Thoughts on the NBA 2K11 Demo
[To read about my thoughts on the NBA Elite 2011 demo, click here]
Yesterday I downloaded the eagerly anticipated NBA 2K11 demo on the PS3. It’s very very basic — a 4 minute first quarter game between last season’s finalists, the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, and you can only use the Lakers (I hate both teams so it didn’t really matter). The sound has also obviously been stripped down — there is no commentary and the music appears to be not much more than bare bones. Nonetheless, in terms of graphics, presentation and gameplay, it provided a solid insight into just how good NBA 2K11 is going to be this year.
Here are my thoughts.
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To be perfectly honest, to the naked eye, there is not much of a difference between the visuals in 2K10 and 2K11. In fact, the two games appear to be so similar at first glance that there have been a lot of fake 2K10 videos masqueraing as 2K11 gameplay.
That said, 2K10′s graphics were some of the best I had ever seen for a basketball game, and not much improvement was actually necessary. I don’t think it was possible to really take it that much further on the current capabilities of the available consoles.
Nevertheless, there have been some subtle improvements, especially if you look closely at some of the finer details. For starters, there is a definite improvement in the backgrounds and crowds. They are still far from perfect, but there is a lot more variety in their clothing, and they are less squarish and mechanical-looking. The graphics and details of the cut scenes are also slightly better — there are more facial expressions and you can see the mesh patterns on the jerseys, the glistening sweat and the veins on the arms. Very nice.
On the whole, there was not a significant improvement, but then again, there didn’t need to be. If the graphics of 2K10 was a 9 out of 10, then maybe 2K11 would be a 9.5.
A few nice touches added to the presentation. The problem with 2K10 was that, while the presentation was good, it became repetitive and stale way too soon. There was little variation and every game looked the same.
In 2K11, this has been upgraded a fair bit. I played the demo say 10 times, and each time I would get a different intro and different cut scenes before tip off. You get a view of the stadium (in this case Staples Center) from the outside, a nice wide shot of the crowd, and the players interacting with each other on the court. Maybe it’s because I am new to the game, so it all felt very fresh, but there was a clear effort to make the game more varied.
I also liked the Gatorade substitutions and the free-throw stat pop-ups. There were also more replays (the Slam Cam is sweet) and it was much easier to execute a ‘Moment of the Game’. They no longer have to be crazy moves, big dunks or long bombs. These were subtle little things that made the game a more enjoyable and varied experience.
Although this was not in the demo, I have also seen clips of the half-time show, which appears to be a big upgrade on the old format.
One complaint — and I’ve had this complaint for years — is an automatic replay on a last second shot or buzzer beater. There should be replay after reply from different angles that you can watch over and over again. I’ll never understand why this hasn’t been implemented.
This is where it’s at. Gameplay has always been 2K’s strongest point, and this year it is no different. Even though 2K10 and 2K11 may not look tremendously different, there is definitely a different feel this year in terms of gameplay. It’s a harder game than last year, and most importantly, it’s more realistic.
First of all, the defence is obviously improved. In 2K10, if you know how to perfect the crossover, your opponent is basically at your mercy, and against slower defenders you can almost always blow by them and slice to the basket. In 2K11, this has become much more difficult. Your defender is noticeably better at sticking in front of you, and even if you beat your man, the help defence comes a lot quicker. It’s also impossible now to throw blind/weak passes and expect it to get through to your man — they’ll almost always be picked off by a defender. If the ball goes near them, they’ll stick their hands out and deflect it. Hence, it’s no longer feasible to get open dunks and layups all game long. This is where strategy becomes highly important, and the game has become more realistic in terms of the number of jump shots you’ll end up taking as opposed to dunks and layups.
Having said that, if you’re using someone like Kobe, you can still use a dazzling array of dribble and spin moves to offset your man and drill tough jumpers in his face all night (as I did in the demo).
This is someone else’s video of Kobe doing stuff (not THAT kind of stuff):
Secondly, the dribble moves and spin moves have also improved. I remember in 2K10 there was already a huge assortment of dribble moves to execute, but 2K11 takes it to another level. I loved the continuous through-the-leg dribbles and the crazy crossovers — it’s a visual feast and incredibly fun to execute.
Thirdly, the blocks and rebounds. There are quite a few new animations for rebounding and I thought they were great. The ball seems to come off the ring a lot more randomly, and the way the players grab the ball feel much more realistic than they used to be. And the blocks — man, they were fantastic. On the one hand you can just get a fingertip to the ball and it’ll end up being an airball, but if you can time the block perfectly, you can absolutely spike the ball over the opposite baseline like cannonballs or nail them off the backboard. Imagine some of Lebron’s best swats and that’s exactly what it’s like.
Fourthly, the heightened realism. The most obvious is the movement of the players off the ball and the way they interact with each other, both on offence and defence. One of my biggest peeves with 2K before was that the set plays rarely worked out because the AI wasn’t smart enough to execute them properly. Even though playcalling (apart from screens) is not available in the demo, from the videos I’ve seen this part of the game has been completely revamped, and now things are much more realistic. Additionally, there were also subtle little things like getting the ball stuck between your legs from a bad pass, the random bounces and deflections, falling over after a shot — things that may have been in the older versions of the game but have been improved on.
Inconclusive because the demo stripped back this element of the game and there was no commentary, but again, from the videos I’ve seen online, there are a few minor adjustments but nothing major.
Of course, all the talk this year has been about Michael Jordan being included in the game. Unfortunately, not part of the demo, but there are videos around online for those wanting to see it. I have to admit they had put in a fair bit of effort into this feature and for the most part it looks like it’ll be a fun thing to play.
The thing I’m looking forward to most is the upgraded My Player Mode and the ability to play the Draft Combine (which was only available as an added feature in last year’s game). My Player appears to have been improved a lot as well, though I am sure it’s far from perfect because it’s still only its second year. I’m not sold on the idea of choosing responses at press conferences, but I’ll just have to wait and see.
Taking everything into account, I must say that 2K11 is a superior game in almost every way to 2K10, as it should be. There’s nothing astounding or revolutionary about any of it, but what they have done is take an already very good game and made subtle but noticeable adjustments to it to make it more realistic, strategic and challenging. Can’t wait to try the full game.
As for NBA Elite 2011…
I seriously don’t know what is happening with EA Sports’ NBA Elite 2011 (formerly NBA Live). To be honest I am really worried about it. I know they are starting things from scratch and rebuilding the game from the ground up, but so far what I have seen does not instill much confidence.
While 2K has been churning out wonderful and innovative commercials with Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo and exhibiting the beautiful graphics and gameplay, all we’ve gotten from Elite (at least officially) are ‘work in progress’ videos and screen caps where everything looks less impressive than 2K — from the graphics to the gameplay to the presentation. Of course, I could be wrong and they are actually waiting to blow our minds, but the fact that they are including NBA Jam in the game as a selling point also concerns me — it’s as though they know the game won’t do well in comparison to 2K and need this to boost sales.
Here’s one of the 2K commercials I’m talking about.
The Elite commercials thus far don’t even show the game much — they’re getting stars like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to say a bunch of scripted things that aren’t entirely convincing. Instead of releasing the actual demo, they’ve released a commercial for the demo. And there’s not even a release date for the game yet. I fear things are really behind over there and they are scrambling to get a decent product out on the market.
Here’s the demo promo.
As for the supposed gameplay videos I’ve seen online, some of it looks fairly decent, but still a notch or two below 2K. The net, for starters, looks horrible, as do some of the player movements, which simply look too mechanical and unrealistic. I am, however, intrigued by their ‘real physics’ and revamped control system — though I am not sure how this is different to what 2K has already been doing (and for that matter, Live had been doing) for years. In one of the videos I saw someone throwing a 2-handed dunk from the free throw line without a run up. I’m not sure how real those physics are there.
Here are the two best gameplay video I could find on the net.
But I’ll be happy to be proven wrong and I hope they can produce a worthy rival to 2K. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not a 2K fanboy. I had been a Live guy until last year, when I finally made the switch to 2K. I believe it is imperative for both franchises to keep competing, improving and pushing each other onto new heights.