Michael Jordan stands in a hallway, preparing himself for Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Energizing music booms in the background; the audience waits, restless with anticipation. Jordan turns his head and faces the camera.
“Are you ready?” he says.
Jordan jogs onto the court. The crowd roars thunderously as the commentator’s sonorous voice echoes over the speakers, and an electrifying energy pervades the entire stadium. With a seamless transition, the game begins and you’re playing as Jordan and the Bulls.
All this happens before the game presents you with a menu.
Thankfully, Jordan’s inclusion in NBA 2K11 does not tarnish his reputation; NBA 2K11 is easily the best basketball simulator ever created. In nearly all aspects, from gameplay to presentation, the game improves upon its predecessors and does not disappoint.
The inclusion of Michael Jordan is not just a clever marketing gimmick cooked up by the folks at 2K Sports; instead, the game revolves around the legendary persona, and even dedicates an entire mode to him. 2K11 presents you with 10 Jordan challenges, each of which recreates the highlight games of Jordan’s career. You’re challenged to replicate Jordan’s star performance in each game–challenges range from scoring upwards of 67 points to shutting down Mr. Human Highlight Film (Dominique Wilkins). These Jordan Challenges are executed with an extreme amount of polish. The commentators specifically tailor their clever quips and observant statements for each game; they highlight Jordan’s injuries and provide key facts about the time. Jordan even plays differently based on the time period–a young Jordan can mercilessly attack the rim while an older one excels at popping jumpshots.
Completion of the challenges unlocks the Create a Legend mode, which allows you to recreate a rookie Jordan’s career to your own liking. You can draft him to any team you desire; yes, even the Heat.
While Jordan is the star of the game, NBA 2K11 does include other modes and features, including the returning My Player. My Player, which has you rising from an inexperienced rookie to a seasoned vet, has its charms, but starts off slow. It gets a bit annoying when your rookie’s shots refuse to fall. Another notable feature is 2K11’s online capability. The game pushes information about the season your way and lets you play out games that are being played on the same day in the actual NBA. The game goes to great lengths to preserve the authenticity of these games as well. When I first tried out this feature, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the commentators provide me with real-time information about the league–they even informed me that I was playing the last game of the pre-season. Other modes include, but are not limited to, the staple Season mode, the Association, and a Slam Dunk Contest.
2K11 has a bundle of features and modes; however, that does not mean that the gameplay has been neglected. Contrarily, the gameplay feels tight and realistic, more so than any other basketball game on the market. Ball handling feels very natural. While you can solely get your way through the game just using the left control stick, much more satisfying moves can be executed through the L2 or left trigger modifier. Passing also feels much truer to the actual sport; the improved AI will punish you for every cross-court lob. Likewise, you can no longer jam your way into the paint and blindly dunk the ball in the hoop, and you’ll need to rely on jumpshots and traditional basketball plays. Of course, you can always morph 2K11 into an NBA Street-esque game by fiddling with the in-game sliders.
The entire game is neatly wrapped up in a slick, polished interface. Menus are easily navigable, and the game oozes with production value. The graphics are a big step-up and go further to blurring the visual line between virtual sports and real ones. Unfortunately, the game is hindered by long load times, which are bearable but grating.
Nonetheless, NBA 2K11 is an unparalleled basketball simulator that serves as the perfect throne for “His Airness”.