There's a lot riding on NBA Elite 11. Now that EA has decided to retire its NBA Live series -- which graced consoles for the last 15 years -- and completely overhaul its game engine, it's hoping to reclaim the throne it lost to the NBA 2K series so many years ago.
The first change that's apparent is the new controls. Gameplay is handled primarily through the use of both analog sticks -- the left stick acts as your feet, while the right stick represents your hands. It was jarring at first trying to link together moves in succession. But after only a few minutes, I was able to execute lay-ups, crossovers and even dunks. Once I really started to think of it in terms of feet and arms, it all really became intuitive.
For example, in order to do a crossover, you simply push the right stick to one side, then immediately to the other. But for something like a spin move, you push the right stick to one side, then roll it under all the way over to the other side. With crossovers in the mix, you can start linking together multiple moves and really dance around the court. And even when doing something like a lay-up, you can use the right stick to fake out defenders on the fly to adjust your approach. If somebody's in the way, you can switch hands and go around them at will. It makes the experience very dynamic and more lifelike than it has been in the past.
And you know how EA promised NBA Elite 11 would rely less on luck for shooting and would instead implement something skill-based? Well, it works -- depending on your player's skill level and proximity to the hoop, a "sweet spot" will either grow or shrink. This is shown in a radar-like meter in the top-right corner of the screen. The straighter you push the right stick, the more accurate your shot will be and the closer you are to the hoop, the more forgiving your shots will be should you move the right stick a bit to the left or right during shooting.
EA has also taken the physics and animations back to the drawing board. No longer are two players tied together with an invisible rope, which makes interactions between the two more realistic. This means that you won't get stuck in lengthy, canned animations during which you lose control of your player or accidentally step out of bounds. Now, the animations are as long as you deem fit and players collide and interact more naturally. Stealing is even more realistic because of this: defensive players can swipe at the ball using the right stick, taking advantage of an unsuspecting player, rather than hammering on a steal button and hoping they'll eventually pop the ball out.
I'm anxious to see how all of this will work in a full game. At EA's behind-closed-doors session at E3, I was only able to play a one-on-one training session to get a closer look at all of the changes. I'd really like to see 10 players out on the court, using all of this new tech at once. As far as reboots go, it seems EA really has something special here. The new controls, physics and animation work show real improvement over the iterative releases of old.