Console side, NBA Elite 11 is easily the most disappointing high-profile flop in recent memory from EA Sports. Positioned as a complete rebranding effort away from NBA Live and designed to take back market share from 2K, NBA Elite 11 represented hope for a new approach to basketball videogames. They gave players total control over everything, and this was supposed to bring skill to all aspects of the game, from dribble moves and defense tactics to offensive proficiency.
Once the demo arrived, NBA Elite 11 was taken to the tool shed by most basketball fans for a number of reasons. It was filled with bugs and allowed hook shot three pointers, to name two. After listening to fan reaction, EA Sports canned NBA Elite 11 for the consoles. Luckily for us in iOS land, the mobile version of NBA Elite 11 didn’t meet the same fate.
Jams it in.
Compared to last year’s NBA Live on iOS, NBA Elite 11 is a huge step in the right direction. The usual trimmings you would expect in an EA Sports game are here. All 30 NBA teams and players appear, with real licensed arenas and a full complement of gameplay modes, including Season and 3-Point Shootout modes. As a nice surprise, you’ll find commentary by Mike Breen and unlockable NBA legends like Hakeem the Dream and the Admiral among others.
NBA Elite 11’s flow resembles an actual basketball game rather than a dunk fest. The control scheme is practically perfect here. A flexible directional pad and two multi-purpose buttons serve as the functional tools needed to pass, shoot, block, and steal away the rock from your opponent. Shooting takes a little while to adjust to. Most basketball games emphasize releasing the ball at the apex of the jump shot, but NBA Elite’s sweet spot has you releasing the ball just before the top of the jump. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but with some adjustment your shooting percentages will be just fine.
No shattered backboard?
Pulling off smooth crossovers, in-‘n-outs, and step back moves are secondary flick extensions on the passing button, and they work wonderfully. Passing the ball around is especially precise using the icon passing option, which slows the game down, Matrix style, to reduce errant passes. Running plays temporarily freeze the action in a smart nod towards touch screen consideration. We’re very impressed with the nuance and thought put into the controls.
As much as we appreciate the controls, NBA Elite 11 does have some significant issues with its A.I. logic and execution. Before we get into those issues, one great thing about playing the CPU is that they actually run plays. They run pick-n-rolls, back cuts, and isolations to get off good shots.
Beyond that, the A.I. does some stupid things, like running plays to completion no matter what defensive looks they get. We can leave other players wide open while doubling in the post, and the ball never gets worked around to the open man. In isolated instances the open guy does receive the ball, but doesn’t shoot. We’ve notice this trend with open players like Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant, to name a few. On All-Star, the CPU rarely misses shots, too. Whether players are open or taking contested jump shots, the CPU will make it rain, all game.
EA Sports seems to have bought up all the advertising.
The biggest leap made over last year is the presentation in NBA Elite 11. All the arenas, players, and animations are very solid and convincing. These facts are especially evident in replay montages and spectacular dunks. One downside to the animations is the high frequency of turnovers from going out of bounds. Navigating the perimeter wing area on a traditional console is tough, and using a touch screen makes things that much more difficult. We would have appreciated an invisible barrier on the baseline to prevent cheap turnovers while trying to pull off special moves. The ambiance and feel of a live crowd comes through but the play-by-play commentary is a lacking with a one-man booth.
Compared to where EA’s basketball offering was last year on iOS, NBA Elite 11 is a big step in the right direction. Over the next several months as they prep next year’s version, we’d like to see more dynamic A.I., multiplayer support, and signature style for the huge personalities fans know and love. What this year has shown us is that iOS gaming has taken its rightful place as a mainstream platform for all types of games, and the bar has been raised for everyone.