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NBA 2K11 Review (X360)

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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NBA 2K11 Review (X360)
2K Sports
Based on the marketing thus far, you'd be forgiven if you thought NBA 2K11 was just a gushy love letter to Michael Jordan. Well, it definitely is that, but there is a lot more here than just a tribute to his Airness. The A.I. has been greatly improved. The presentation is better. The features list is a mile long. And the already phenomenal NBA 2K gameplay is even better. NBA 2K11 is simply a great basketball game all around, and easily the best NBA game on Xbox 360.
Game Details

  • Publisher: 2K Sports
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • ESRB Rating: “E" for Everyone
  • Genre: Basketball
  • Pros: Michael Jordan; great presentation; The Association; solid gameplay; plenty of modes; sliders
  • Cons: My Player pacing; occasionally suspect A.I.

The features list starts with Michael Jordan. When you boot up the game for the first time, you don't go to the menu but instead are put right into game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Bulls complete with all of the players, coaches, and appropriate commentary. There are 10 Jordan Challenges where you get to try and re-create the greatest moments of his career. When you are done with those, you get access to a special My Player mode that lets you start out with rookie Jordan and direct his career any way you want. It is very cool.

The Jordan love fest isn't the only thing NBA 2K11 has going for it, however. The Association dynasty mode is back and has seen great improvements in the A.I. of the GMs. They don't make dumb trades anymore and destroy the balance of the league a couple years down the road like used to happen in 2K games. The NBA Today and Living Rosters features are back to continually update the game to reflect the real NBA. My Player also plays a huge role in the game once again, but we're torn on whether we like it or not. We usually love "Be a Pro"-style modes where you control just one player, but My Player starts you out with such incredibly poor stats it is kind of hard to really get going. Your player is seriously awful when you start out, and takes a few hours to build him up.

2K Sports
My Player does eventually get better if you put the time into it, but it is kind of a drag for a while. All of the rest of the single-player features, along with a wealth of multiplayer options for online teams and leagues, mean there is a lot to do here. And all of this is on top of the awesome Jordan modes. This is by far the most fully-featured basketball game ever.

Gameplay

The gameplay has also seen some extra polish and tweaks this year. The basics - shooting with the right stick, directional as well as icon passing, setting screens, pick and rolls, squaring up on defense, etc. - all function just like you expect. The changes come in a simplified (but improved) IsoMotion where you hold the left trigger and move the left stick to fake out opponents and snap ankles. It is surprisingly intuitive to use now. The A.I. has also been greatly improved to where it actually plays decent defense. Most notably, it will snatch ill-advised long passes out of the air about 90% of the time, so you have to be careful about how aggressively you try to play. The A.I. has some bugs in it now and then, however, where it takes bad shots, can make impossible steals, and other questionable things, but for the most part the game plays fairly realistically.

Or you can tweak the dozens of sliders and make it play however you want. This has always been my favorite feature in the NBA 2K games, and works just as well here. At default settings, the game is pretty challenging, but you are always free to tweak it to suit your style.

Graphics

The presentation is a definite high point in NBA 2K11. The player models look great for the most part, and the animation is incredibly well done. Dozens of individual players have trademark moves and mannerisms that were perfectly captured in the game. The arenas look great, and dynamic crowds mean that the spectators come and go as they please, which is very cool. It gives the game a realistic feel that just isn't captured when you're blowing the home team out yet the stands are still full like in most games.

Sound

The sound is also very good. The commentary is excellent, particularly in the Jordan Challenges. It is really a nostalgic trip to see all of the old players from the classic teams and hear the commentators talking like everything is fresh and new and live, yet clearly still set in the correct time period.

Online Play

One additional thing I want to add is that I can't really comment on how the game performs online. A big problem with NBA 2K10 was that the online modes - particularly the crowded modes like 5 on 5 games - were laggy to the point of being broken. That has hopefully been fixed here, but I don't have experience playing on fully loaded servers, so I can't comment. This review and the score are based on solo play, local multiplayer, and 1 on 1 online play.

Bottom Line

2K Sports
In the end, NBA 2K11 is a great basketball game that is highly recommended. It is a noticeable improvement over 2K10 in just about every area. The A.I. is better. The gameplay is a little sharper and better, especially the new IsoMotion system. The dynasty mode is better thanks to better GM A.I.. The presentation is great. And all of the Michael Jordan features are just phenomenal. I'm not even a Bulls fan from that era (they broke my heart in '93 when they beat the Suns ...) but I'm more than willing to admit Jordan is the best player ever, so it was fun to re-live all of those classic moments of his career. The only sore spot for me is that My Player mode is such a drag for the first few hours. Everything else in the game, however, is excellent. With no direct competition this year from EA Sports, NBA 2K11 is a no brainer for a purchase. And even if Elite 11 did manage to come out, it would have had a hard time topping 2K11. This is easily the best basketball game on Xbox 360.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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