With the unfortunate delays facing EA Sports' main basketball franchise NBA 2K11 has been given something of a free run in the paint this year. This doesn't mean that NBA 2K11 is any kind of a slouch.
Instead of taking the reinvention option that EA now seems to be ruing 2K Sports has taken the opportunity to celebrate one of the world's greatest living sportsmen in the year he is inaugurated into the NBA Hall of Fame. That's right, NBA 2K11 is all about Mike and 2K has put together quite and exciting package in honour of the legendary Chicago Bulls number 23.
This year's entry sees the basketball hero permeate every facet of the NBA 2K series. From sponsoring the obligatory Man of the Match selections, to having every different line of Nike Air Jordans unlockable for your custom player to being able to play through MJ's greatest games of all time 2K has ensured that he is much more than just the man on the front of the box.
As an introduction, NBA 2K11 throws you straight into one of Michael Jordan's legendary appearances in the NBA finals in one of the Bulls' big showdowns with the LA Lakers. From there on in you know for sure that, while this game may not be a huge leap forward for basketball games, NBA 2K11 is special a different reason - being able to relive some of the most impressive achievements in basketball of the last 25 years.
All the standard features are here for NBA 2K fans with the usual incremental refinements that come with any annual sports franchise. The main menu of the game offers the chance to play a quick match, either choosing your match-up, selecting any of the day's real fixtures from the NBA schedule by virtue of a live connection to 2K Sports' servers or even starting up a quick online match with either friends or strangers.
It's all very well and good having a laundry list of features but if the game doesn't play very well then all the bells and whistles in the world won't make the game worth buying. Thankfully the core gameplay of NBA 2K11 is pretty sound. There's not a great deal of innovation here but the controls are fairly tight although they do demand a certain level of precision that may put off more casual sports fans.
Outside of the core gameplay NBA 2K11 is amazingly detailed. The full match experience is on a parallel with a full televised game without the relentless assault of commercial breaks. The authenticity right down to the small details of the crowd, the individual players and even the head coaches are impressively detailed. 2K Sports has meticulously recreated the impressive experience of an NBA match in almost all of its glory.
Another fairly major feature of the NBA 2K11 is the My Player feature. You can create your own player and compete to get picked as high up in the draft as you can and then work your way into the starting line-up in the full NBA. Again this mode is immensely detailed. Your can pick your favourite position and then tailor your player's skillsets to match your favoured style of play. They you have the opportunity to earn more skill points to spend on improving your skills with the rock buy scoring high in a variety of training drills and impressing your teammates in competitive matches.
As you play more games you also unlock each of the 40 different types of Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes, each with its own stats boost for equipping them to your player. Even if you don't totally get the hang of the game early on, as long as you get drafted you can then go on to play in the lower leagues and build up your skills and experience and earn your place in an NBA team through hard work.
One criticism of NBA 2K11 is that it is bordering on too hard. The sensitivity of the control system coupled with the AI suffering momentary confusion over which man you are meant to be marking can mean that the game is occasionally intensely unforgiving. The game's difficulty is balanced delicately on a knife edge meaning that it is frequently just a tad too frustrating. In the flipside of this, when you do finally achieve something it makes it all the sweeter, especially in My Player mode.
NBA 2K11 is a very tough game to call. On the one hand it is an immensely detailed, entertaining and adrenaline-pumping experience. There are so many neat little touches you may find it a difficult game to put down. It is also worth mentioning that the game is Move compatible even though this feature was not reviewed here. On the other side of the coin the balancing of the difficulty levels could leave more casual sports games fans out in the cold especially when playing in My Player mode. In the end though, who would pass up the chance to be like Mike?