NBA 2K10 Review (Xbox 360)
It has been an exciting 10 years for the NBA 2K series and basketball gamers alike. After the first installment in 1999, NBA 2K soon became a staple in the hoops genre. The series has provided an enjoyable playing experience for casual gamers while presenting a good enough challenge for those with insane stick skills. The franchise has also been known for dishing out a realistic NBA experience that allows basketball junkies like myself to live out their hoop dreams through our gaming consoles.
With perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant starring as the game's front man, NBA 2K10 aims to accomplish the same goal as its cover athlete: defend its championship crown. But like all things from which greatness is expected, the level of expectations are high. A decade since its introduction, can NBA 2K10 still rise up to the challenge?
Once the game starts up, NBA 2K10’s confidence in its presentation oozes right through your TV. As the Black Mamba tugs on his gold and purple Lakers jersey, you hear the announcers Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg call an exciting in-game play, which gives you an instant feel for how impressive the commentating is this year.
Once you hit the start button you’re brought right to the totally revamped main menu. The new layout looks good enough, but the functionality still is not exactly user friendly. Having to hold the left stick in one direction while pressing the "A" button to choose an option feels more suited for the Wii controller.
Once you get a hang of the awkward menu controls and hit the court, you’ll immediately notice just how much 2K Sports stepped up the presentation this year. From the player introduction lights to D-Wade sticking his head in the rim before tip-off to KG giving man-hugs to everyone in the Celtics organization, NBA 2K10 gives you Jack Nicholson-type courtside seats to the action. But to my dismay, there’s no sign of Anderson Varejao mocking LeBron’s chalk routine –- bummer.
On the Court
The presentation clearly went up a couple of notches, but the NBA 2K series is known for its authentic gameplay. The game does a great job keeping the core aspects of gameplay together while fine-tuning and adding new elements to the experience. Isomotion is back and is better than ever, although there is a learning curve involved here. The isomotion button has been switched to the left trigger, which allows you to pull off dribble moves without wasting the turbo you have at your disposal. Similar to real basketball, you’re going to need a consistent left hand if you want to pull of the right dribble moves.
Post moves are mostly built around the triggers now -- your guy will now post-up automatically, which frees up the triggers for fakes and power moves. The new controls have in many ways simplified the post-play aspect of the game for the better, but if you were a 2K9 player, you will need some time to adjust to the new system. But once you’ve figured the system out, the variety of animations and movies you have access to should make you want to feed your big man every time down the floor.
Play calling has also been modified. In addition to the off-ball controls and quick plays, you can now assign four players to each one of the positions. Although the play calling is done well enough in principle, the same cannot be said about the execution. Players still laze around while trying to to get to their spots on called plays, and to make matters worse, there seems to be a shorter time window to execute the plays. This results in way too many broken plays and a frustrated coach on the sidelines. If you were anxious to see how 2K responded to NBA Live 09’s revolutionary play-calling system then brace yourself for some disappointment. But at the very least, the players do a better job of breaking off into sets after a play breaks down, so there are less instances of players standing around dumbfounded after a play does not work.
Signature Play has been a staple for the series since NBA 2K7, and this year is no different. Shaq’s whole post-move set is unique to only him, while Kobe’s ridiculous footwork is evident when he takes his signature leaner drifting to his left. Shooting releases that were incorrect last year are also well done in most cases -- examples include Stephen Jackson and Caron Butler. Higher-profile rookies have also been shown some love in this department. Tyreke Evans has his one of a kind slingshot release, and you better keep a man close to Stephen Curry to stop the quick-shooting guard from launching one from deep -- Monta Ellis would at least like to start with him in NBA 2K10.
One other note about Signature Play is the fact that when you play against the AI, you will now see stars act more like themselves. It was one thing to have the superstar moves in the game, but it's a relief to finally see the AI use these moves and play a particular style with certain players.
Alley-oops can be a problem, among a few other nuances.
Shot releases as a whole are quicker this year, which reduces the amount of blocked jump shots on the perimeter. Player tendencies are also very evident during the game –- Ron Artest jacks up every open look he gets, while Rip Hamilton runs tirelessly off screens. However, Hawks fans should also be pleased to know that Josh Smith does not attempt to bring the ball up the court while ignoring the yells from his coach and the fans -- where's the authenticity 2K?
Visual Concepts has also done a great job adding more contextual shot animations to the game. You’ll be amazed by the tricky floaters, off-balance leaners and nifty layups that players take when adjusting to the defense. However, it does seem that the prettier and tougher the shot looks, the higher the percentage there is of it going in the hoop. From a basketball standpoint, that is just not correct.
Thankfully, layup success has been toned down this year. Gone are the days of having to deal with Marcin Gortat being just as dominant in the paint as Dwight Howard. But just like the last few years, there is an "in the paint" issue this season as well. This year players sometimes take jump shots within two feet of the rim and sometimes even on the break.
More known for being the dirty aspect of basketball, rebounding actually plays out beautifully in NBA 2K10. There are a handful of new tip-ins and putback animations in this year’s game, which makes jostling for position all that more essential. If you fail to execute a box out on a missed shot, then sit back, relax and watch Birdman soar through the air for an emphatic putback slam.
And speaking of high-flyers, alley-oops are bound to catch your eyes this year. When performed properly, dunking the ball off a lob pass is as Kanye West puts it, amazing. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for these plays to get highly excessive while playing on any difficulty level. For example, I once witnessed Stephen Jackson throw a lob pass from the baseline to Anthony Randolph -- who had started his stride just inside the 3-point line. Lastly, after a yearlong hiatus, layup alley-oops are back in 2K10.
Playing on-ball defense has been tweaked to perfection this year. Lockdown defense has been replaced by the new mechanic "Shut Down D," and with this new feature, you’re able to really crowd the ball handler the way Kobe Bryant does when he locks in defensively. Also, you now have the ability to steer the ball handler in a desired direction, which helps keep an offensive player from his preferred side of the court. But don’t try to be too aggressive, otherwise a player with the quickness of Derrick Rose will leave you left out to dry.
Team defense also feels and plays a lot better because players off the ball help off their man and usually recover accordingly. This is a minor tweak to most, but it goes a long way towards getting the court spaced out appropriately.
Gameplay AI is not as frustrating as last year, regardless of the difficulty level. Hall of fame games are not the ally-oop fests they used to be. Instead the AI does a great job breaking your defense down with a drive and kick. You will have little to complain about when CP3 drives the lane, sucking your defense in, and then hits James Posey in the corner for the open 3-ball. This year you’re also way more likely to be left in awe of the other team’s execution, rather than being infuriated about cheap CPU points. Every now and again an alley-oop is manufactured out of nowhere, but that can happen on any difficulty level and it can be done by a user as well, so at least it’s fair.
The AI, however, does a very bad job reading passing lanes when outletting the ball. Too many times the AI releases a pass even if you’re standing right between the ball and the pass receiver after a rebound. I’ve also racked up a few steals and forced turnovers by just standing in front of a player before a sideline inbounds play -- Lamar Odom would be proud.
An area where NBA 2K10 fails to deliver the goods relates to the passing game. It is far too easy to run up the court and just lead pass it to the cutting big man in the paint for an easy dunk. This has online exploit written all over it, and it could potentially hamper the gameplay experience. Now players do get in the passing lanes and get tips and steals on other passes, but for some reason the AI on defense always tends to turn its back on the ball when its defensive assignment is cutting to the hoop. As a result, hitting the slashing player is cash like Steve Nash at the free-throw line.
There's absolutely no reason why a defensive stalwart like Marcus Camby should have his back to the basketball while standing two feet away from the hoop. That close to the rim, the defender has to have his eyes on both the ball and his man. NBA 2K10 does make up for this setback somewhat by tweaking the blocking system. Swats this season happen at a lesser rate than the block party hosted by NBA 2K9, and when you do get a swipe at the ball, it feels right.
And in case you did not already know this, the animations in NBA 2K10 are the best in any basketball game to date.
2K fans will be happy to hear the game still plays well.
My Player is a great addition to the franchise. The mode allows you to either create a player from scratch or load up your Draft Combine player. If you have a Draft Combine player, chances are you will get drafted in the second round -- newly created players don’t go through the draft process.
Regardless, the first step of your NBA career consists of you playing summer-league ball. Eventually, you’ll make an NBA team’s roster and spend a lot of time riding the pine until you prove yourself. And while there will be many trials and tribulations along the way, being on the court is always fun.
The great teammate grading system is what holds this game mode together and keeps it unique. Taking good shots, filling lanes correctly and boxing out are some of the many things you can do to improve your teammate rating. On the other hand, bad shots, hugging the rock and playing lazy defense will keep you in the D-League. This system makes every single possession important, which keeps you more focused than you would be during a typical game against the AI. However, I would love to see a "clutch" grade added to the rating system. Tunde Daniel, my virtual 6-foot-3 scoring guard, hit a dagger 3-pointer and got no props for it –- such is the life for the next John Starks.
Outside of playing games, you can improve your player by gaining skill points or going through drills. Sadly, these drills are hardly engaging. They could be much better if there was some sort of structure in the shape of a trainer/ coach or some ball racks to help make the drills run smoother. Perfect practice makes perfect, not just practice alone -- at least that’s what my coach used to say.
While My Player is the newest mode this year, the Association is still the deepest mode in the NBA 2K series. In NBA 2K10 there are a number of changes that add more authenticity to the franchise experience.
NBA Today is fully integrated into this mode, which keeps the presentation up to date with the happenings in your league. Another thing you are sure to notice is the addition of the National Basketball Developmental League (NBDL). You now have the option of calling up a promising prospect or sending down one of your young players who needs the playing time. To give general managers even more control, 10-day contracts are now available and can be offered to free agents and the D-League hopefuls. Playing games in the D-League is also an option, although I don’t see why you would want to. I doubt even real D-League players pick up NBA 2K10 intending to play as the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. Nevertheless, the addition is a stellar one as it keeps you on your toes with personnel decisions.
More upgrades come in the shape of League History, which allows you to look in the history books of the NBA while attempting to write some pages of your own. There’s also a more realistic system for player progression. In NBA 2K10 your player has a ceiling, but he needs playing time to prove himself and get better as a player. Lastly, for the first time in NBA 2K you can now user-control all 30 teams in the league, making you almost as powerful as David Stern.
The other major new addition to NBA 2K10 is the NBA Today feature. This service enables the game to update real NBA data, league news and play-by-play commentary that reflects the current events in the real NBA. Unfortunately, since the season is yet to tip-off, I’ve been unable to test out the full functionality of this feature. However, provided that 2K Sports delivers on the updates it promises, then this would be groundbreaking in many ways. When the time comes, the NBA Today will also allow you to play the NBA games scheduled that day with the most up-to-date rosters.
Playing online with friends = the way to keep NBA 2K10 in your console for awhile.
After a sub-par online performance last year, 2K Sports knew they had to provide gamers with a user-friendly and reliable experience. They seem to have done just that with NBA 2K10’s new online interface. You can start a ranked match, custom match or play with a friend from anywhere in the game with a touch of the button. Also, you can check and see which one of your buddies is on NBA 2K10 and find out what exactly he or she is doing in the game. Whether your friends are in a quick match, ranked game, managing their Association or just kicking it with the 2K Insider on the main menu, you can always see what's up. It’s a videogame stalker’s dream.
You can also invite a friend who is online to play with you in your Association. So if you’re one who likes to manage a team year after year but does not necessarily love playing against the CPU, you can invite your buddy or anyone online for that matter to come play with you or as the other team.
In addition to standard NBA games, NBA Blacktop is back again and so are Team-Up games. But be sure to play Team-Up games with other online users because, for some reason, CPU teammates never get subbed. Add that fact to the higher fatigue rate in NBA 2K10, and you get a court full of Eddy Currys barely making it up and down the court. Even though there haven’t been too many users online just yet, the servers seem to be holding up a lot better than at launch last year. Let’s hope that remains the same come release date.
As far as game modes are concerned, Crews are the new addition to online play. In NBA 2K10 you and your friends can create a team and play Team-Up matches against other crews. It’s up to you if you want to use your baller from the My Player mode or use a current NBA roster for your team. It’s a nice idea, but I would have loved to have been able to select players from different NBA teams to fill out my roster. Nevertheless, it looks promising for online gamers and it should be easy to communicate with your team.
The VIP Gold Room lobby is available to those who buy the limited edition -- for those of you asking if it will be available for purchase on the XBL Marketplace or PSN store, the answer is no. But I was informed by 2K Sports that VIP Gold Room access would be given to the top players and top crews as the season progresses. 2K says the Gold Room is for their very best and the company wants to keep it that way.
NBA 2K10 portrays a similar but way more refined version of NBA 2K9 player models. In essence, NBA 2K10 is the super-HD version of its HD predecessor. The court lighting is nicely done as the rest of the arena sometimes reflects gracefully on the hardwood, and the jerseys are not as baggy as they were last year, which is a good thing. The players now express emotion, or at least change faces during the course of the game. For the most part these new emotions do shine through. It’s nice to see Kobe Bryant do his NBA Playoffs scowl and watch LeBron go ARGHHHHH! after a nasty facial. However, during dead-ball situations, players could benefit from more lifelike movements. I say that because when the ball is not in play, the players all look detached from one another and the game itself.
85% of the time, Kobe Bryan makes his free throws all the time.
Crowd chants and noise are not as arena-specific as they should be, but other than that, the sounds of NBA 2K10 are pro-worthy. The announcers have a certain swagger that makes this 2K game sound like no other. From Harlan and Kellogg play-by-play exchanges to Cheryl Miller’s sidelines stories, the in-game audio is remarkable. It’s like they went from local TV to the NBA on TNT in one year. The soundtrack boasts the most diverse collection of songs in the franchise’s history and that is sure to please a wide variety of fans.
NBA 2K10 can easily be a victim of its own success as nagging issues, both new and old, hold the game back from achieving the greatness it seems destined for. But in spite of that, NBA 2K10 still holds its ground as the most complete basketball game on the market. The franchise might not have retained its crown as convincingly as it used to, but NBA 2K10 still promises to be an always up-to-date NBA game that still delivers on the court. When it comes to simulation basketball, NBA 2K10 remains the gold standard for another season.
On the Court: Some of the things NBA 2K10 is able to accomplish is amazing, but the game is also surprisingly lacking in areas that people have come to expect more. Highlights this year are the blocking mechanics, Signature Play and the limiting of the turbo button. Not so great is the once again slow play calling and the tendency for players to shoot right underneath the bucket. Lead passing can also easily be exploited.
Graphics: The player models are improved when compared to last year, and players fit better in their jerseys and all new warm-ups. The attention to detail on the court is nice. However, not so pretty sights exist, like disengaged looking players during dead-ball moments and overly tan coaches.
Sound: Outstanding play-by-play commentary and juicy courtside stories bring the game to life. The soundtrack has a wide range of quality music.
Entertainment Value: This game promises to have longevity via updates from NBA Today. The ability to invite your friend online to play Association games makes that mode more appealing, and Crews brings something different to the online leaderboards.
Learning Curve: Some practice time is needed for the new isomotion controls as well as the post game. NBA 2K gamers should feel right at home, but they will have to be sharp during every possession against the CPU.
Online: The online interface makes it easier than ever for users to play with friends. Playing the Association mode online, partaking in dunk contests and playing in a crew are surefire ways to keep the online community occupied for months.
Score: 8.5 (Excellent)