Every year I am excited about NBA 2K, but there was something different about this year. The biggest of which was the inclusion of a player who some believe (including myself) is the greatest player to ever step on the hardwood, His Airness, Michael Jeffrey Jordan. NBA 2K11 is the first time that I can recall in the history of modern sports videogame franchises that a retired player has appeared as the cover athlete(save off again on again Brett Favre but he doesn’t count). When I heard that MJ would be tightly incorporated into several of the game modes, I thought this will either be one of the most awesome things I have ever seen or it will be terrible and cheesy. I am happy to report that NBA 2K11 redefines excellence in not only NBA videogames, but in all sports games period.
There is so much to talk about in this year’s game it’s almost hard to know where to start, but I will start where I would want me to start if I was a fan, so let’s talk about MJ shall we.
Michael Jordan In NBA 2K11
Michael Jordan has his own dedicated mode in NBA 2K11 and its literally called Michael Jordan. Clicking on this menu drops you into another menu with four options: The Jordan Challenge, Classic Bulls Teams, My Jordans, and MJ: Creating A Legend. The Jordan Challenge is a collection of 10 challenges that will allow you to step into MJ’s shoes during some of the greatest moments of his NBA career including the “The Flu Game”, “The Shrug”, or one of everyone’s favorites “The Double Nickel”. Each challenge consist of 3 to 4 objectives that must all be met during the course of the game. In order to unlock the MJ: Creating A Legend mode you must complete all 10 challenges and that my friends is no easy task. Everything about this mode from an authenticity standpoint is right on, the difficulty of some of the challenges,however, will take the fun away for a lot of players. While you can save your game if you are in the middle of a challenge and come back to it later, it still doesn’t change the fact that all objectives need to be completed in one game and you can’t combine games. For example, I decided to try what I thought was one of the easier of the 10, which is called “The Shootout”. This is classic MJ vs Dominique and all you have to do is Outscore Dominique, Keep him under 25, Dish 5 assist and Win the game, sounds easy doesn’t it? Well I am here to tell you my friends that it isn’t. I actually completed all but one, Nique dropped number 26 on me in the final seconds and thus I failed the challenge and had to replay it from the start. Very few people will have the skill or patience to complete all 10 of these challenges with only 8 minute quarters, they just want to play as MJ and because of that I think that the game fails to make one of the key draws of the game easily accessible. My guess would be that 2K will either be forced to allow you to complete the objectives over multiple attempts, extend the quarter length to a full 12 minutes or make Jordan unlockable some other way or they will have some very angry Jordan fans, but you play it and let me know if what you think.
From a gameplay perspective though, I love everything about it. Not only do you get to see Jordan at multiple points throughout his career, you get to see how his game changes as he goes from a more high flying attack the basket kind of player to a more disciplined and methodical jump shooter. What makes these challenges even better is that you not only play with all those classic Bulls teams that MJ did, you get to play against the classic teams he played against as well. To answer your questions, you can play with those teams in exhibition modes including the 89′ Hawks with Nique, the 90′ Lakers with Magic and several others. For lots of gamers who aren’t old enough to remember just how great some of these guys were, this will be an up close and personal history lesson.
This mode makes its return and its better than ever. In NBA 2K11, 2K decided not to make Draft Combine a separate add-on and instead integrated it into the actual mode itself and this worked out well. The basics of My Player mode have stayed the same with a few nice improvements. The biggest thing to me seems to be the logic behind the mode, it seems much more thought out and polished. Just as last year, you create your player and you play four games to try and determine if you will get drafted. If you are good enough, then you get drafted and sent to your team’s summer league, if not then you go undrafted and head to the D-League. I managed to get drafted by the Miami Heat in the second round, but didn’t quite make the cut and got sent down to the D-League. After playing well for about 5 games, I was signed to a ten day contract by the Suns who were pretty thin at the two-guard behind J-Rich and I played well enough to get signed on for the rest of the season. So what’s different this year you say? First off, after every game you have to do your team’s press conference. You get to answer one question in one of four distinct ways (think Alpha Protocol) and based on your response it will affect how your teammates, your local fans and the rest of the league views you. You also have the opportunity to get endorsements, appear on magazine covers and billboards. My favorite new addition to this mode is the ability to request a trade. You can request a trade and it will show you what teams are interested in you, but be careful because once you request a trade its out of your hands. You have the ability to specify what teams you are interested in, buy the team can move you to any place they like so be careful here or your situation could go from bad to worse. There’s more to this mode but I’ll let you discover it for yourself.
Hold on, did I mention the “My Jordans” feature. Through this feature you will be able to collect several of MJ’s most iconic sneakers by accomplishing certain in-game tasks and then you will be able to equip them and gain specific boost depending on which pair you are wearing. This addition combined with the introduction of “Key Games“, which are games against rival teams that give you the opportunity to double the amount of skill points you can earn in that game. Key Games will allow you to make your My Player more competitive faster than ever.
The Association has been improved in multiple aspects as well. 2K decided to update the computer A.I. in order to make The Association in this year’s game “the smartest franchise mode in sports gaming”. After playing through it a bit I would have to agree. The NBA Draft in the game has been completely revamped to make it dynamic and useful rather than an afterthought. On draft day in NBA 2K11 you will be able to find much better value with your picks, not to mention that the same hectic pace that you see in the real draft will be duplicated with the addition of draft day trades, this was definitely something that the fans requested and 2K delivered. This year it was all about realism and no place is that more apparent than in the stands. If you are like me then a lot of you like to start off with teams that aren’t so good and turn them into powerhouses, but in year’s past it seemed that no matter how good you made the Minnesota Timberwolves or the New Jersey Nets the fans just wouldn’t show you the love. This year through a feature called dynamic attendance your teams on- court performance affects attendance while also allowing fans to stagger their arrival which means that while the seats might not be full to start the game, by the second quarter you will notice the seats start to fill in. I have one final note on Association mode and it has to do with trades. In this year’s game 2K has decided to help us out a bit with the all- new trade finder that helps you find teams that are willing to trade which helps you to spend more time playing and less time searching for players to make your team better.
The game has only a few minor issues that I noticed. From a graphical standpoint the game is outstanding for the most part, though there is some screen tearing on every player that wears long socks in the Jordan Challenges. It doesn’t affect gameplay it just looks bad, though this is nothing that 2K couldn’t fix with a patch. The other issue that I noticed was when it comes to passing. For some reason the ball doesn’t always go where you want it to and thus this causes many more turnovers than are necessary. Again, this is something that could be adjusted through a patch.
NBA 2K11 has much more than I can talk about in one review. All you need to know is that this is one of the best sports games ever made, maybe even the best one period. I have to give it to the folks at 2K and Visual Concepts because they continue to keep innovating and pushing themselves. Whether it’s all the spectacular new dunks you will see this year, the new IsoMotion dribbling controls, or the improvements to NBA Today its all there, they are never happy with what they did last year. If you are an NBA Live/Elite fan, with NBA Elite on hold, this might not be a bad year to try something new because this really is a special game. NBA 2K11 is now the new gold standard for sports games and because of that we give it 9.5 out of 10.