a few thoughts on nba 2k11

I’ve been playing NBA 2K11 for a little over a month now and thought I’d share some thoughts on what I think about the game, especially from the point of view of someone who played a lot of NBA 2K10.

First of all, the learning curve for this game was a lot higher than that for NBA 2K10. In fact, its slope was probably emphasized because I came from playing NBA 2K10, where it was pretty easy to play in a very cheap fashion. The predominant gameplay issues I had to deal with coming into the NBA 2K11 fold of things were turnovers and getting adjusted to the new control scheme.

NBA 2K11 is not a pick-up and play game with your friends. It’s a game that requires a serious investment in time to learn the controls, learn how to call plays, learn how valuable an open shot is, etc. This is good and bad. It is good because it allows you to understand the nuances of the game better and actually become better as you play more of it. It is bad because it builds a fanboy-army of people who are able to flourish under the system and hence think they have the right to call anyone who has trouble with the gameplay a “cheeser”. Oh, and it’s also hard to play a casual game. This is not the kind of game you can sit around and play while waiting for a few people to show up at your place or to kill a quick 20-30 minutes.

Anyways, I haven’t played too much team mode because I got frustrated pretty quickly by how many turnovers I was making. It wasn’t out of the question to record about 30 turnovers on average in the first few games I played. While this is understandable because I was making difficult passes, I also think the AI plays the passing lanes too well. In the real NBA, you would think that most teams could pass the ball around the perimeter in a semi-circle and back despite how good the defense was. In 2K11, you will struggle to be able to do this unless you happen to call a play that lets you do this, in which case the defenders will strangely stop playing the super-aggressive passing lanes. While this does result in more careful passes being made, it severely dulls the reactionary skill of a gamer. When I see a lane open up or about to open up, I press the pass button only to have the defender, whether he is facing the ball or not, deflect the ball away.

While I’m on the topic of passing, let me go ahead and comment on the default passing mechanism. To put it into context, there are 3-4 different ways you can execute a pass in NBA 2K11. There is the default passing mechanism, where you point the left stick at the player you want to pass to and press the A (or X on PS3) button. There’s the icon pass, where you press LB (L1) and then select the icon over the player you want to pass to. There’s an icon lead pass, which I am yet to figure out how to use, which supposedly allows you to send a player on a cut and then pass to them. Finally, there’s a mode called total control passing which I have also not tried, which allows you to use the left stick and one of the bumpers to make passes. Many people have claimed that this is the way to play the game. Perhaps this is what I need to do to end my frustrations about passing in this game.

Even after a few weeks of diligently working the 2K10 passing mechanics out of my system, I’m averaging about 4 turnovers a game in My Player mode (which I will come to later). It is, in fact, almost impossible to be able to record a decent number of assists (between 6 and 7) without turning the ball over at least 4 times a game. While this is somewhat realistic (the best passers in the real NBA tend to have high TO numbers–case in point is Steve Nash) the numbers are not nearly realistic. Steve Nash, for example, has averaged 8.3 assists and 2.8 turnovers per game during his career. If he was playing this game from a user’s perspective, he would be averaging around 5 turnovers per game for those assist numbers.

The passing lanes are simply too well-guarded, which is not realistic in an NBA where a good defender is one who can guard the passing lane well. To go with this is the fact that players can deflect balls in the passing lane with their backs to the ball. While this may happen in the off-chance in an NBA game, I doubt you will see people swat passes away or make steals as if they had eyes in the back of their head. Finally, another problem I have is with deflections. In the NBA, you see a lot of deflections with passes. Very rarely, however, do you see a deflection that goes straight up in the air and lands in the hands of the player who deflected the ball. Deflections do cause turnovers, yes, but the deflector has no control on the angle of deflection. In 2K11, every deflection results in the ball being turned over to the deflector. Well, 98%, at least. There have been a few times where the deflector has been unable to gather the ball and someone else recovers it.

Anyways, I was about to talk about passing and got distracted. So of the four passing schemes available, one is completely unusable. The regular passing scheme is absolutely broken. It worked better in NBA 2K10 and was very useful for things such as fast breaks or dumping the ball off after a shot fake. Or, you know, hitting players on cuts and things like that. Here it is nearly impossible to get the ball to the player you want using the regular passing scheme. Which is understandable for things such as half-court offense where you should be using icon passing anyway (which is what I do), but once again the game penalizes a gamer who has spotted a play developing. Imagine, for example, that Steve Nash (I guess he has become the official example player for me) dribbles into the lane and waits for Lopez or Warrick to make a cut. He wants to just hit the player on the cut and allow him to finish. Requiring icon passing here is like requiring Nash to figure out who the player cutting in is and what position he is playing on the floor (SG, C, PF, SF, etc.). While Nash is smart enough not send someone like Dudley into the paint for a jam, he certainly wouldn’t be thinking whether the cutter is a shooting guard or a power forward. In this game, you pretty much have to know what position the player you are passing to is. Which sucks if, for example, your PF is filling a few minutes at the C position, because that means you end up making a pass to an out-of-position player, usually resulting in a turnover. What should be a simple basket at the hoop becomes a turnover just because the passing system is broken.

Like I said, I still haven’t tried out icon lead or TCP, but I am quickly realizing that if I want to keep my controller in one piece and my blood pressure low, I will have to figure out some solution to this scenario. Right now, it isn’t working for me.

So, like I alluded to earlier, I am playing a lot of the My Player mode. In fact, the Association mode that I have started hasn’t advanced a single game and I’ve played a few of the Jordan Challenges on Casual/Rookie (limiting those quarters to 8 minutes is absolutely nuts). My Player feels a lot more entertaining and harder than last year. For one, Draft Combine is included so you can actually train your player with more than drills before going into training camp. Secondly, the grading system has had a major overhaul and you now get points for many useful things you do on the court, such as setting screens and making good passes. 2K sports has also overhauled the match-up engine. As a player of 2K10 I was many times forced to play bad defense since I got penalized every time the player I was supposed to guard scored. This meant hanging back on opposition fast breaks to make sure it wasn’t my match-up scoring the points.

What 2K has done this time around is a lot better but is still very glitchy. 2K11 tries to, in transition, figure out which guy you should be guarding based on the position of your teammates, your opponents and where the ball is. On pick-and-rolls, if players switch, it switches your match-up on the fly. While these are good in theory, the implementation has a ways to go.

For one, in a fast break situation, as a guard you are responsible for seemingly everyone running the break. It is not uncommon for me to see blue circles (that’s the symbolization used to denote who your match-up is) around 3 or 4 players on the opponent’s team on a break. My player is apparently responsible to guard everyone. Which is pretty stupid because it invariably means my “match-up” gets an assist and a bucket, which counts an “Allowed Inside Pass” and “Allowed Match-up to Score” penalties against me. Also many times in transition, when I have an unfavorable match-up (defending a forward or center for example–I’m a PG) the AI will suddenly decide to switch match-ups. This usually means that I effectively get picked by not only the guy I was originally guarding but my teammate who was originally guarding the guy that I am now switched to. This basically results in an open jump shot, usually from three-point range.

One other issue I have is bumping. In NBA 2K10, you could break the system by just running around the paint and the court until you ended up open, asking for a pass and draining an open jumper. That was obviously not ideal. 2K11 “solved” this by making your player stick to the guy guarding you every time you try to move. This is super-annoying because it is quite clearly a holding foul. There have been several instances where a teammate has passed me the ball where he expects me to be, but I can’t go because I’m stuck to my defender. That would most definitely be a foul in the NBA. 2K sports has some work to do to solve that problem effectively.

Finally, going back to passing again for a bit, another annoying thing is that teammates are incredibly stupid when it comes to making cuts and running fast breaks. In 2K10 you could pretty much dribble the ball until someone made a cut and then find them. In 2K11, the only way you can get people to move is pretty much by calling a play. It is entirely possible to bring the ball up to the top of the three-point line and dribble out the shot clock without anyone moving more than 1-2 feet away. While calling plays is how a lot of NBA teams do it, there are many times that teams are running a more unstructured play. Granted, most all offense in the NBA is structured, but I find it hard to believe that a player won’t be making cuts if the PG/coach hasn’t called a play. It is also impossible, as far as I am aware, to ask a teammate to make a cut in My Player mode. As floor general I can do things such as call plays, do a heat check on my teammates and change what style defense we are playing but I cannot apparently send players on cuts. Which means it is nearly impossible to score points without trying to iso your defender and getting open (plays are more often than not broken up by teammates or the opposition… the one game where I tried to run a play every time down the court, I went down 40-20 in the first quarter itself).

There has been a lot of negativity in this post when in reality I think NBA 2K11 is actually a really solid game. Today was the first time that the game actually froze for me, which was okay because I (playing for the Jazz) had just lost to the Thunder by 2 points after Jeff Green knocked down the go-ahead bucket with 0.7 seconds remaining. In the post-game interview I was asked about the trade deadline and chose to answer indifferently. So indifferently, in fact, that the game decided it wasn’t worth continuing. Haven’t brought up the game since but I assume I’ll probably be re-playing that match.

My Player has added a lot of depth with endorsements, Jordan shoes, trade finder, etc. While I’m still playing on Default/Pro, I think once I get comfortable with the system (and probably learn how to use Total Control Passing) I’ll consider moving up to Sim/Pro or Default/All-Star. The game is a lot of fun… after all, I wouldn’t be able to write over 2000 words about how I dislike it if I hadn’t played it for long periods of time. Once the NBA season gets seriously underway and if the Houston Rockets start sucking a lot, I’ll probably switch over to association mode and try to make the Rockets champions in the virtual world. Until then, I’m going to continue learning and getting better at this quality game!