October 22, 2010
From the very moment you slip NBA 2K11 into the disc tray, you realise that this game is all about one man. The greatest basketball player to have ever walked the Earth and visit Looney Tunes world, the one and only Michael Jordan. Bypassing the usual title screen with menus, NBA 2K11 begins by thrusting you straight into the 1991 NBA Final as the Chicago Bulls take on the LA Lakers, a battle that saw Jordan and Magic Johnson - two of basketball's all-time greats - going head to head for the NBA championship. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
In a way, NBA 2K11 is like two games in one. Well, not really, but it's certainly packed to the rafters with more modes and features than any basketball title to date. For starters, there's a whole bunch of players and teams from the early-'90s, boasting some of basketball's most unforgettable all-stars, like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone and John Stockton. There's an entire mode devoted to the cover star and man himself though in the Jordan Challenge Mode, which presents you with a list of ten specific tasks to complete from pivotal moments in Air Jordan's career.
These challenges are good for dipping in and out of, and they're remarkably tough, unless you cheat like we do and adjust the game sliders in your favour. Despite playing basketball for years at school, we still find NBA 2K11 a difficult game on the default settings. The game punishes lapses in concentration severely, and even if you're leading the game by a fair margin, you can soon come unstuck if you happen to run into a stream of bad luck. It's easy to get frustrated and start throwing up silly air balls and bricks to try and make up lost ground. After a minute tweaking the sliders however and tailoring the game to our limited capacities, NBA 2K11 is a lot more fun.
My Player is the crux of NBA 2K11, offering a full basketball career for a created player from the training arena where you need to prove yourself to the NBA scouts over the course of three games. Your teammate performance is constantly graded in relation to your actions performed on the court, penalising bad passes, bad shot choices and bad defensive play while rewarding shots, rebounds, assists, steals and positive team play. You start with a C grade and it's your job to impress and build your grade up to an A or an A+. Despite consistently churning out rubbish D grades, we still managed to get drafted by the Indiana Pacers as a second round pick, which is hardly realistic, but we’re not complaining.
There's hours of gameplay in My Player and you'll be put through every aspect of an NBA career, from completing the Summer Circuit, to life in the NBA being a bench warmer or a superstar attracting trade offers, delivering press conferences and more, as you're still constantly graded throughout. Wining enough games and garnering enough notoriety and praise will win you endorsements as well as making teams eager to trade to get you on their roster. Conversely, a consistently poor performance will see you getting busted down to the NBA D-Leagues, where you'll have to fight for a chance to get back up to the top level.
On the court, NBA 2K11 is much the same as 2K10, albeit with some of the animations refined and likenesses improved. Some of the likenesses are still quite dubious however, and while 2K managed to get Michael Jordan's likeness down to a tee, some of the other classic players like Stockton for example, look very little like their real-life counterparts. Certain players' photographs are also present on the stats screens, which only serves to highlight some of the more dodgy likenesses, which is a shame, because by and large, 2K11 is visually excellent as far as sports games are concerned. There are better examples out there in other sports titles, but 2K11 is still solid and detailed.
Like any sports title worth its salt too, NBA 2K11's presentation is exemplary. The commentary in particular is a shining example of exactly how it should be done. It very rarely repeats itself; sounds realistic with banter, analysis and statistics being traded between the two announcers; and is always fresh and relevant thanks to 2K Sports' constant roster updates and live streamed stats. Every sports franchise out there would do well to sit up and take note. Crowds, ambient sound, music and the game's audio contributes to the entire atmosphere, making every game feel like a big game night on TV.
2K11's menus and interface have also been cleaned up a bit too, so gone are the horrible analogue stick twiddling menu screens and jumping into a quick game is much easier. Roster updates are downloaded far quicker now too, so starting up the game from the get go is less annoying. Getting into an online game is seamless too, although online match ups sometimes suffer from lag, which can really mar the experience, especially if the game should happen to lag during an important play. There's plenty of online games to get into such as Team-Ups and ranked matches, but perhaps NBA 2K11's biggest online triumph is the frequent updates to its rosters and stats, which ensures that 2K11 keeps up with the sport and still proceeds to offer the day's actual NBA fixtures for you to play through.
As for achievements, NBA 2K11's is a real mix, consisting of some lazily recycled ones from last year, a few online ones that require winning ranked matches, My Player Pick-Up games or Team-Up matches. They're not too difficult, but the achievements that require a certain number of stats, points or specific actions during a game are a bit more interesting. Predictably, there's also cheevos for collecting every Air Jordan shoe (40 of 'em) and completing all ten Jordan Challenges, but despite the list being varied, it's still pretty standard stuff. It's a perfectly solid list, but it's just a little lacking in imagination or creativity.
Still the best basketball series money can buy, NBA 2K11 continues to reiterate a winning formula with tighter gameplay, superior animation and refined visuals. Its presentation is second to none, and on the court, it never fails to disappoint. Our only gripe is that it can be rather unforgiving at times and My Player might test the patience of even the most saintly gamer. You might feel like you're making sound decisions on the court, but sometimes the game will disagree and mark you down. One thing we will say however, is that 2K11 is certainly realistic and mimics the fast-paced ebb and flow of a proper game of basketball impeccably.
NBA 2K11's commentary is the best in any sports game without question and the atmosphere of a real game is replicated brilliantly. The soundtrack is a little hit and miss, but that's more a question of taste than anything else.
The shiniest court surfaces you'll ever see, some pretty spot-on likenesses and fine animation make NBA 2K11 the most authentic basketball sim around (not that there's much competition these days). Every little detail is accounted for and only the occasional glitchy animation and slightly iffy player likeness let the side down.
Still playing like Hakeem 'The Dream', NBA 2K11's shot stick is as sublime as ever and the animation is notably smooth and slick. The game's new 'IsoMotion' dribbling sounds like a gimmick however and we'll be damned if we noticed much of a difference. It does feel somewhat tighter and more fluid than its predecessor, but this is recognisably still NBA 2K, which is absolutely no bad thing.
Superlative presentation and the inclusion of all of 2K10's features as well as the new Michael Jordan stuff makes NBA 2K11 the deepest, most packed in the series yet. Player creation still results in some gormless looking players, so there's still room for improvement there. However, the sheer wealth of options and adjustable game sliders means you can tailor every facet of the game experience to suit yourself and there's unfathomable depth here. Online is scuppered slightly by lag, but it won't deter you from playing it.
In-game challenges are enjoyable to complete, as is attempting to clear the Jordan Challenges and collect all of the Air Jordan sneakers. Online achievements are standard fare, while the My Player ones require that you play consistently well, which can be a real patience tester unless you can pull off all the right moves.
Instead of being a case of diminishing returns, NBA 2K11 sees the franchise in peak condition. The inclusion of the sport's greatest player is much more than just a stunt for the cover and resurrects a time in basketball that we remember fondly. Nostalgia aside, NBA 2K11 is much like Air Jordan himself – the all-time greatest.