NBA 2K9 led the league in sales and critical acclaim last season while battling against inferior opponents, and has in general been leaps and bounds ahead of the competition for years now. In other words, it's tough being the king. But with the competition finally showing signs of life, NBA 2K10 is now looking to show that it has the goods to hold onto the crown.
On the Court
While playing the game, I immediately noticed a slower game pace. While I didn't have a real problem with the game speed in NBA 2K9, 2K10 does seem much more realistic at this slowed-down speed. The players also feel like they have weight and are taking proper steps instead of sliding up and down the court, which might be a byproduct of the slower speed.
In addition to the tweaked game speed, a ton of animations have also been added to the game. Special attention has been paid to blocks, under the basket moves, stripping the ball and almost anything else you can imagine. You can also roll the ball into play when you inbound it. This is useful during a tight game where every second counts. Kick balls will also be called when warranted. They don’t happen often, but they’re definitely in the game.
Some of the other new animations in the game are triggered during specific situations. If you find yourself in one of these unique situations, you may have a chance to catch an alley-oop off the backboard and dunk it home, or the chance to make a two-handed block. But the game isn't turning into some sort of street-ball game as both these particular events are relatively rare and should only happen during reasonable circumstances, at least according to the developers.
Many of the slower jump shots have been significantly sped up as well. This means a pass to Ray Allen in transition will result in a much quicker shot that is more like what you would expect Ray to pull off in real life.
On top of all the animations that have been added and removed this year, the passing game has also been tweaked to make cross-court passes a less viable option. There are also fewer dunks in traffic, which should make (almost) everyone happy.
At a base level, the turbo system has been reworked -- there is now a turbo meter that depletes as you use it. Since there is now a turbo meter, you can only use the speed boost for a certain amount of time before the meter runs out. But the truly interesting wrinkle is that you can continue to use turbo after the meter has run out. The downside is that fatigue will build up rapidly, which will leave you with an exhausted player. Players who abuse turbo will have to reach towards the end of the bench for fresh legs, leaving their team at a disadvantage.
The ratings system is also brand new this year. The range of attributes now goes from 25-99, so there is a much broader range for players to be rated within. Also, the game uses the statistics from 82games.com to make judgments about the various player tendencies. These tendencies involve the how, when and where players get into certain positions. This means that while Al Jefferson and Elton Brand may have similar ratings, the new system is promising to differentiate them, which would allow many players who play the same position and have similar attributes to still be unique on the court.
Beyond all those on-court elements, perhaps the best touch this year is the fact that there are now in-game saves.
The biggest addition to NBA 2K presentation in years is the introduction of NBA Today. The NBA season lasts from late October to the end of June. While NBA 2K10 will be eight months old in June 2010 when the NBA Finals are taking place, NBA Today will still be keeping the game fresh.
On any given day when an NBA game is being played, you can pop in NBA 2K10 and play those matchups. But what's so great about that? Well, as you play these games, you’ll see stat overlays from the real NBA season. The commentary will talk about upcoming real-life matchups, league leaders, standings and everything else related to the real NBA season. The stats will be updated daily throughout the season and playoffs, and you don’t need to be an Xbox Live Gold member to reap the rewards.
There are also signature introductions for just about every NBA team in the game. There are also unique player introductions. That means LeBron tosses up the powder, KG yells on the scoreboard and Shaq does his bowling routine -- these all will happen during the pregame introductions as Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg talk about the looming matchup. The nice part is that these introductions happen naturally; they are not cut scenes that you will be fed up with every time you pick certain teams.
Real assistant coaches have also been added. And I would know since I personally witnessed Patrick Ewing sitting reluctantly on the Orlando Magic bench as he waited for someone to offer him a head-coaching job.
The franchise mode in NBA 2K10 is deeper than ever. 2K has included 10-day contracts, restricted free agency, the ability to control all 30 teams and NBDL integration. An optional practice mode is also available if you want to give your players a spin. And as far as under the hood things go, player progression is now based solely on playing time and performance.
To give the Association an extended life, 2K Share is also lending its hand this year. You can upload and download draft classes that can be used in your franchise. These are all fan-created, so you can have the 2010 college kids, a retro 1991 draft class or one with your entire high school graduating class. It's all up to you, and you can use a draft class for every single offseason you come across.
On the gameplay side, any franchise game can be played against an online opponent to give each game a different feel. The Association mode was a strong point in previous NBA 2K games, and this year it looks even better.
This is where your NBA career begins. If you buy the NBA 2K10: Draft Combine for $4.99 (available now for Xbox 360 and September 3 for the PS3), you have a head start cultivating your player for the pros. Once he has competed in the combine, you can upload him to the 2K server, and then when NBA 2K10 releases, you can download your player and put him right in the game. If not, you go straight to My Player mode and do not collect $200.
Both versions of the game boast more creation options than any previous NBA 2K game. The developers have added tons of sneakers from every major brand, more hair options (like Drew Gooden’s patch) and you can also morph the player's face to your liking. During the creation process you also select a specific play style for your pro (for example, defensive-minded center) and signature animations, though, you individually select each of those. What that means is just because you have Rasheed Wallace’s jump shot that does not mean you have his dribble or free-throw style. You can individually choose each of those, and you unlock more options as you progress and improve your ratings.
As you go about making your player better, the 2K Insider will be there to help you out if need be. So if you’re a 3-point shooting small forward, it would be silly to focus on your blocking or offensive rebounding rating -- the 2K Insider knows that and he’ll tell you as much.
Beyond the scrimmages, games and drills that will occur if you choose to pick up the Draft Combine, your career will actually commence at training camp in NBA 2K10. If you were drafted, you will head to that team's training camp. Otherwise, you will need to be invited by another team, assuming you get an invite at all. Each team carries 20 players in training camp, and it’s your job to make it onto the final 15-man squad. Even if you make the team, you can be optioned to the NBDL to get your game up. As the season rolls along, you may be called up to the main squad to fill out the roster for an injured teammate.
If you’re not signed to a team, then you will be playing with the NBDL. You can be offered two consecutive 10-day contracts during this time -- the third offer snags you a league-minimum contract for the remainder of the season. However, that's not really a big deal because unlike in the real NBA, every offseason you become a free agent; though, you might have the option to sign with your former squad if the general manager wants you back. This design choice was made to keep the user focused on the game and not bogged down with fake currency and the desire to sign a max deal.
As your player grows and develops into a veteran, his skills will not diminish. The developers felt that it would undermine the work you put into your player if your skills decreased as your career came to a close.
There were a ton of problems that were associated with the online modes in NBA 2K9. Thankfully, the developers have focused on this portion of the experience -- they have rewritten a bunch of online code in an effort to try and make sure the online portion of the game works smoothly from day one.
On top of the online issues, like I mentioned before, you can play any franchise game online. There are also no formal ranked lobbies -- there are unranked lobbies -- but you won’t need to access any additional menus to play online games. Instead, you can invite your friends or play a stranger by accessing the quick-game menu right after turning the game on.
The Team-Up mode teams are still random during ranked games, though, you should have an easier time connecting with friends. You can also bring your My Player into the fold and he can join five on five street games where everyone else is a created player.
I also have to mention one little refinement that should make some people happy. After you finish a game, you can go through the replays of pretty much every play in the game -- this is no different than previous versions of the game. The nice touch is that now, instead of saving a replay and then editing it before uploading it online, you can now upload the replay right to the 2K site. It's a nice touch simply because it removes some of the busywork involved in the previous uploading process.
Last year one of my main complaints about NBA 2K9 was the fact that it was missing a unique mode -- especially because Team Up mode was a mess from day one. It’s still early, but it looks like the developers have at least added that big-time new mode for 2K10.
*Full disclosure: 2K paid for my one-night hotel stay and airfare during this trip. While it did not influence what I wrote here, I always think it is important to be upfront with the visitors of this site whenever possible.*