The AI has also seen a big boost as well, which is good and bad. It is much smarter than in previous games, and it will look to exploit weaknesses. Even on the rookie difficulty setting, the AI will play a smart game. Some might not like that you won’t be able to dunk on every play, but it helps to make the game feel more like a real game of basketball.
One of the problems that stands out is the insanely self-aware AI. If you throw a pass near another player, even if he’s running in the opposite direction, has his back turned to you, and is not rated as a good defender, he will grab the pass if the ball is anywhere near him. He could literally be on fire and screaming for water, but he would still manage to grab the interception, like a piece of metal near a magnet. “Frustrating” is a kind way to describe it. There is a reason for it though. NBA2K11 wants you to play the game like a real basketball game. Developers put a lot of work into the team dynamics — more on that in a bit — and they don’t want you ruining all their hard work by doing fast break after fast break. That doesn’t mean you won’t get plenty of fast breaks, but you can’t force them like you could in previous games. This is not NBA Jam, and the defense won’t take kindly to you trying to play it that way.
Speaking of the defense, the matchups will be key, which is another nod to the AI. If you have Lebron James against a 7-foot perennial bench rider that you have never heard of, you can shake him with a quick move, then shoot for an easy basket. If you try to drive on him though, you will probably get swatted. The same is true when you are on defense. If you try to pair up Greg Oden against Kobe, Kobe will burn you every time. In fact, the game is so realistic that you can expect to see Oden injured and out for the season in week three (I kid, I kid!). The AI is smart, and it wants to win. In terms of technical achievement, this is actually fairly amazing work.
As for the teams, they will match their coaching style according to your play. If you have the paint locked down and are dominating the inside game, the AI will sub in their best shooters and fire away, forcing you to adapt or get left behind. It ensures that every game you play will feel slightly different, and no two games will be identical.
Overall, the gameplay is spot on, and it feels as natural as a basketball game can. The passing is a bit of an issue, but only if you try passes you probably shouldn’t try anyway, and there is a way to bring up each player’s button icon and pass directly to them that helps. There was a great deal of thought and programming put into this game, and it shows.
The sight, sounds and feel of the NBA
The graphics are good, but not great. That doesn’t really matter though, because the character animations are amazing. The players move and react naturally, and it is detailed enough that you might want your player to dribble with his other hand because a defender’s arm is within stealing distance. The courts also look good, and each location is exacting in its detail.
The problem with the graphics lies with the faces of the players. It won’t affect the game in any way, but the Trailblazers’ coach, Nate McMillan, looks like an angry Mr. Potatohead, while Dwayne Wade looks like a bored robot. It stands out. But again, it does not affect the game, and you might chuckle at the graphics at that point and move on.
The sound works well, and the soundtrack isn’t bad and features several top names including a new track from Snoop Dogg, but you won’t hear it much beyond the menus and a few gametypes. The court sounds are executed well, and the commentators know their stuff, although you will quickly hear the same lines repeated.