Last week, while the Los Angeles Lakers were next door at Staples Center adding another chapter to their illustrious dynasty, the longest-running NBA video game franchise was in the early stages of adding a new chapter of its own. At E3, NBA Elite 11 was introduced in a private booth, and we were there for a hands-on experience.
I got to test out the all-new control scheme of NBA Elite 11 in a one-on-one practice session with LeBron James and cover athlete Kevin Durant. Naturally, the first thing I attempted do was pick up the rock and get a feel dribbling the ball. With the left stick controlling your feet and player movement, the right stick is your main weapon for breaking down the defense with your handles. Driving to the hoop, the left trigger acts as a modifier to pull off Wade-type step backs or euro steps. However, since the Elite team is trying to reward the skilled players this year, there is quite a learning curve involved in the execution of these moves. A bad stick maneuver will not only cause you to lose your dribble, but you might also launch into an unwanted shot since shooting is mapped to the same stick.
Shooting the ball also takes some time to get used to, and it requires real attention even after you are comfortable with the mechanics. I feel like having to focus on each shot could be a great thing because it allows gamers to appreciate real basketball factors like the hot hand or good 'ol pressure. In addition to the shooting mechanic, under the hood, the range of each player's jumper is directly tied to attributes. Dunking the ball is done with the left trigger while pushing up on the right stick. You can adjust these dunks in mid-air if the big man is coming your way, or you just want to be fancy for no reason like Vince Carter.
Defense in NBA Elite 11 also has a few game changers. Players now have the ability to slide their feet manually while playing defense. The real-time physics engine plus the extinction of two-player canned animations leaves you in total control of how you play defense –- whether you shade the ball handler to one side or you cut him off on the drive, the choice is yours to make. Effective close outs on the shooter are also now a possibility if you slide your feet properly. Post defense is all about positioning as well. Win the battle for position, and you win the post game. If that fails, you can try reaching around for a steal -- done by pushing down on the right stick while up attempts a block.
Although I was not totally satisfied after my time with Elite, I was definitely intrigued by what the game was trying to accomplish. Many have compared the controls overhaul to the NHL series, and although that is true in terms of the "right stick is your hand" concept, I thought the execution of the dribbling moves actually felt more like the FIFA series. The difference is, in the game of soccer, moves like the "flip flap" are not only difficult to pull off in a competitive game, but they are also not essential to victory. In basketball, however, a good crossover or spin move oftentimes leads to getting points on the board. In other words, making the gameplay both skill-driven and fairly accessible will be the main task for EA’s basketball franchise this season.
Will they be able to achieve such an Elite status? As a basketball gamer desperately looking for a new experience, I really hope so.
View all the NBA Elite 11 control screenshots here.