NBA 2K11 Review

Games, Movies, Banter

NBA 2K11 Review

November 9, 2010 Blog 0

So last year for, I wrote this

It was right after Michael Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame and I was campaigning to get him in NBA2K10. That didn’t happen, but this year it did and then some in NBA 2K11. The result is a game that seems almost specifically made for me. But did it deliver on my dreams?Without further adieu,here is my review:


Jordan is back! At least he is in virtual form… NBA 2K11 arrived with much fanfare because it is the first game since His Airness retired to feature him as a playable legend. But 2K11 does more than just feature MJ, it is all about him. NBA 2K11 could be called “the Michael Jordan game”, and for Jordan fans like me, that’s a good thing.

Jordan was the primary selling point and a primary focus of the NBA 2K11.  That’s a risk for a yearly released sports game, since all the Jordan stuff is totally new and needs to be added in to the yearly series seamlessly. The game looks to take you back to the heyday of the NBA in the late eighties and nineties when Jordan was putting up historic performances on a regular basis. The first time you pop the game in the drive,you see a dynamic slideshow like opening which conveys the awe of Jordan, then you are immediately whisked down a tunnel, faced with a familiar silhouette. Finally, you are asked by the man, himself, “are you ready?” and thrown into action as MJ in game 1 of the ’91 finals against Magic and the Lakers.Suddenly you are immersed in the NBA of nearly 20 years ago and there’s no going back.

The Jordan Challenges are the primary Jordan action in the game. This mode consists of ten instances of historic Jordan heroics you recreate in these challenges. You have to match or exceed some of Jordan’s most memorable exploits from his storied career. MJ fans will be familiar with most of these memorable performances from “The Arrival”, when Jordan dropped a playoff record 63 points against Bird and McHale’s Celtics, to his “Last Dance” where he buries the Jazz with that epic shot over Bryon Russell in the ’98 finals. Needless to say, if you consider yourself a fan of Michael Jordan, this is about as good as it gets.

All of the Bulls teams from this mode and the great teams they faced are available to play as the legend teams in NBA 2K11. Essentially, all the players from these teams that were playing on that precise day in NBA history are represented and recreated with painstaking detail in an effort to truly transport you back in time to an alternate branching NBA history where you are controlling Jordan’s Bulls. The commentators have many relevant and chronologically logical things to say about the flashback proceedings and time appropriate statistics are also displayed during the games. This all adds up to a genuine vintage experience.

These historic NBA teams all are also available to play in any other mode (except online) as the legend teams for the game. That means in addition to all the Jordan Bulls teams (including the 72-10 Bulls of ’96, arguably the greatest team ever) you also get access to Bird’s Celtics of the 80s, Isaiah’s Bad-Boy Pistons, Dominique and the Hawks of 1990, Clyde Drexler and the Trailblazers of the early 90s, Magic’s ’91 Lakers,Payton’s Sonics, Ewing’s ’95 Knicks and two Jazz teams built around Stockton and Malone.These teams are all impressive and every single player on these teams, with the exception of a few bench-warming reserves, is accurately represented in 2K11. The only drawback is that these are all the legends in the game, so if you wanted to play as a legend that was from before Jordan’s era, you’re out of luck. Still, in previous iterations the 90’s era was criminally underrepresented in NBA video games.  It is refreshing to see all of these players who the average 20-something gamer grew up watching, finally well represented in one basketball game. You really get a sense as to why this era is often considered the golden age of the NBA when you play 2K11.

There is room for improvement in the Jordan Challenges, although most of it is noticeable only because it’s generally so good you want it to be perfect. The first problem is, for whatever reason,you are stuck with 8 minute quarters in the Jordan Challenges. 2K11 is a game that values realism, so it seems strange you do not have the option to have 12 minute quarters to accumulate Jordan’s stats in a realistic manner. If you have to score 63+ points and get six + assists in a game that has 14 minutes less game-time than a real NBA game, you really have to force-feed the ball to MJ in an excessive and unrealistic manner. Jordan was not a stat-hungry glory-hog like Lebron James (oh, snap, I went there) who needs to score or assist on every play, so it feels wrong making MJ play that way.

The truncated quarter problem is worse on some challenges that require Jordan to reach a certain steal or rebound quota. These stats normally happen organically throughout the course of a game and often can’t be forced, so you really feel the time-crunch of the shortened game when trying to rack these stats up. You might have to resort to some pretty strange tactics to up your stats (like having Dennis Rodman shoot a 3 so Jordan can try to get a rebound on the inevitable miss).

Perhaps the worst offender is “The Shrug” challenge where you are tasked with having Jordan make six threes in one half, scoring 35 before halftime. With only 16 minutes to do this, you’ll often see yourself having Jordan desperately jacking up ill-advised threes almost every possession, which is very un-Jordan-like. You shouldn’t have to do that when the real purpose of the challenges should be to make you play like Mike as Mike.

My other complaint about the Jordan challenges is not really a complaint, per say; I just think there should be more. Narrowing Jordan’s highlight-filled, Hall of Fame career to ten moments is not enough. I also want to see old Wizards Jordanin the challenges because, at his advanced age, he achieved some of his perhaps most unbreakable records. It would be very interesting to try to recreate his historic 40+ points at age 40 or 50+ points at 38 with diminished athletic attributes. Or how about more team oriented challenges, like the unbelievable game where both Jordan and Pippen had triple doubles in the same game? You hear these, 2K Sports? I see an opportunity for meaningful DLC here. You’ve listened to me once before…sorta…maybe….

OK, enough about Jordan, what is actually new about the rest of the game? You’d think that 2K Sports would maybe just throw in the Jordan stuff and keep the game otherwise mostly unchanged compared to last year’s version. That would have worked, too, because the Jordan stuff would be enough. Luckily,this is not the case as 2K Sports upped the rest of the game to match the Jordan standard.

The controls are refined and expanded just enough to make a noticeable difference in the game-play while still affording 2K vets enough familiarity to give them a deserved edge of newbies. It is more difficult to beat your defender off the dribble, yet the iso-moves are more varied and branching, often encouraging you to take more shots in rhythm or on the move. This is perhaps due to the inclusion of MJ in the game since much of his scoring came from these mid range semi-contested shots. You’ll definitely need to and be able to make more mid-range shots off the dribble or on the move than you could in previous games . Occasionally,  some players can seem a little cheap with their ability to consistently hit these nearly unblockable shots, but then again, that is the reason why MJ invented many of them, so it’s hard to complain too much.

Most players are accurately portrayed in the game with detailed player models and new signature moves. There are plenty of revamped graphics and new animations.The game looks great overall, with some new cinematic pre and post game animations and even some stadium-specific intros standing out as what’s new this year.

Teams also play to their strengths appropriately this year. The general scoring pace of the game, if you’re a competent enough player to play good D against the AI, is often very realistic. You’l l see realistic stats if you play full 12 minute quarters, although occasionally the shooting percentages and scores might seem a tad high if there is any way the game skews, due to the relative ease of outside shooting. I suggest switching the gameplay sliders to “simulation” for the most realistic scoring, although tough AI will still seem to make more shots than they miss.

One problem that is well noted by anyone who has played this game is the AI’s supernatura lpropensity for stealing passes. You cannot make ill-advised passes in this game, they WILL be picked off. Opposing players will always know that you’re throwing a risky pass; even if their back is turned to you or the ball. This is to encourage more methodical play, but it seems cheap sometimes and the turnovers will rack up for you if you try to fight the system.

As for the features of the game,all the old modes return with appropriate upgrades. NBA Today still is a good way to keep up with the regular season’s happenings with updated rosters that have you play the games slated for that day the day they are actually happening.  That day’s real projected  lineups, taking into account injuries,new rotations, and hot or cold streaks for the players, is all taken into account for NBA Today. It really should bean accurate simulation of the real NBA season.

The Association mode is back for those of you who want to deal with more than one season or love to look at things like player contracts and salary caps. Association mode is more realistic this year, with teams more accurately taking a player’s age or star value into account when considering trades.

The My Player mode also returns with some upgrades, as well. Now your player’s attitude and public image are factors in making your player unique. A new press conference feature lets your player gain or lose support from fans, teammates, or management, depending on how you answer the media’s questions. It’s not exactly Mass Effect, 2 but it is an interesting RPG flourish on the NBA game.

One thing the game is still lacking and I think is long overdue, is some form of a technical foul system. The game has players classified as “expressive”,” laid back”,” neutral”, or “unpredictable”,so why not have that mean something more than what animations they might have after a play? Certain “T” prone players should be a liability like they are in real life. There should be the option to argue a call for some sort of little team boost or something with the risk of getting a “tech” being the penalty for doing so. With everything else that has been considered, flagrant fouls (also never called in the game, although some of the animations might technically qualify) and technical fouls for players and coaches really should be in the 2K mix.

Despite small hiccups, even without the Jordan stuff, NBA 2K11 does enough to make this year’s installment a good one with improved controls, new animations, flashy new presentation, improved audio, and logical upgrades to most of its game modes. With the Jordan stuff added, the game goes from good, to extraordinary. Minor gripes aside, this game is everything a Jordan and NBA fan like me could (and did) ask for.

AYCG Score: 9.5 out of 10