NBA 2K11 review: Long live His Airness

As with any well-rounded basketball team, NBA 2K11's success hinges on collaboration. It's a pretty corny analogy, but it's the truth: a combination of realistic gameplay, improved ball handling techniques and challenging AI go a long way toward making NBA 2K11 the best basketball game around. Lack of quality competition probably doesn't hurt, either.
%Gallery-99635% Veterans of the series will immediately feel at home. A simplified two-button scheme allows you to employ expert strategy on the fly, calling picks, setting up alley-oops and pulling off quick-step back moves to drain threes like a pro. It's a control system that rewards those who spend the time to learn its nuances -- such as IsoMotion Dribbling and the enhanced ShotStick Controls.

IsoMotion lets players size up a defender or chain together hesitation maneuvers to crossovers and such by combining the left trigger with the left analog stick -- for example, holding in the left trigger and spinning the left analog stick in a full circle from ball hand to opposite side executes a behind the back move. It's an easy system to grasp, but a hard one to master and execute, especially when on-the-court action heats up.

As the name implies, the ShotStick gives greater control over any attempt on the basket. Let's say you've got a clogged lane and you're going up for a lay-up. If you've got the ball in your right hand and move the right analog stick to the right, you can roll the ball to the outside, away from the defender. It's a simple, incredibly effective addition that ensures you're never stuck in canned animations and miss out on potential points.

The biggest selling point this year is the Jordan Challenge mode, which lets you replay 10 of Jumpman 23's most memorable games. 2K Games picked really good match-ups here, but despite how thrilling they were to see in real-life and subsequently play here in the game, they're also damn tough. Newcomers who came specifically for this Jordan content will find the overbearing CPU frustrating. A save system eases the tension some, but it's still a tough prospect when the CPU is picking off your passes and dropping points on you left and right.

If you're not schooled in the hooping ways, well, then you're probably going to get schooled yourself -- and that doesn't just go for the Jordan mode.

At times, the CPU players seem to be clairvoyant, especially in their uncanny ability to pick off passes they have no business nabbing -- unless they have eyes in the back of their head. But at least the defense is really aware, predicting planned driving lanes and making it a lot tougher to succeed in executing a close game attack.

But this is all getting away from the important thing: There isn't a better modern basketball game on the market and even brushing the lack of competition aside, NBA 2K11 shows an incredible amount of polish and attention to what makes this genre work. It's about ease of play execution, realistic physics and resistance in the paint. NBA 2K11 offers all of this and for schooled ballers, it's an unparalleled game.

Michael Jordan once said, "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." If you're new to the game, expect to fail quite a bit -- but the ends justify the means. You'll not only grow as a player of the game, but as an appreciator of the sport. In the end I'm betting you'll, like me, come to realize NBA 2K11 is the truest adaptation of the sport available.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of NBA 2K11 provided by 2K Games.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.