If you’ve been awaiting the release ofNBA 2K11 and you’re a Game Rant reader, you’ve probably seen my first impressions of the demo, and you know I wasn’t too happy with it. It was pretty bare bones; It didn’t allow you to do much other than a ‘quick game’, and you couldn’t even make substitutions. As a result, when I picked up the retail copy, I was more nervous than I normally would be for a 2K Sports release. After spending a good amount of time with the game though, I can say that 2K Sports has delivered arguably the best basketball simulation ever.
As soon as you fire up the game, before you ever see a menu, you step into the shoes of cover boy Michael Jordan and play through Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Win the game and you’re rewarded with your first pair of Air Jordan shoes. Each pair of sneakers can be equipped to any player in the league (or your created player), and give them different ratings boosts. I loved this way of integrating player boosts, it feels much better than the ‘card’ system that other sports games use. It may seem small, but being able to equate a performance boost with an item you can actually see during a game makes the boost seam more legitimate. It gives a new meaning to the phrase, “it’s gotta be the shoes.”
Once you’re able to explore the menus, you see where NBA 2K11 really shines, the plethora of game modes. 2K11 has all the standard modes you’d expect and adds in more, specifically the ‘Jordan Challenge’. Much like ‘Madden Moments’, you try to replicate 10 of the greatest performances of Jordan’s career, from scoring 63 points in The Garden in his first playoff appearance all the way to his final shot as a Bull to win the 97-98 NBA Championship. Unlike ‘Madden Moments’, you must play the entire game and meet multiple statistical marks in order to successfully complete each moment. Beating all 10 moments opens up a new mode, 'MJ: Creating a Legend, where you guide MJ from a rookie to the end of his career, all while trying to duplicate his real life statistics. The inclusion of Jordan and the classic ‘Jordan Moments’ definitely triggers a sense of nostalgia to basketball fans who grew up in the age of MJ, and adds something very unique to the NBA 2K series.
The 'MJ: Creating a Legend' mode mirrors the 'My Player' mode, which allows you to take your created player and guide take him from pre-draft workouts to possible NBA stardom. This created player mode is the deepest I’ve ever experienced in an NBA game. Before every game you play, you’re given 3 specific tasks to complete. They may be statistical goals or a target grade for your ‘Teammate Rating’. Successfully completing these tasks will net you skill points that can be used to increase your players’ ratings. You can also take your player into training drills that will increase your ratings in specific categories. Having a tangible list of things you must do in order to increase your ratings makes the process of increasing your rating very satisfying. But everyone knows, when you’re an NBA superstar your life is full of more than just basketball games. Your created player will have to navigate through press conferences, magazine cover shoots and endorsements.
When it comes to franchise modes, for my money, 'The Association' is the best in all of sports gaming (with the possible exception of EA’s NHL 11). There’s so much depth to the season modes that you can almost get lost in prospect scouting and player evaluations. And the inclusion of the new 'Player Tendencies' information helps you visualize the makeup of your team. You’ll be able to see how often a player shoots, passes, or fouls compared against the league average. The game-by-game presentation is great as well, making you want to play just one more game. It can often be overlooked, but simple audio drop-ins from the announcing team of Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg that reference a specific thing you did last game adds to the overall experience of the NBA season grind. And while the commentary does get repetitive after a season or so, it’s something you won’t mind listening to every few games just to get the full experience.
A game can have all the bells and whistles it wants, but if its gameplay isn’t up to par then it’s all for naught. Luckily, NBA 2K11 doesn’t disappoint. Controlling the action doesn’t feel sluggish and most of the time the player you're controlling does exactly what you want them to do. I mentioned in my demo impressions that one of the biggest problems with basketball video games is that it’s the hardest sport to replicate, and that in turn makes for bad games. I stand corrected, because NBA 2K11 replicates NBA action better than any game before it. Whereas most NBA simulations boil down to 1-on-1 isolation matchups, in 2K11 you must play to the strength of your team if you want to be successful. This brings up one of the knocks on the game, its difficulty level. By no means am I a world class competitive gamer, but I can normally hold my own and it took me a while to get going in this game. The learning curve is steep, but that is mostly due to the new ‘Iso-Motion Dribbling Control’.
The ‘Iso-Motion Dribbling Control’ system utilizes both thumb sticks in order to replicate the sensation of handling the basketball; you essentially use directional combos to perform different ball handling moves. This is a double-edged sword, because while it does add another layer of depth to the on-court game, it can get pretty complex for those not used to memorizing combos for sports games. Yes, you can get away with just using the buttons to shoot or maneuver, but that can only take you so far. A good way to explain this is to compare it to Street Fighter 4. If you’re just doing a few simple combos with Ryu, you can have success for awhile. Once you start facing more quality opponents though, you’re not going to last very long unless you know the more complex combos. With this in mind, do yourself a favor and download the full manual from 2K’s website and go into practice mode before you start up any serious games.
On top of all these game modes, there’s still the ‘NBA Blacktop’ mode which includes a slam dunk contest, game of 21, 1-on-1, and a 3-point contest. They’re nothing spectacular, but are still nice to have. These are the modes you’ll be using for those quick pick up and play sessions with your buddies.
NBA 2K11 is the total package for any basketball fan. Not only do you get to play with your favorite team in what is probably the greatest basketball simulation ever, but you get to control the greatest player of all time in a game mode that is incredibly satisfying, especially for anyone who even had mild interest in 1990s era NBA. With the delay of NBA Elite 11 until possibly after this year's NBA season, this is the only way for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners to get their NBA fix until NBA Jam is released sometime this holiday season. With NBA fans itching for the season to start, do yourself a favor and pick up NBA 2K11, it’ll scratch that itch better than any game that’s come before it.
NBA 2K11 is now available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PSP, and PC.