NBA 2K11 Online Impressions

Posted October 15th, 2010 at 10:00 am

The NBA 2K series has struggled mightily with online play as 2K Sports attempted to expand features while taking on the increased load that has come with the growing sales base. Crippling lag and features that didn’t function as advertised made for a frustrating online experience.

While NBA 2K11’s online play can still be considered an area of weakness it has seemingly avoided being the disaster of the last few years. The game didn’t add any new online features choosing instead to work on establishing greater stability. That has paid off for the most part though some nagging issues remain.

I’ve now spent a good deal of time playing online and navigating the options, but have also collected the thoughts of friends and reports from online communities. I am generally pleased with the overall experience as at the very least it has been greatly improved. There continue to be some reports of lag and disconnects, though not at an alarming rate and I haven’t come across those issues myself as of late. Searching for ranked matches does seem to take quite a while though not the several minutes that some were sitting through in the days following release.

The standard ranked and unranked games I’ve played have been surprisingly smooth and responsive except in one area. The jump shot timing is very difficult to figure out, and no matter the adjustments being made to try and compensate I haven’t been able to find any success. This is primarily seen in three point shooting as the average seems to come in at about 10%. This isn’t just an issue on my end either as many have noted it and even the best opponents I’ve played have only been able to finish around 20%.

That has resulted in the online strategy of giving up open jump shots in an attempt to prevent penetration or interior looks. That can be a little frustrating, especially when playing with teams that have good shooters can’t take advantage of it.

What gets me about the jump shot timing is how everything else really does feel responsive. Even with free throws I quickly picked up adjustment of releasing slightly earlier and have been able to do well with them. However when it comes to the long jump shots, no matter how open and how good the shooter is, I just can’t get it down no matter experimentation with different timing on the releases.

The co-op modes continue to struggle with lag and disconnects. Team-Up and Crew modes have been practically unplayable for some, and the games rarely fill up due to lack of time for players to enter the room, though there is some hope for improvement. It just doesn’t seem like these modes are a priority for 2K however. It is still to early to gauge how the online leagues as they come off a year where they were broken. That will be something to monitor going forward.

Exploit wise there has been some talk about the ease of completing alley-oops and the success of cherry picking. I’ve seen a few questionable alley-oops but haven’t faced anyone who has attempted more than a couple. I did face a guy who made it very difficult to inbound the ball resulting in a number of deflected passes, but that could very well have just been my inexperience in the situation.

Ranked games are five minutes long which is resulting in low final scores. Most of the games are finishing with teams in the 40s. While that means the stats aren’t going to be realistic the amount of game time seems to be quite fair in determining the winner. Games have lasted about a half hour which is just about ideal as well. The CPU slows things down though with unnecessary auto substitutions and timeouts. It would be nice if those processes were sped up a bit online.

2K Sports really didn’t want the lobbies and unranked challenges area found as they hid it as best as they could. “Who’s Online” has to be pulled up and then flipped to the friends listing there to select from for a challenge or over to reach lobby rooms. The menu system should place all the online modes in one area. Instead ranked games are started from the Quick Game menu, Team Up and Crew modes have their own separate menu area, and the lobbies and unranked challenges are located in the “Who’s Online” area.

Presentation wise I’m pleased with what has transferred over from offline, with at least a short halftime show (just stats) and the post-game highlights being especially nice to have.  After the game is over there are several things to check out including the box scores and team stats and the player specific “signature” highlight packages. The “Pressbook” which collects a number of screenshots from the completed game offers some nice images but there doesn’t seem to be a way to upload them unfortunately.  At least selecting “Pressbook” no longer freezes the console as it had been doing earlier.

The “NBA Today” presentation additions, there in the first few days following release, are no longer shown. There had been what were essentially previews of upcoming games that played after the first and third quarters. Not anything particularly interesting but that could just be due to looking ahead to preseason games rather than meaningful ones.

Seeing the opposition’s gamertag under each and every player rather than the actual player’s name is something that should be changed. It’s understandable to have the gamertags displayed in the co-op modes but in standard ranked and unranked games it is much more beneficial to see the player’s real name. It can be difficult to identify every player on the court just by appearance and that can alter the way defense is played on an individual or how to attack a certain player on the offensive side of the ball.

It is disappointing that the classic teams can’t be used at all online even in unranked games. I had been looking forward to playing a few games against friends with the Sonics. It seems to be kind of an odd decision that with all the focus on Michael Jordan this year there is no way to actually play with him and the classic teams online.

While there are still some struggles the overall online experience in NBA 2K11 is encouraging. Standard games could be enhanced greatly by figuring out what is causing the difficulty in timing jump shots and by switching the display of gamertags to player names. Other areas to focus on are the co-op modes and putting all the online options in one central menu area. Hopefully 2K Sports commits the resources to improving online stability and performance even further but 2K11 represents a relatively big shift in the right direction.