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NBA 2K11: The one and only (this year)

How is the one and only serious basketball game this season? We take to the court and tell all.

Now with Jordan.
Now with Jordan.
2K Sports

Looking for a basketball game this season? The choice is simple: NBA2K11. EA has pushed its contender, NBA Elite, to 2011, so your only option for any action this fall comes courtesy of 2K Sports. Though that might make those who like choice a little apprehensive, the good news is that 2K11 has pulled out some extra surprises to turn what was already a really strong game into a classic overall package.

Adding Michael Jordan on the cover seemed like a publicity stunt at first, but the extra challenge modes and authentically re-created vintage playoff games help add something timeless to a game that's destined to be replaced next year. Maybe the idea's pretty smart: collector's features could make certain editions of sports titles worth keeping.

2K Sports has dominated the basketball video game market for years now, so it's no shock that NBA 2K11 is the most realistic basketball game ever made. Though the game's laundry list of tweaks and improvements are all welcome additions, we were floored to see how deeply detailed the game's Michael Jordan mode has been developed.

The amount of painstaking detail that must have gone into crafting the Jordan Challenge mode in NBA 2K11 should not be overlooked. Sure, we've seen sports games opt for a gimmicky add-on before, but the Michael Jordan features in 2K11 are anything but.

Just getting his Royal Airness to even grace the cover is an achievement in itself, but giving the player the chance to participate in 10 of his most legendary games is something any basketball fan--casual or die hard--can instantly relate to. Not only are 10 of his most iconic games represented with astonishing attention to detail, the opposing teams in which he faced are sized up right down to game-accurate plays. Each of the 10 challenges transports the player back in time--complete with uniforms and fashion styles of that specific era.

Jordan himself has been captured with mind-blowing precision, from his casual mannerisms, shooting technique, even down to his iconic tongue that came out during his spectacular slam dunks. The Jordan Challenge is one of the most substantial side quests we've been presented with in a sports game, and something fans of basketball should not miss.

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: NBA 2K11

As for me, I'm not actually a basketball fan at all. Other than attending a few NBA drafts and watching the Lakers three-peat in the late '90s when I lived in Los Angeles, I've lost touch with who's even playing in the NBA, other than the lineup for the Miami Heat. I've treated sports games as my educational tools. I learned a ton about the NFL through Madden over the years. I'm banking on NBA2K11 to do the same for me and hoops.

Unfortunately, deep tutorials and control tips aren't forthcoming in most sports games, the assumption being that you've played before and will play again. I learned most basic moves with a quick consult to the paper-thin manual (the more detailed version is available as a download); compared with NFL games, it's pretty straightforward. The visual crafting of 2K11 feels nearly flawless, except the mechanics come down to timing and the execution of plays that I haven't bothered to learn yet. More complex playcalling is clearly the key to avoid blowouts, and I'd love to see NBA games teach a little basic strategy to help educate us to play better. By my second game, I was at least scoring some points. Substitutions happen automatically unless you choose to override, and I certainly wasn't going to quibble with AI.

I can't help but wonder what a version of NBA 2K11 would be like if it were outfitted with the sort of streamlining and player-friendly design that Madden 11 offered. NBA games are simple at heart, but their control schemes have advanced to merit some better hands-on assistance.

If you're an old pro, though, you should feel safe in knowing that your only choice in full NBA gaming is an excellent choice indeed.