NBA Live 10 Review (Xbox 360)
The Association once had Russell and Wilt. Then there was Michael taking the reigns from Bird after he dropped 63 in the Garden during the '86 playoffs. Last year it was the debate between Kobe and LeBron. Right now it’s Live and NBA 2K.
Controls and Physics
From Freestyle passing to signature shooting styles for many of the NBA’s stars, Live 10 is not messing around anymore. The smooth tempo of NBA Live 10 brings a refreshing feel to what has been a "lost one" over the years.
Gone are many of the canned animations that gamers have previously been forced into. Now you can branch out of animations into a new move as long as you have handles with the sticks. This allows gamers to pull off creative dribbling moves to get your defenders off balance. Once you get the needed separation, go for the blow by or the step-back jumper.
There is an element of balance in place to make sure players do not abuse the Freestyle dribbling controls. Dribbling too much can result in a turnover, and dribbling in the paint or with a big man like Yao will usually end up in a fast break going the other way.
Unfortunately, the dribbling moves in Live 10 seem to be assigned to all the players in the game. There aren’t any signature ball-handling moves, which detracts from the simulation-style ball that Live attempts to achieve. However, there are signature "size-up" moves in the game. So you will notice a difference between someone like Steve Nash or Allen Iverson when he is about to try to take his defender to the hoop. In addition, each player has a different speed, size, agility and lateral movement level that differentiates the stars from the rest.
The player momentum in Live influences the type of shot your players will attempt. If you are on the break and want to pull up for a jumper, you have to ease off the turbo and the directional stick before the shot. Pull back on the directional stick while sizing up a defender and pressing the shoot button and you will do a step-back jumper. Moving laterally to the hoop while shooting will send your player into a hop-step or a fade-away jumper across the lane –- creating separation from the defense and giving you a clear look at the hoop.
After previously speaking with Mike Wang, the lead gameplay designer for NBA Live 10, it is clear why the player control is so tight. I won't bore you with the specifics within this review, but basically the branching animations that were done during mo-cap sessions and the various player attributes account for the improved player control. The result is the difference in feel when battling against a quick guard or a slow (or at least slower) guard. Derrick Rose can stop on a dime and instantaneously take off to the hoop a moment later; Billups or Fisher don't have that same luxury.
The controls are all very intuitive and natural once you grasp the physics and animation engines behind them. The end result is that fade-away jumpers with Kobe are deadly.
The shooting mechanics have also been refined in Live 10. Release points have been tweaked, and more players have different shot animations. In other words, make sure you practice with your hometown squad if you want to find your shooting rhythm.
Driving the lane in Live 10 results in many collisions in the paint. Due to this fact, a premium is certainly placed on the mid-range game because it's very difficult to get a clear lane to the hoop. If players try to force the issue and drive with LeBron over and over, it will lead to some highly contested shots clanking off the rim.
The collision-detection system in Live 10 allows for these animations to occur, but it does become a bit of a cage match in the paint at times. Don't get me wrong, the collisions look good, but the amount of body on body contact in the game should lead to a lot more fouls than are actually called.
If you think you’re going to get stuffed after launching into a drive to the hoop, you can now kick the ball out to the perimeter much more seamlessly than in NBA Live 09, but you still can't kick out during a layup or dunk animation.
If you are looking to dominate on the blocks in NBA Live 10, I hope you like baby jump hooks because that’s virtually the only back to the basket move I was consistently able to pull off in the game. It may be enough to cover Kendrick Perkins’ arsenal, but the post game is not nearly as impressive as the perimeter game. The system is functional, but there is a lack of moves and signature style in the post.
Players can do things like put up a jump hook or face up and jab step while in the post. The problem here is that when you face up and put the ball on the ground, you may or may not be able to get back into a post position with your back to the hoop.
The auto post determines on its own if you are in a position to post. While the auto post usually activates at the appropriate times, it still feels as if the virtual Dwight Howards are calling the shots, not you. Teams still do double down to the post -- not every time anymore thankfully -- but it's not incredibly enjoyable or efficient to run your game through the post.
There is no defensive stance button in NBA Live 10, which means all the defense is in the footwork. While it would be nice to have a defensive stance button, the defense in Live is a welcomed challenge.
Defense is about moving your feet and anticipating the offensive player’s moves. These basketball fundamentals come into play when players must maneuver their guys into position purely with the left stick. The right bumper (defensive assist button) is also there as a guide to help you stay with your man. But be aware, while the right bumper may help you stay in front of your opponent when you are out of position, the AI does recognize when you hold the button down and immediately attacks.
Even with these changes to defense, it is still rather difficult to play close enough to ball handlers and contest shots on the perimeter. Using the right stick, players can flick up and attempt to put a hand up in a shooter’s face, but it seems ineffective when you are always positioned three feet away from the offensive player. But as I said before, when the offense does get penetration, the lanes close up fast because of excellent help defense -- especially as it relates to the 10-foot radius around the hoop.
The rebounding in NBA Live 10 is hot and cold. The physics and detection of going up for a board with two hands and grabbing the ball feels solid and clean. If in position, players such as LeBron can sky and get a rebound even over bigs. The player ratings in speed, size and rebounding come in to play nicely here.
However, the auto box-out is iffy at times. The auto box-out feature activates when the rock is up in the air, but it does not always kick in when you need it to. You will also see some odd rebounding plays where one player should probably grab the rebound but does not.
AI and DNA
Dynamic DNA returns with some added elements for the 2010 season. As usual, Kobe and LeBron dominate from anywhere on the court while Nash picks and pops all day. Simply put, Dynamic DNA is still quite an accomplishment for the videogame genre.
The DNA Scouting Report feature provides all of the latest player tendencies. It keeps track of scoring tendencies from all over the court, different shot types and even off-ball tendencies. You can compare the ratings from week to week by holding the X button.
Thanks to Dynamic DNA, player DNA, DNA tendencies, DNA streaks, roster and lineup updates and DNA shooting percentages can all be tweaked throughout the year.
To key in on one of these specifically, player DNA is made up of player attributes in seven categories: isolation, pick and roll, screener, post up, spot up, off-ball screen and basket cuts. Each one is a percentage of the player’s overall offensive DNA.
Notice how I did not mention one type of DNA category for defense.
Nevertheless, You will be at an advantage if you become familiar with your team, its players and their DNA. Almost like coaching in a sense, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each individual will help you with difficult decisions during a game of Live 10.
More Gameplay Bits
In case I haven't said it yet, this is a good hoops game.
To get your open shots, players must operate within the offense. I’m talking pick and rolls, off-ball screens, post plays to draw double downs, and drive and kicks for open jumpers. You can also enter into the game's coaching strategy screen and browse through over 300 plays and a variety of offensive sets.
Freestyle passing is a fresh and useful addition that is based on flicking the stick in the direction where you want the ball to go -- holding the left trigger activates the Freestyle passing feature. I have not found it to be a huge advantage over the icon passing I am used to using, but I am sure some players will enjoy the freedom it creates.
Passing with the off-ball controls helps create open looks for your star players while the AI takes control of your ball handler. Pressing the left trigger brings up the passing icons, and holding the icon of your choice will allow you to run around with that player until you release the button. The ball is then passed to you. You can also throw an alley-oop out of this feature.
Executing the pick and roll is an art, even in Live. Players can call for picks on the fly and hold the pick until they clear the corner. I look to get a big man with an outside jumper such as KG or LaMarcus Aldridge to shoot the jumper on the pick and pop, which is easier to distinguish this year from the pick and roll.
When defending the pick, players have the option to trap, show and rotate or switch. These options can be brought up on-call during the game by hitting the D-pad.
Running a fast break -- yes you can actually run one this year -- will lead to open jumpers on the wings, wing men spotting up in the corners and players filling the lanes. While the fast-break spacing could be improved, the players act with a high level of basketball intelligence.
When driving down the lane, your corner shooter will bounce back to the wing to get an open look at the 3-point line –- that’s some serious basketball I.Q. in real life, let alone a videogame.
The NBA Live 10 visuals create a lively basketball experience -- living up to the name. The player introductions are decorated with NBA Store gear, and players run out for the layup lines in authentic warm-up suits, all the while rocking the latest Flights and Jordans.
The stadium lighting creates an active and exciting atmosphere for NBA entertainment -- the court is at the center of the show. Each stadium has its specific court style all the way down to the wood-grain finish. The NBA logos and sponsor signage are all present in the game; they are not overdone and they actually add to a genuine NBA basketball atmosphere.
The player models are extremely detailed. Almost every star looks strikingly realistic, featuring specific tattoos and certain mannerisms at the free-throw line. When players get bumped and bruised when driving the lane, they come up hobbling and squinting while grabbing their arms or legs, which adds a nice realistic touch to the game. Really, the only negatives in the visuals department are the somewhat glossy player models and the odd looking white players.
From the court lighting and the player introductions to the stadium-specific PA announcers and player-specific stadium sounds, NBA Live has certainly found its presentation this year. Throw one down with Dwight Howard in Orlando and the Superman theme song comes on. The sound effects are on point and provide a great amount o detail.
During your Dynasty season, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will comment on the fictional storylines that occur throughout your dynasty as well. This way, not only will fans boo Vince Carter in the Air Canada Centre, but it’s also possible that Marv and Steve will recognize when a superstar is traded –- resulting in even more dynamic commentary and crowd reactions.
In the game options menu, you can adjust the crowd atmosphere to regular season, NBA Playoffs or NBA Finals atmosphere. When playing in a Finals atmosphere, fans wear the team T-shirts and the MVP and defense chants make the game feel like an instant classic.
Dynasty mode is back with all the same features we have come to expect, but it does not seem like there is too many new additions in this department.
The new feature is the Dynamic NBA Season. Within the Dynamic Season you can play games that are occurring in real life that day, replay games that have already happened and play in your own Dynamic playoffs -- this will be open at a later date. Players can now choose to play a season with a team (or any number of teams) right along with the real NBA. This mode takes the real NBA results -– the tendencies and shot-percentage DNA will be specific to the specific game -- all the while giving you the chance to create your own history.
As an example, the Rewind Calendar feature allows you to go back to a real-life loss and overwrite it with your own results during your Dynamic NBA season.
The new feature here is the Adidas sponsored Live Run. Here you can create a squad similar to one found in the EA NHL series, and bring on board five users per team. You can select five players from any team in the league to create your squad. You then play in a pickup game to 21.
Each month a new leaderboard will be created. The goal is to become the top squad for each month to earn medals. If you cannot find a team, go on the Web and search for a squad via EA's nifty Web feature.
The Live Runs I have been involved with have been smooth with only some slight slowdown at points. The most difficult part about the five on five is getting used to the footwork and momentum, which is so crucial to the game. But the EA Servers seem to be quite capable of handling the 10 players simultaneously -- it's just a matter of connecting with other players with good pings. Also expect a lot of fast breaks, dunks and no defense in this online mode -- shocker.
For ranked matches, the issue right now is that auto subs seem to be malfunctioning and fatigue is not present. This is being fixed in an upcoming patch, but it is a bummer for now.
Similar to when Kobe and LeBron step on the court, the NBA Live series has the potential to be magical. The post game, the rebounding and the "auto" features are the biggest things that need to be dealt with moving forward, but either way, the arrival of NBA Live 10 is a welcomed and exciting change for this basketball fan.
Score: 8.0 (Very Good)