Unlike football or baseball, there isn't some sort of exclusivity contract at play with the National Basketball Association. This is somewhat great, as it affords us different basketball games from different companies, with titles as disparate as NBA Jam and the upcoming NBA 2K11.
As a result, this means developers have to challenge themselves a little bit more. While many gamers were pleased with NBA 2K10, many players felt there was a certain lack of polish and finesse to the title. Some felt like they would get locked into canned animations, and that the fluidity of the game just wasn't there. These were the two areas that the developers wanted to improve upon with NBA 2K11, and so they did. Then, of course, they got the exclusive use of Michael Jordan for NBA 2K11, turning this title into one of few that support the greatest basketball player of all time. It's a big deal, and they've done a lot to make a game that takes advantage of this contract. Hit the jump to see how much they've done.
NBA 2K11 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii, PC)
First, lets talk polish. When the developers first went about making NBA 2K11 more polished, they started with the cameras. All the angles now support truer broadcast shots, so now you will never play from an angle that is not true to how viewers watch the games themselves. After working through the cameras, players' faces were redesigned, and special focus was placed upon the small details. If a player has a special tic that he always does, or if he always wears a sock a certain way, that's how the game will represent him.
As for control, a lot of effort has been placed upon redesigning the animation. Whereas before players would be locked into an animation, unable to mix things up, now players can shift and move with a lot more fluidity. Again, the R-stick is used for making shots, and small “cell phone reception” bars will pop up next to a player to indicate their success at performing a shot. It's all stuff we've come to expect from an NBA 2K game, so that's all well and good.
The most exciting element of NBA 2K11 is certainly all the new stuff about Michael Jordan. Not just the cover athlete, players will be able to play through a bunch of classic and legendary Jordan matches from his career, all while fulfilling certain requirements. Called The Jordan Challenge, these games range from his April 20, 1986 game against the Boston Celtics (Score 63 points or more, and shoot 50 percent or better from the field), the June 16, 1996 match against the Sonics the day after Jordan's father was murdered, and even the June 11, 1997 match in which Jordan struggled with a nasty flu.
These are ten special matches in which everything has been done to recreate how those matches were seen by fans. Courts have been repainted, the players are all the legacy players from the match (and they themselves are playable in exhibition matches), and the voice work and announcers all speak as if in the time. Jordan himself will change in appearance as he plays different eras as well. Most interesting, however, is that The Jordan Challenge focuses entirely on the Chicago Bulls era, so no Washington Wizards matches here.
Once you've completed the ten games in the The Jordan Challenge, players can then follow up with the Creating a Legend mode. In this mode players will drop Jordan in a modern team, with him as a young upstart with a lot of talent. It's up to the player to boost his stats and make him the player he would become. It's a neat little feature tossed into the game, and all this special attention to Michael Jordan is pretty great. Considering they interviewed him and got his perspective on—well, being Jordan, this is probably the most accurate Michael Jordan game yet.
I'm pretty impressed with NBA 2K11. It's clear that the dev team has spent a lot of time trying to get the best experience out there, by listening to their fans and building this wholly Jordan-focused experience. There's a lot of polish here, and it's fantastic to see a sports game developer really try to make their game the best.