If you’re anything like me, you can remember the good old days of basketball video games. I’m from the Windy City, so the Bulls were my team of choice. I’d fire up a game, and be greeted to the starting lineups: Luc Longley, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Scottie Pippen, and – drum roll… Player 45! Michael Jordan does not have a track record of video game participation. As you can imagine, when the announcement came that MJ would be an integral part of NBA 2K11, I couldn’t wait.
NBA 2K11 is, without question, the best basketball video game to date. 2K has taken its proven system and improved it in almost every area. It’s not without its flaws, but few games are. Add MJ to the mix, and you’ve got a fantastic experience all-around.
First things first: This game is a simulation, not an arcade game. It takes finesse, strategy, and poise to succeed – which happen to be what it takes to succeed in actual basketball as well. The days of crossing over until you lose your man and then dunking every time down the floor are over. This is not to say that moves do not work. In fact, the new IsoMotion control system will be one of your best allies, as they enable you to change direction, gain position, and control the flow of the game. Taking good shots and running offense are a necessity as well if you want to win games on the highest difficulty levels.
You’ll also have to be MUCH more careful with your passes. No longer can you swing it around without a care in the world – you’ll have to battle for position and use screens to open up passing lanes. There are almost too many tipped and stolen passes, but the level of realism it provides in terms of passing lanes is well worth the adjustment.
Defense takes some serious practice as well. I was very pleased to see that the ability to hold down a trigger and stay in front of your man is gone. You are now forced to play solid, position defense. Reach in for a steal, and you’re going to get torched. Back off too far, and good shooters will punish you. Fail to play position, help-side defense, and the big man will get a lob over the top for a dunk. Those who know basketball will appreciate how the game rewards smart, consistent positioning and strategy, and how it punishes the opposite.
The biggest addition this year is the inclusion of Michael Jordan, as mentioned earlier. This comes in the form of the Jordan Challenges. Included are ten famous games from MJ’s career, including “The Arrival,” his 63-point playoff performance against Boston, and “The Flu Game,” his courageous playoff stand against Utah. In each instance, you’ll have four main goals, which differ. For example, in “The Arrival,” you’ll have to score 63 points, get 6 assists, shoot 50% from the field, and win the game. Achieve all four and you complete the challenge. Achieve all ten challenges and you get to take control of Jordan as a rookie in My Player mode.
The challenges are extremely enjoyable to play, largely due to the nostalgic value of days gone by. However, they can become cumbersome if you fail to complete the goals. For example, before I passed one challenge, “The Showdown,” I failed it several times. Three goals were simple, but the fourth was to hold Dominique Wilkins to 25 points. Since defense is difficult as it is, and Dominique’s attributes are (understandably) through the roof, he scored 26, 27, and 26 points the first 3 times I tried. Quarters are set at eight minutes for the challenges, so you’re going to spend 45 minutes on each attempt. All in all, despite the frustrations, it is a fantastic addition to the game, especially for a long-time Bulls fan like me.
My Player mode is largely unchanged from last year. You’ll take control of a rookie, and start in the Summer League to try to make a roster. You can take part in all kinds of drills to improve your attributes, and you’re graded each game based on particular things you do well or poorly. A few touches are new, such as post-game interviews during which you can choose how to respond to questions. For example, you can respond with loyalty, pride, arrogance, etc. These are nice touches, and provide further immersion into the experience.
Association mode is back again as well, and provides the front office experience some look for. This year, it provides capacity for up to 30 controlled teams, making for a great group experience if you have a few buddies to compete with. Online play is mostly solid. I did experience some hiccups and slight lag, but it was not drastic or often enough to hinder the experience, and some may have had to do with my connection.
NBA 2K11 looks terrific, and it all starts with the players themselves. Body movement is smooth and believable, and player faces are spot-on (for the most part). In the post-game snapshots, you really get a chance to see the level of detail that went into player modeling. The overall presentation is great as well. All of the details that make NBA basketball fun are here and look great: arenas, lighting, starting lineups, crowds, cheerleaders, and even mascots. It all adds to the experience, and it’s a good one. The commentators do an excellent job keeping the audio fresh, and keeping up with the action.
NBA 2K11 has managed to piece together the best parts of past basketball video games to create an experience that is immersive, rewarding, and novel. Though there are frustrations that mostly stem from the level of difficulty, these are changes for the better. Without the addition of Michael Jordan, this would have been a great basketball sim. Add MJ to the mix, and you’ve got a complete package that will satisfy any fan of the game.