It’s pretty safe to say that EA Sports currently has something of a monopoly on sports-based videogames. Its NHL and NFL franchises have no genuine competition (both literally and figuratively, in NHL’s case) the most recent Tiger Woods title was a stone-cold classic, and the white-hot streak of FIFA doesn’t look likely to be ending any time soon. EA’s NBA Live 10 was a well rounded and addictive proposition last year, but in terms of sheer playability (if not overall presentation) 2K’s NBA 2K10 dramatically trounced it in fine, showboating style.
Because NBA Live is now being re-branded as NBA Elite and the new series release has been delayed well into next year, you can probably expect refinements aplenty and perhaps even a seismic overhaul. Until then though, NBA 2K11 is the only available option, and like last year’s game it’s an overpowering gem. This isn’t a widely accessible arcade game; it’s a downright meticulous approximation of the sport it depicts. It’s a simulation to be sure, but it’s one that somehow offers the same exhilarating thrills as a great arcade game.
It opens beautifully. Cover-star Michael Jordan stands in the darkened tunnel, with the sound of the crowd faintly audible in the background. He turns to face you, asks, “Are you ready?” before making his way towards the blinding sea of blinking flashbulbs and out onto the court. At this point, with nary a menu or button-prompt in sight, you’re thrown straight into an all-time classic event; Game One of the 1991 NBA Finals. This is one of ten available scenarios in the new Jordan Challenge mode, and each of them has been pedantically replicated, right down to the fascinating match-specific commentary.
The Jordan Challenges are definitely not for the faint of heart, and their moderately unforgiving difficulty tier means that they were almost certainly pitched at the hardcore crowd in the first place. The beauty of NBA 2K11 – and the last two series iterations, in fact – is that the control scheme is a thing of deeply nuanced beauty. You can initially (just about) manage with only a couple of buttons, but as with FIFA 11, the complete list of available tricks and manoeuvres is so large that it isn’t even included in the instruction manual. Needless to say, all of these moves are animated – although behind-the-back passes are a notable standout – with superb clarity.
Whatever mode you’re playing in, the crowd play a substantial part of the game’s appeal this time. They aren’t the most well-animated bunch in history, but when they react – as they do by leaping to their feet and screaming when you make a successful run, for instance – it’s impossible not to get intoxicated by the atmosphere that it creates. It not only feels authentic, it also feels organic and structured; and attempting to orchestrate the crowd into a frenzy without having the on-court chops to do so appeared, after experimentation, to be near-impossible.
The cover of NBA 2K11, which features that classic image of Michael Jordan with his serpent-like tongue jutting out, has a small line of text above the title; ‘The Greatest Of All Time’. It certainly appears to be a reference to its cover star, but at this point in time, and in this currently dilapidated field, it’s a pretty apt description of the game itself. If you’ve got even the slightest interest in the sport of basketball, it’s pretty much a must-buy. But even if you couldn’t be any less interested in the game, don’t overlook this. It’s very difficult to envisage how on earth 2K are ever going to top it.
Watch the NBA 2K11 trailer here: