To me, NBA 2K11 was not only the best sports game of last year, it was easily in the top three of all games released in the whole year. My reasons for finding it so enjoyable are of course founded on the brilliant gameplay, but the thing that put it over the top for me was the inclusion of Michael Jordan. When I became interested in the NBA (I believe I was around ten or eleven years old), Jordan and his Bulls team were a joy to watch (although my favourite team was the Charlotte Hornets). Since I actually remembered some of the games and moments, that they included in the game, and knew the others by reputation, the Jordan Mode became something special. I was absolutely floored by the attention to detail and the level of commitment that shone through, and I remember saying to a friend that “If EA does this with Gretzky or Lemieux in the next NHL (my goto sports series), I may never stop playing”.
Imagine my anticipation when EA announced that “the legends are back”.
Sadly, I feel that they could have done more with this feature. I mean, Gretzky’s ghost has been present in some of the previous games as well, since his records have been the last career milestones in the “Be a Pro” mode. What they have done here is basically a few character models for some great players, and added some more milestones that are based not just on a whole career, but also on single games or seasons. I will not argue that Wayne Gretzky’s career is perhaps the most impressive feat in any sport in history, but I also come to think of a conversation in The West Wing, where Hoynes talks about how the greatness of sports comes from savouring the moments. I believe that is why NBA 2K11 was so special – you actually got the opportunity to relive spectacular moments in Jordan’s career, with accurate framing achieved by changing Jordan’s character model, as well as digitally recreating every other player on the court.
One could argue that the greatest moments in Gretzky’s or Lemieux’ careers would not make for nearly as much drama as Jordans, and thus, the mode would not be as fun to play. I mean “put the record-breaking goal in an empty net” does not make for great video game drama. Still, there are moments to be found in certain games, or series of games. For example, NHL 12 starts with the winter classic, and that’s fine. But if EA had been serious about bringing the legendary, it would have started in the last period of the last final game of the 87 Canada Cup – still the best hockey game I have ever seen in terms of entertainment.
And there are other moments to be found, like Lemieux coming back after receiving radiation treatment for freaking cancer, twelve points behind Lafontaine, and ending up as many points ahead at the end of the season – winning the Art Ross trophy despite missing many games and having cancer. I played the whole finals series between the Bulls and the Lakers, and I would gladly play the last 17 games while controlling Lemieux with heavily reduced stats, trying to repeat this amazing feat, all the while hearing the commentators talk about it. Also, I would have liked to see the inclusion of classic teams (Lemieux-Jagr-Stevens and Gretzky-Kurri-Messier) and while I am at it – do they really expect me to play a whole career with my created pro just to unlock Gretzky, and then start over to play another full career as the Great One?
So no, to me, NHL 12 is not the be all, end all of sports games. Still, when it comes to gameplay, It’s probably the best in the series in my opinion. And after all, they did include Börje Salming, so the Swedish flag is held high. All this means that I’ll probably play NHL 12 for a long time, but I’ll have to back down on my promise and stop when NHL 13 comes along (hopefully with the opportunity to replay the Sweden-Finland game from the 2003 world championships, where Sweden went from 1-5 to 6-5).
I’ll end with a mention of Börje Salming. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs for 16 years, where he still holds the franchise record for most assists in a career (and he’s a defenseman). A measure of his greatness is shown in this clip below (starting at 0:38), where Sweden is playing Team USA in Toronto during the Canada Cup of 1976. Watch the (Canadian) audience’s reaction and keep in mind that it’s a Swedish player they are cheering for.
That’s a sports moment if ever I saw one.