While most sports fans (and in turn sports gamers) are probably working through year 14 of their Madden '11 franchise, the NBA season is fast approaching and with it a batch of new NBA games. 2K Sports just released their NBA 2K11 demo on both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, a full 3 weeks before the full release of the game. And while the intention of an early demo release is usually to stir up interest, this one may have the opposite effect.
I have a handful of problems with what I experienced, so lets start with the biggest one: this demo is bare bones. It's one quarter of Celtics vs. Lakers, and that's it. No menus, no commentary, no in-arena announcer, nothing. I understand that it's an early release demo and that it's showing the meat of the game, but that's no excuse. In today's gaming world, we're getting demos like NHL '11's, which is giving gamers full modes to try out (EA Sports Hockey Ultimate Team) on top of the standard 'quick game mode'. To only include a stripped down four minute quarter is somewhat disappointing. You're not even presented with the option of choosing what team you want to control, so I hope you're a Laker fan. "But Zak," Celtic fans will say, "If I have to be the Lakers, I'll just sub in Theo Ratlif, he used to play for the Celtics." Not so fast my friend, you can't perform substitutions.
With 2K pushing the "We've got Michael Jordan in our game" aspect so hard in all their marketing, I expected his Airness to show up in some form in the demo, but his only appearance was on the splash screen at the end of each game. Where's the Michael Jordan 1-on-1 mode, or the classic Chicago Bulls team vs. current Lakers/Celtics option?
The second problem with the demo is a problem with all NBA simulation games: it's the hardest sport to translate to gaming. There's always been something about basketball games that have kept them from reaching the level that Madden has, and it's the fact that the speed of the NBA game doesn't translate to gaming well. The game has to be slowed down so that you can actually control your team, and more often then not people break down the team based game of basketball to a series of 1-on-1 match-ups.
Most gamers don't even run plays in basketball games (and even if you wanted to try, they aren't included in the demo), they simply pass until someone is open enough to drive or shoot. The new Iso-Motion dribbling controls seem to lend themselves to creating that 1-on-1 environment, rather than promoting the use of plays and strategy. After playing basketball sims, you'll truly appreciate how much better suited games like NBA Street and NBA Jam are for the game of basketball.
All this aside, there are some bright spots to look forward for. The game looks great, with the best player models that have been seen in a basketball game to date, and if Staples Center is any indication the arenas are represented better then ever before. The animations are smooth and play well in the flow of the game. The most memorable thing I saw was Andrew Bynum trying to guard Nate Robinson and literally falling down to the ground after a cross-over, it made me smile. And the on-court presentation is great, seeing Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic do their pre-game routine does put you in the NBA mindset.
All in all, the game seems to suffer from the same problems that most basketball sims have, which can be overlooked if the modes and options are interesting enough. The problem is, none of those modes or extras are in the demo.
The NBA 2K11 demo is currently available for download on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. NBA 2K11 will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PC, PSP, and Wii on October 5, 2010.