NBA 2K10 Review
This year, EA Sports certainly took the hockey simulation crown as 2K’s effort came up short but it’s a much closer race in the world of basketball. NBA Live 10 is one of the best entries in the series that I’ve seen in years, and after spending several hours playing NBA 2K10, I realized there aren’t drastic differences in quality between the two competing titles. However, there are distinct control and gameplay differences and although I may be in the minority, I found this title more frustrating and not quite as sound in the areas of AI and overall explosiveness. I will quickly remind the reader, though, that I played with two other people who didn’t have the same view, so bear that in mind; opinions always vary, you know? All I can do is provide you with the basic information and my own personal recommendation, but while I may come across as being a little bitter, my conclusion shouldn’t be viewed as overtly negative.
The graphics are an interesting blend of realistic players and animations, dynamic arenas that spring to life during intense moments and close fourth-quarter competition, and slick menu presentation. In Live, all the players had this shiny, plastic-y look – due to the sweat – that was somewhat off-putting, but here, the players appear more authentic and perhaps even more detailed. The animations are equally pleasing in comparison to EA’s production and overall, I’d have to say that neither game stands head-and-shoulders above the other in the visuals department. We do have a little more diversity in 2K’s title, just because we have the option of the Blacktop mode, which certainly holds a rougher, coarser street-ball style. The only downside happens when the action stops and the animations become jerky as players take their positions. Other than this, there ain’t much to complain about.
The sound is also a little better than it was in Live because the commentary is more on-point and I liked the soundtrack more. The effects are good, especially when it comes to the rowdy crowds that really respond well to certain situations, but we’re lacking a little in the way of player effects. When playing EA’s game, one would often hear the grunts of effort and the corresponding squeak of sneakers that put us right in the center of the action; in 2K10, I felt slightly more removed from the player I was controlling. But other than this, the music, atmospheric and ambiance effects, and excellent commentary that only occasionally dips in quality and accuracy; it all comes together very nicely. The sound gets all the more satisfying when your home crowd rewards your effort and the announcers acknowledge the tenseness of the situation. And yeah, the soundtrack is more about personal preference.
At first, I was relatively convinced that the gameplay would not only be more realistic, but also more entertaining than it was in Live. That’s taking nothing away from EA – they really worked to erase major eccentricities that players could exploit – but from the outset, the momentum and movement physics in NBA 2K10 felt better. I took cover man Kobe Bryant out on the Practice court to learn as much as I could about the controls and after completing that, testing out the free throw mechanism, and performing some simple strategy and post play tasks, I jumped into a Quick Play with high expectations. But despite the fact that I held to my opinion that the movement physics really did feel slightly more authentic, I quickly began to spot a few drawbacks that made me question the very high review scores I’ve been seeing. In short, the surface presentation concerning the base control appears to work extremely well, but the balance, from what I could see, seems off.
For example, you can hold the L2 button to execute “Shut Down D,” which has returned and, as 2K describes it, allows you to “shadow your opponent’s every move.” …okay, than why do most competent players have the capability to break my ankles and slide out of that tough defense? This happened even when I was using the best defensemen in the game and I could only come to the conclusion that I had to always play off the faster players. Then I started to realize that the offense always seemed to have the advantage but even worse, the computer had the uncanny ability to take advantage of that imbalance. In playing three games, the likes of the Thunder and Knicks shot 63%, 61%, and 70% from the field, and that’s just plain ridiculous. Even when I made a concerted effort to try new defensive strategies, keep players out of the paint, and force tough shots, they seemed to make just about everything. They could also easily outrebound any AI-controlled players under the basket.
And this leads me to the other problem, which is the AI. The main reason I had to play off those speedy guards is because if I let them go, none of my teammates wanted to get in the way. On the flip side, this didn’t always turn into an easy bucket because the opposing AI isn’t great, either; players would often inexplicably stop en route to a wide open dunk or layup and pass it off. So yeah, that’s another shortcoming. Lastly, I have to mention the fluidity failings when play stops; a ball might fly out of bounds and it takes a long time for the referee to retrieve it and hand it over, and sometimes, the camera wouldn’t even follow a free throw. The constant substitution pop-up windows that have to stay on screen for at least a few seconds also got in the way, and when I took to the Blacktop courts, that was just added confusion and irritation. It seemed like everyone could blow by me, and shooting the ball on my side never seemed easy.
You can either use the shot stick (right analog) or press square, but either way, the key is to release at the correct time. Unfortunately, this means you can easily miss shots from directly under the basket if you’re off on the release, and I absolutely hated this mechanic. Only when you get into a “release groove” as I started to call it could you start hitting shots; when out of this groove, you’d miss just about everything. But as I continued to play and introduced a few friends to the game, things began to brighten up. Even though I maintain my belief that the offense has an unfair advantage, that the AI on both sides is definitely lacking, and the special moves aren’t all that “special,” I started to get the hang of things. Buckets would fall, I’d finally set up my defense so I could get some key stops, and I started to get into the game’s key features. Creating your own player from scratch is always fun, but there’s a lot more; everything from Signature Play (unique to each player) to the benefit of NBA Today.
While Live streams in ESPN radio and provides you with that very cool DNA system, 2K10 gives us NBA Today, which keeps you up-to-date on all the current happenings in the NBA. You can even see a game that just ended and if you don’t like how it ended, you can play it yourself. Furthermore, I got my buddies involved, jumped online for a bit, and really had a blast. While the preceding complaints stick in my head and when I go back to play it now, they rear their ugly heads, the multiplayer is just plain awesome and I think the online experience was a little more lag-free than it was when I experimented with Live. For some reason, when humans play each other, many of those gameplay balance issues tend to disappear, which only reminds me that much of the game’s problem centers on AI. But with practice, you can work past this and underneath is a solid b-ball sim.
I know I’m in the minority here, but I’m also not in the business of simply siding with other critics ‘cuz it follows the norm. Never been into “following.” And in my opinion, while I believe fans of the sport can have plenty of fun with both titles in question, I think EA has a slightly better production. It’s just less frustrating and in the end, feels a bit more complete the whole way around. That being said, I once again admit to a whole lot of personal preference coming into play due to the inherent quality similarities. This one looks a little better, the commentary is definitely better, the online and multiplayer (in my experience) was a bit more fun, the movement physics are more authentic, and the many features and options are on par with Live. But the occasionally iffy control, very questionable AI, and significant balance issues makes me give the nod to EA.
10/12/2009 Ben Dutka