NBA Elite 11 Demo Impressions

Posted September 22nd, 2010 at 10:30 am

Love it or hate it the demo for NBA Elite 11 provides plenty of content to gauge the game on by including regular gameplay, career mode gameplay, and the tutorials and practice gym. Anyone on the fence or at all curious about Elite gets the opportunity to try it out and judge it. This is a game that has gone through a major revamp and is trying to present something new and fresh. The effort to do so can be appreciated but what really matters is whether the game is a good representation of the sport and whether it is any fun.

Starting the demo out with tutorials was a smart move on the part of EA Sports. It certainly takes a bit of time to get accommodated to the controls and throwing gamers into the fire would not have been a good way to go. At this point I actually found myself liking the controls which was a pleasant surprise. I’ve never been a big fan of heavy analog controls as I’ve always felt the right stick is better for secondary, rather than primary, functions. In the practice gym environment it was fun to try some of the different type of dribble moves, complete layups and dunks, and take jump shots using the right stick.

Of course taking those controls from a comfortable environment to a pressure-filled one with so many other things to think about can change that perception pretty quick and that is what happened for me. Things just didn’t come together in the full 5v5 games. I’m sure at some point the controls would become second nature but for now it’s a little overwhelming all things considered. Dribble moves have not seemed effective at creating space or beating defenders. Passing controls, using the right trigger, feels a bit unnatural and the icon passing experiences a delay which is troubling.

There is a feeling of achievement to making shots, I’ll give the new controls that much. The problem is that there don’t seem to be enough variables involved because EA wanted that “skill” based shooting. I’ve been able to consistently drain shots, even with defenders right in my face or when fading away, just because I got the timing right and moved the stick precisely enough.

Higher difficulties will obviously make shooting more difficult however player ratings, fatigue, defenders and such should be accounted for and not just timing and stick movement. Of course this “skill” based shooting system was the intent of the designers from the start, for those of you that remember the quote a while back from creative director David Littman “Now, if someone makes a shot from half court, you can’t get mad because it’s entirely skill-based.” That statement raised red flags and for good reason.

The decision to take out turbo is something I’m leaning towards as being a mistake. Removing it has worked well for other games (NHL, FIFA, Madden) but here it has proved to be detrimental to gameplay. Wanting to explode off the first step, drive into the lane, or make a sharp move I really feel like I’m now hampered by not being able to do that. Fast breaks have suffered as a result as well. It seems ironic that the focus would be on “total control” but they would then take away the ability to choose how to manage acceleration and speed.

Graphically the game has really taken a step back, dull and undefined. While I like the new commentary team they do come across as flat and emotionless. The real-time physics addition is hard to notice. I’m seeing some good looking things in player interaction away from the ball, but collisions have been minimal and everything else seems pretty generic.

At the very least there is no sense of getting sucked into animations. The biggest problem I had with NBA Live 10 was how driving the lane would end up with those contact animations (usually resulting in misses) rather than something organic. This I can appreciate but with the surrounding issues it is difficult to get excited about it. The atmosphere is also excellent which is something Live excelled in, though the default camera angle takes a lot of the intimacy of the arena out of the equation.

Issues that have plagued the Live series in the past are even seen here in Elite. Players going up for rebounds seem to do so in a straight up-and-down fashion. The ball has hit the ground without any sort of aggressiveness on the part of players to go up for it or after it. Directional passing is still very questionable and can’t be relied upon. The CPU offense doesn’t seem to focus enough on the star players, so going against the Lakers it seems like Derek Fisher controls things and actually Andrew Bynum has gotten the most touches from what I’ve noticed. Fast breaks are poorly executed by the CPU and are rare for the user. The animations and player movement are disappointing to say the least.

I’m not sure what it is, but at times (particularly on defense) there seems to be a delay in response and even a barrier between players. It is not always, just maybe to allow a CPU player to beat a user controlled player and drive by. I noticed this in the very first game I played so that is notable. The CPU offense doesn’t seem to have much of a rhythm or strategy either which makes playing defense pretty easy. Putting the right stick controls to steal (works pretty well) and block (tough to time and looks awkward) is again going to be something some people like and others don’t.

Become Legendary mode proves to be a little more forgiving, something I anticipated because of the ability to just focus on an individual player. I found the Jordan Draft Showcase to be pretty fun for what it was worth though it still carries with it the inherent gameplay flaws. It was pretty easy to drain shots (both teams shot very high percentages) even with my base character. Just having to worry about the one player makes it easier to concentrate and get the controls down however. I liked being able to control the ball as much as I wanted without having to be concerned about getting penalized for doing so. Makes the mode more engaging.

Overall I’d say the demo for NBA Elite 11 was a little better than I anticipated, avoiding complete disaster, but that is only due to some really low expectations. It still doesn’t come close to reaching the quality one would expect out of a series of this stature. The Become Legendary and (potentially) EASBA online team play remain somewhat intriguing and could be fun. I don’t envision playing the standard 5v5 game though in NBA Elite 11 given how skittish and unrefined it is. It is a shame that EA went this direction because NBA Live 10 was close to becoming a very good game and now it feels like they’ve reset and things are back at square one…a few years away from seeing a great game realized.

The main problem for NBA Elite is that it faces a competitor which has a much more polished product gameplay wise. The inclusion of NBA Jam looks to be the biggest selling factor in Elite’s favor, but whether that game is even enough to entice consumers to pick up NBA Elite 11 remains to be seen. Jam will likely be making it to the XBL and PSN sooner rather than later, especially if Elite flatlines out of the gate. More in the way of impressions, videos, and a Video Padrecast going over the demo in the coming days.