If you’re a fan of the EA Sports games, you know that most have been seriously redesigned in the past three years. First came the NHL and then the FIFA franchises. In August, Madden NFL gets a facelift. It’s also time for the NBA series’ revitalization. The name’s even been changed from NBA Live to NBA Elite 11.
Sitting down to play the game, the first thing I was told is that the controls had changed. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve changed with Facebook, Twitter, iPad games, all that stuff I love, except Farmville. But when it comes to sports games, I’m still old school: I like controller buttons more than controller sticks.
This isn’t buttons, said the rep. There’s the fearful thought that strikes me immediately. Oh, no: sticks. I’m going to be horrible at this. There will be other gamers watching as I play, and I’m the nerd that’s going to have to hang his head in utter shame.
In fact, it was just the opposite. The hands-On control mechanics were so intuitive and so precise, I’ll never want to play an NBA game without this particular control map again. Buttons? You don’t need no stinkin’ buttons. Here’s why.
The right stick ably moves your player around the court and the left stick moves your hands to throw and lifts your feet to jump. To throw from the paint or from downtown, you need to move from six o’clock to 12 o’clock pretty much exactly. And you have to release at the zenith of your jump. There’s some wiggle room, especially with the ace players, and most especially with my opponent who has the Oklahoma City Thunder advantage with the game’s cover athlete, Kevin Durant. You can see the slim margin for error you have by looking at the second of two round, radar-type screens that feature green sweet spots around the 12 o’clock point. You find this in the top right of the screen.
I really felt engaged because the controls made me feel like I was actually playing. You might say, "Actually playing? Give me a break; who’s paying this guy?" The thing is, I’ve been playing the NBA games for well over a decade now, and these really are the NBA controls most worthy of enthusiasm. Certainly others have tried that control scheme in which the right stick invokes the jump and shoot. But it has never felt this fluid or this natural or this authentic.
After the tip off, I saw my opponent getting really fancy with the controls, pretty much a master of the Thunder. His players dribbled like All-Stars – behind the back, too, as the quarter progressed; he even did a spin move to get past me. One thing was clear, you can be as creative as Kobe in this game, even if you’re not a household word.
However, the defense was so intuitive, I managed to block some shots by using the right stick as well (again, up and down at 12 o’clock to jump up and block). I even stopped him from under the basket, by getting right up on him and using the stick again to push back on him. This felt real, too, like I was using all my strength to hold him back.
And I stole the ball twice (which was accomplished by moving the right stick from left to right and back again. The result: a lethal but elegant swiping motion). At the end of the quarter with a few seconds to go, he was up by one point. I passed the ball to LeBron, but I couldn’t get inside the paint. Out went the ball to Wade. Gulp. There’s like two seconds on the clock now. I’m thinking, play like there’s more time because one quarter is all the time you get for this demo; move the stick straight up and down and release at the apex of the jump. Bam! I hit it from downtown as time ran out. I was Wade and I appreciated James’s controversial contract much more (although I still think LeBron should be in Cleveland).
Unfortunately, online play was not shown and the din was so loud in the demo room that I couldn’t hear the announcers, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen. There were some glitches that the designers will fix before the game drops in October, in particular, players sliding across the floor when they should be running or dribbling. One thing the demo expert said was that this year, EA would sacrifice some of the graphics for better AI and game design. The designers, however, promise to tweak the graphics next year.
Still, players need not worry about the game's graphics. In the game I played, the Miami Heat versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, The Holy Trinity (or Unholy, depending on your point of view), looked pretty much like they do in reality. I didn’t see much of drop in graphical excellence, though I did witness some sliding. But the only thing that irked me was the floor cleaning guy, the dude who mops up the sweat on the court. Action was happening right in front of him, and he’s daydreaming, looking up in the stands for someone or something I couldn’t see. I mean, it’s LeBron, Dwayne and Chris. Get excited!