shoot the ball off the back of the backboard or slowly step into the backcourt for a violation. Now you have a bit more control to allow you to cancel or pass out of these animations. Still, there are certain ones such as the “cross body tackle”Â style steal animation that will occur all too often. At other times you’ll have Dwight Howard dribbling slowly off of his leg in the post after receiving a pin point pass from Jameer Nelson, for example. Passing now is even harder to do seemingly since bounce passes are almost nonexistent and the defensive AI throws their hands in the passing lane all too often. Since the release of the game, 2K has attempted to change some of these issues with patches since release. Downloadable updates online have changed the “defensive awareness” to make the passing a little less ‘stealable’. Unfortunately, the default way of passing by pointing the stick in the direction and hitting pass still will send the ball to the wrong player.
Also, the defensive controls have been changed a bit as well to accompany all of the new ISOmotion control changes. Players will find their PG magically drawn away from the ballcarrier in the midst of a lack luster crossover and defensive switching still remains a bit of a chore as well since the response of the player you switch control to has a fairly slow reaction time. This makes anticipation the name of the game when doing most anything online. If you are banking on your ability to react to the moves of your opponent to get your steals or do your offensive maneuvers then you will find yourself giving up a lot of points and making a lot of turnovers. Timing is definitely key in this game. Also the use of the turbo button or the left trigger to man up you opponent seems to enhance the frequency of the ‘defensive magnetism’ unfortunately. Quick dribbling guards will have a field day getting open for medium range jumpers and lanes for lay-ups in this revision.
This will cause a lot of sloppy gameplay for the most part until players recognize the importance of practicing using their favorite teams and using plays and so forth. This will definitely separate the casual from the skilled players. Unfortunately, it will probably shy away some of the casual ones.
Again, these issues are certainly nothing that should turn away die hard 2K fans or even newcomers to the series. NBA 2K11 certain deserves its high praise for their lofty goals and excellent presentation of a quality basketball sim. Even with certain issues stated above, these are things that can and will be addressed with patches over time. Also, this is arguably one of the most realistic basketball sims ever made. Charging calls are made, illegal screens, fouling is more of an issue, as well as just the balance of the computer AI is difficult without feeling cheap. Makes you wonder where the bar will go next year? With so many features, modes, possibilities, along with the amazing presentation that 2K Sports always puts into their games, NBA2K11 is certainly an NBA game that should not be missed whether you’re a casual or hardcore fan.
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Great Game
Short Attention Span Summary
With EA Sports thankfully canceling NBA Elite, 2K Sports has a monopoly on this year’s basketball sims. This is actually a good thing because NBA 2K11 is quite honestly the best single player basketball simulation to date. 2K still needs to put a lot of work into their matchmaking server stability as well as the game balance in modes that feature created players. Despite the online gripes and inaccurate leaderboards and stat tracking, the addition of playing as Michael Jordan and the ability to use a number of classic NBA teams is a feature that ALL sports games should look to incorporate in their games in the future. The bar for sports gaming has certainly been raised.