Do you like Michael Jordan? Well, it doesn't matter if you like Michael Jordan! 2K Sports' Visual Concepts has gotten into bed with arguably the greatest athlete (all sports withstanding) ever. Does this holy matrimony work in the end? Yes, yes it does.
When you boot up the game for the first time you'll be presented with what can be called a Michael Jordan fan's orgasm of a moment. Assuming that you're well aware of the lore Michael Jordan carries with him, the first glimpse of the game is Michael running out of the old Chicago Stadium tunnel as very familiar music plays from the stadiums sound system as the crowd goes wild in anticipation of MJ joining his team on the court. The camera follows MJ out the tunnel and you're put immediately into the throws of the 1991 NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls vs the Los Angeles Lakers.
Scottie Pippen with his famous flat-top fade is all there, as well as Horace Grant with his "scubaman goggles". Additionally the commentary is on point with tons of references back to 1991 stats and other random quips. Mind you, this isn't an all Bulls affair once you complete all of the Jordan Challenges and soared through the rest of the Jordan specific experience Visual Concepts has tailored. All of the teams that come along for the ride via the Jordan Challenge as Chicago Bulls opponents can be selected for regular exhibition play as well so you can get your Carl Malone or Larry Bird on at anytime.
Where the overall game shines is in the details. Even in the pause menu, faded in the background of the buttons on screen you have Lebron James clutching his newly adorned Miami Heat Jersey from the infamous "The Decision". Pause the game again and you'll be greeted with yet another image of someone else from around the league. Occasionally, while taking the ball up the court stats of the current ball handler will make it to the lower third stat breakdown so you can see how that player is doing so far. Again, a very subtle inclusion, but something that adds that little touch to the presentation.
During any given game what you'll immediately notice if you've played any of the previous NBA 2K titles is the dramatic improvement in the defensive play. Passing lanes are covered in such a way that it will require you to rethink the way you play the entire game. No more are the passes to players who are clearly out of position only to magically still receive the ball even if their back is turned to the play viable anymore. Lazy passes will get stolen. If you're thinking about passing the ball up court, think twice or maybe even four or five times before you make that pass. If you go into this game thinking old habits will roll right into 2K11 you will be frustrated beyond belief when pass after pass is tipped or straight up stolen time after time. An issue found when going into the paint a few times though is that your player will literally get stuck and not be able to shoot the ball even if you have driven into the paint only a few feet from the basket. Commanding your player to pivot is the only response that still works if this happens. It's something that is extremely infrequent ( and hopefully just a bug), but nonetheless is infuriating when it does happen.
Again, when was the last time you played a basketball game and actually had a 'kicked ball' happen? That's the amount of detail found in NBA 2K11.When was the last time you saw a computer controlled team get a back-court violation called on them? Never, right. The AI in the game makes mistakes which really adds to an experience that feels authentic.
Then there's My Player. And as you'd expect, My player is where you can create a player and draft him onto your team of choice assuming you get that far through the Draft Combine that is now included in the game and not a separate experience as in the past with your created player. The usual is all there, like creating the physical appearance, play style for every possible signature move, what type of eye brows your doppleganger will have down to what brand of shoe (including various styles offered by the selected brand) you want to parade around in.
Expect to put a good deal of time into creating your player if you at all care what he looks like. If options are what you like, that is exactly what you get. Unfortunately all is not rosey. During this entire process the "2K insider" will popup on the bottom right side of the screen with random and mostly off the wall comments and quotes from figured around the basketball world. Calling this annoying after only the 3rd time hearing it is a brash understatement. Whoever okayed this needs to be slapped on the wrist hard.
Collecting up to 40 different JORDAN shoes is also apart of the overall process. Complete drills and other accomplishments and you'll get rewarded by being able to equip certain special items. While in a Jordan Challenge you may notice Michael Jordan with his signature shoes on, but the rest of the players on the court are wearing current day Jordan shoes. A weird omission for sure, but a small distraction it definitely is. During a quickgame or NBA Today game you'll get previews for upcoming games that are on the real NBA Schedule so you can play them on that day for yourself which is now a staple of the 2K Sports games all around in general, but the interface has been overhauled this time around. Some may not like it, some will.
One of the often omitted or just plain skimped on portion of any sports title is the Half time show. There's no Chris Berman like genius like the fabled NFL 2K5, but instead you're greeted with the majority of advertising you'll see in the game as highlights from the first half of the game and around the league are recapped. The entire thing is draped in the colors and logo of HP in the guise of the HP Halftime update. Much like certain other brands in other games (*cough* Snickers *cough*) you will see HP ALOT.
There's a 'see who's online' option in the menu much the same as some other titles so you can page through your friends list without having to step out of the game into the friends list of the system (Dashboard/XMB) which is becoming somewhat of a standard. Then there's the nail in the coffin for virtual sports gamers everywhere in the direction of whether you should pick this game up. Relegated to the PC only for the longest of times in sports games was a feature that allowed you to save and quit mid-game. NBA 2K11 has this feature on a console and it is glorious. Have something interrupt your b-ball action like "real life", so what. Pop into the menu, select 'Save and Quit', and feel at ease as you load your saved game for when you return to the court at a later time.
When it comes down to it this game is not for the faint of heart looking to just throw the ball around from time to time. Basketball fan's will literally get all hot and bothered by the sheer amount of detail found in NBA 2K11. Whether you're a Jordan fan or not, you'll be given a taste of what so many consider the golden age of the NBA with some rather convincing recreations of basketball yesteryear.
Pickup and Play modes are there (NBA Black Top), but the meat of the game is in its astoundingly good simulation of the NBA. With today's technology and know how, this is easily the best simulation of basketball you are going to get.