Michael Jordan NBA 2k11 coverThe folks over at 2K Sports one-upped themselves this year, with latest installment of the NBA 2K franchise. And, they drained a half-court three at the buzzer to win the game, because this is by far the best basketball simulation to date, and possibly one of the best sports titles for a video game console … ever, or at least until something comes in the future.

For NBA 2K11, the emphasis is on Michael Jordan, who has been absent from basketball games for years. Specifically, the “Jordan Challenge” is a timeless mode in gaming history, letting NBA fans and gamers re-live some of the greatest moments of MJ’s storied career.

Can you splash six threes in the first half against Clyde The Glyde from the 1992 Finals to earn “The Shrug”? Drop 55 against the Knicks in his Airness’ return from retirement? Or eight other memorable MJ moments? If you can, you an play a special version of the “My Player” career mode, called “MJ: Creating A Legend,” bringing a rookie Jordan into the current league to develop him and see how he competes with today’s greats.

The Jordan Challenge was put together with a high level of detail. The players from the classic teams play as closely to their real life counterparts as you can imagine. 2K even goes as far as to include the plays the legendary teams ran back in the golden age of the NBA — from Ewing’s Knicks to Magic’s Lakers, you can rest assured, the authenticity of those unforgettable moments are all there.

But, the presentation isn’t limited to just the “Jordan Challenge” mode. NBA 2K11 is polished all the way around. From a well-put together half-time show and mid-game summary, to team-specific opening sequences, to a much-better “Player of the Game” presentation at the of end each individual game, 2K has paid attention to detail.

2K has also added a ton of unique animations , specific to players. Sometimes, a player might land off balance after a layup or dunk and fall to the floor, or your favorite player might do their trademark celebrations after a basket just like in real life. It’s cliche to say this, but this is as close to the NBA you can get from a game.

Aside from MJ modes and game presentation, the game play is spot on as well. The AI has greatly improved — even on lower difficulties settings — so lobbing a pass cross court or into a crowded lane isn’t an easy task, at least if you don’t want the ball stolen. Doing a few ISO moves to burn your defender for a dunk, play after play, won’t happen either … you have to play some real basketball to actually score this time around. Oh, and the CPU-controlled team IS going to take advantage of a mismatch or unguarded player as well, so you definitely have to stay on your toes on defense as well.

Although the AI is much better, sometimes it is a bit much. Your opponent’s ability to steal passes seems too easy sometimes, and you’ll notice players putting up their hands to steal a pass even if they aren’t even facing the ball to see it coming. That was annoying. Another mis-step — for us, at least — was passing the ball. There’s the option to hold the RB button to give you a button-to-player matched throw, but usually, you’ll stick to the directional stick and the main passing button. Sometimes, however, the wrong person will get the ball. You’ll find yourself aiming the stick to a player and throw it to someone across court, past the player intended. It’s a just little annoyance though, that you can get past if you’re patient.

Another cool thing 2K improved upon for 2K11 was how each team plays, so you must adjust to defeat their style. For example, against the Suns or the Warriors, you’re dealing with an up-tempo offense and have to play accordingly. Same goes for other team’s styles, such as the Lakers, who play the Triangle Offense.

The ISO motion also has been tweaked and made a little easier than before. Each move, from a spin-move to cross over, is controlled by the right and left directional sticks, so you have 1-to-1 control over every movement. Now, you won’t find yourself making moves you didn’t mean to.

The “My Player” mode made a return and they’ve added a few things to improve it from last year, where you take a player from scratch and guide him all the way to the NBA. It’s a very solid mode, but takes a lot of time to make it to the pros. While it was a bit much for us, for gamers with time on their hands, you should love it.

For the most part, 2K did a good job with player models, but as always, not all player match their NBA representations. For whatever reason, the developers can never seem to get Kobe right, haha. And, while players are sitting on the bench, they don’t look completely polished. But these things are minor and don’t take away from game play. Plus, the cut-scenes between plays look out of this world!

2K11 also offers previous Blacktop games, like a Slam Dunk competition, a 3-Point Shootout and more, each of which are entertaining to say the least. They allow you to perform some crazy dunks using historical and current players, like using Jordan against current superstars like Lebron.

To wrap things up, 2K11 is quite frankly the best NBA simulation we’ve ever played. 2K Sports really took the time to make this great, and why not? Especially if you got MJ on the cover. As mentioned there were some very small things that needed to get worked out, but they didn’t take away from the sheer quality of the title. If you’re an NBA fan/gamer and don’t have this, we fill sorry for you.

Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0.

Get your copy of NBA 2K11 right now on Amazon.com.