NBA 2K11 Review
It’s indicative of the immersion that NBA 2k11 accomplishes. This is probably the most complete basketball game on the market — certainly the best one I’ve ever played — and the fact that you’re dropped into a game with Jordan and Magic within minutes of popping the disc in just shows that 2K has really thought through what they’re giving you and how they’re presenting it.
NBA 2K11 (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, Wii, PC, PSP, PS2)
Developer: Visual Concepts/Kush Games
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: October 05, 2010
The actual basketball, for the most part, is about as close to the real deal as you can manage with a controller. If you’re a fan of 2K’s NBA titles, you’ll recognize the controls here, with a some fine tuning to make them work a little more fluidly.
It’s the AI that makes the games feel like the real deal. Both teams in every game react like they belong on the court, with defenders moving to pick up switched coverages and stepping into lanes to cut off passing. In fact, the AI can and will slap you up and down the court, especially if you’re not an avid 2K series player. This is a game that expects you to know what you’re doing, not just in terms of play, but in terms of familiarity with the ins and outs of the sport. Casual players need not apply — NBA 2K11 is not the kind of game you buy after wandering into Best Buy, thinking, “I feel like playing a basketball game.”
But the hardcore among us are rewarded with the wealth of gameplay to be found here. In addition to just picking up a quick game and going with it and challenging other players online, NBA 2K11 has a couple of deep and involved long-term modes. My Player mode lets you build a single NBA star from the ground up, starting with drills and scrimmages to impress scouts. The Association is a league system in which 2K spent a lot of time thinking not just about what the individual players in the rest of the league are like, but how the function as teams and how they play and interact with one another, both on and off the court.
All of it draws you into an NBA that feels realistic, and rewards you for your knowledge and passion for the sport. While other sports games can be hit-and-miss in terms of league play, with recruiting and trading coming down to bludgeoning your way through the league by outplaying everyone and drawing the best players by reputation, 2K11 takes the subtleties of the other teams into account. There’s a lot to think about when you’re engaging in trades, and you have to choose the assets you pursue carefully. Just assembling a series of great players won’t necessarily make you the best team, and other teams will beat you because they’re making trades that help them function better as a unit.
Jordan Challenges – a Game Unto Themselves
Somewhat similar to My Player mode, in which you play as a single guy and early on have to hit certain objectives like a decent field goal percentage during scrimmages, are the Jordan Challenges. This is where NBA 2K11 really shines, because while the game does a great job of accurately mirroring the real league, it does just as great a job transporting you into the past to command Jordan during great moments in his career, against marquis opponents, with a championship team at his back.
And the Jordan games don’t amount to just replaying a classic moment. They really are challenges — each game starts with a series of objectives you’re trying to accomplish. You don’t just have to beat the Lakers, you need to hit Jordan’s field goal percentage and his assist count, too. Suddenly you’re not just reliving great moments in basketball, you’re participating in them. Reshaping them. Trying to outdo them. It’s a great idea and well executed, as well. The Jordan mode could be a game all on its own — but it’s just one hunk of what’s available in NBA 2K11.
That’s not to say the game is flawless. It offers a lot, but as was mentioned above, this is not a game for the uninitiated. Newbies will get rocked, repeatedly, to the point of frustration. There’s a lot of failure to be had here for weaker and newer players, and those of us looking for a quick arcade-style experience like NBA Jam aren’t just going to be disappointed, they’re going to want their money back. This is a basketball simulator. Plan accordingly.
And the opposing team’s AI can be a little rough, especially when it comes to passing, which is by far NBA 2K11′s weakest quality. Your passing aim is controlled with the Left Analog Stick, which also controls player movement. Choosing who to throw the ball to means running sort of in their direction and then hitting X to let the ball fly — but often, since you’re using one control to do two things, you’ll whip the ball off in the wrong direction, usually into coverage.
Long-range passing is never, ever a good idea in 2K11, though, even if you aim correctly, and regardless of how open a player seems to be. You pretty much can’t heave the ball down to anyone who’s not very open and less than 15 feet away, because the AI will snag that ball, almost without fail. This eagle-eye ball catching makes you think about what you’re doing with your ball control, which is good, but it also means, when you couple it with the inaccurate passing as controlled by the Left Stick, that you’re constantly throwing the ball away. Some of these issue can be alleviated by switching to button-specific passing — which lets you choose who you toss the ball to by hitting a face button assigned to a player — but in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to switch mental tracks to pull up the icons for a better pass. It gums up the fluidity and intuitiveness the game otherwise accomplishes.
Move Compatibility is Awkward
NBA 2K11 also is Playstation Move-compatible. I feel like it’s important to mention this, despite the fact that it’s totally peripheral to the game and not necessary to actually play it. But the Move logo is stamped on the box, meant to entice anybody who owns the motion controller.
The bad news is that this feels as tacked on as you might expect it to be. The Move controls actually don’t involve a lot of motion, and for the most part tend to be extra confusing. For one, the motion controller basically functions is the right half of your Six-Axis controller. Okay, that’s nothing new — the Nintendo Wii splits the controller in half with its Nunchuk extension. With Move, you can drop $30 for the Navigator controller, which is essentially the same thing. Opt not to spend the money, and the left half of the controller in question is, in fact, your Six-Axis controller. So you’re holding a regular PS3 controller in one hand, the motion controller in the other.
It’s as clunky and idiotic as it sounds.
So with your left hand, you’re steering players around the court, lining up passes, and generally playing as usual with your left hand. In your right hand, you’re executing those passes and speed boosts as you normally would with the regular controller, but you have access to one motion-controlled action — shooting. Lifting the motion controller straight up executes a shot.
You also use the motion controller for free-throws, but that’s about it. The rest of the time, you’re playing the game as usual, except with a less comfortable, less familiar control scheme that adds nothing but confusion. Granted, the motion shooting feels good in free-throws, but otherwise, this control mode is an expensive and useless addition to the game that seems like it went through at the last minute. It certainly doesn’t add anything to the experience.
NBA 2K11 is rounded and realistic, a package brimming play modes and great improvements to the already strong NBA 2K series. This feels like basketball and it feels like the NBA, in every sense of the institution. From playing as a single athlete’s start to trying to keep up with Michael Jordan, this is the definitive experience to beat when it comes to sports simulations. 2K11 sets a standard for really bringing immersion, realism, and most of all, value, to a yearly sports title.
It has its little issues, and this is definitely not a game you can just sit down and play without some idea of what you’re doing or a commitment of time and energy to get down its various workings. But NBA 2K11 keeps on giving, will challenge players in a ton of different ways, and is a big benefit to basketball fans. 2K Games was serious when it put this one together, and serious fans will feel the company’s commitment all the way through.
- Several different ways to play
- Real-feeling, challenging AI
- Deep, intuitive controls
- Lots of realism to the management side of the league and in every game
- Jordan challenges recreate classic games and are extremely cool
- Passing is frustrating to control, and AI doesn’t help
- Hard to pick up and learn for the first time
- Move compatibility is awkward and feels tacked on
Final Score: 95/100