The NBA season is nearly upon us and with it inevitably comes the newest version of a trio of NBA video games. Last week, I reviewed SCEA's newest NBA title for a spin, and in the meantime I've been keeping busy with NBA 2K10 from 2K Sports, and NBA Live 10 from EA Sports. In the last few years, 2K Sports has had a firm grip on the annual NBA titles, but EA has definitely made some strong progress this year. Despite that, between the two, 2K10 gets my recommendation, but it has room to improve. Let's take a closer look at this year's offering.
No Rest For the Champ
I only recently completed my NBA 2K9 season on the PS3. My friend and I ended up simulating the final third of our season due to time constraints, but we had a lot of great memories and saved replays in the months leading up to the Playoffs. Before deciding on 2K9, we spent some time comparing it with Live 09, but the choice for the most complete and well rounded sim was clear in 2K. Fast forward to 2K10, and most of those in game mechanics haven't really changed. The focus for 2K10 this year was in its presentation and online components, although other changes and enhancements were made as well.
NBA Today is the biggest feature this year and its aim is to connect gamers to the NBA and to each other like never before. You'll notice this from the first menu screen that provides news from the league and gives you the option to jump into a game that is being played in real life that same day. From every Team Select screen, a single button press allows you to Invite Friends to play with or against you through any mode. It's a great idea that is available for single games as well as season games.
While that's cool, it isn't as exciting as the Dynamic Commentary system that will kick in once the season starts. Each night, commentary information will be updated so that the next time you play the game while connected online, Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg will talk about real, recent events. These events might include high player scoring, team news, and so forth -- we'll really have to wait and see to see how well 2K manages this feature, but I'm excited about it.
Commentary in general has been upgraded with a variety of new lines, and the seamless commentary system from 2K's MLB series has been implemented to help with making the commentary as realistic sounding as possible (i.e., inflections are done away with). Dynamic Commentary should keep the entire experience much fresher throughout the course of a typical season. I hope it works as described, but even if it fails to, the commentary is already an improvement. However, some of the most oft used and exhausted lines from last year are back, which if you haven't played 2K9 in a while is a non-issue, but since I'm fresh off of my season, I couldn't help but roll my eyes upon hearing some of these lines. Living Rosters is back this year as well and is your key to keeping 2K10's rosters up to date with the real happenings in the league.
As for other presentation changes, the crowds are noticeably more detailed and lively than in year's past. Crowd chants have changed too, although these are more subtle. Graphically, the most noticeable change is in player appearances and body language. Obviously, the star players have received the most attention in this respect, but most of us are going to want to see and play as these guys anyway, so it makes perfect sense. Expect to see mannerisms of key players, like Lebron's chalk dust throw before tip-off and Arenas' 'spin the ball around my hip' every time he goes to the line. This is an area where 2K Sports expanded upon what they already had, so not everything with this aspect is brand new, but I definitely noticed a lot of additions.
So what about the actual gameplay? Not surprisingly, it's mostly the same. That's not really a bad thing considering 2K9 was the best NBA game already. I do wish 'more advanced' moves like cross overs were easier to perform though. Changes to the ISO Motion control (i.e., the actions done with the right stick) have been altered, but I still find it too difficulty to pull off these moves, much less do them consistently no matter my player rating. Before, ISO controls automatically made your player speed burst, now the two are separated. If you didn't use a lot of ISO control in 2K9, it's not a very noticeable difference.
Otherwise, the controls and general feel general feel of the action hasn't changed, but the two biggest differences I've noticed to this point would be in the passing game. Sloppy passing seems to be penalized more often with CPU steals, which isn't a bad change in my opinion as it forces you to slow the pace down and make smarter passes. On the same token, double and triple teaming the CPU to try to force a steal is more likely to result in them getting the ball out to the open man -- and that open shot is more likely to drop as well. These changes go towards fixing what was considered a bug or glitch in 2K9 whereby a point guard could often throw the ball very quickly and accurately into the paint for an easy score.
Other Major Changes
NBA 2K10 has added two other major features this year with My Player and Crews. My Player is an interesting single player feature that lets you build your own star from the ground up. After customizing their appearance and so forth, you enter into a summer camp and then hopefully the NBA draft. What kind of career your character will have rests upon you. 2K Sports did a great job with this mode and it'll be interesting to see how it progresses next year, although from what I can tell with it so far, it's well done.
Crews is a mode of five on five online play. User created teams compete against one another to see who's the best with Leaderboards keeping track of progress. Well over a hundred different decals and logos are available to customize your team appearance.
The speed burst or turbo functionality has changed, too. Last year, you didn't really have a way to determine how fatigued your player was until the Gatorade cup icon appeared by his name, at which point the player needed a rest. Now, a meter appears beneath each player to show you how fatigued they are. The meter is a good way to keep the gamer informed in realtime as to how tired their players are becoming and I found it immediately useful. I also liked how the player substitution screen was reduced this year. With 2K9, this information would pop up and take up the entire screen. Now, the same player substitution window takes up just about half the screen and it's more seamless and broadcast like because of it.
Despite some of the changes, several issues still remain. I'm sure I'll uncover some other nags (and pluses) as I continue to play, but one thing that still bugs me is inbound passing. Sometimes, especially after a timeout or at the start of a new quarter, the inbound player will throw the ball across the half court line to a player who is rarely even aware of the pass and the ball simply sails out of bounds for a frustrating turnover. Secondly, the AI still doesn't seem to manage the late game clock well. Tight games that go down to the wire are less satisfying and convincing when the AI, down just a few points, dribbles the ball around, letting the clock run down too low to make a comeback.
Being the in depth and detailed sports sim it is, I'm sure I'll discover other differences, both good and bad, in the months ahead as I slowly work my way through a season. To this point, these are the major points I wanted to make, and the changes in 2K10 are, for the most part, positive. I can't help but shake the feeling that this isn't as big of a step from 2K9 as I hoped for, having put so much time into 2K9 off and on over the last year, but 2K10 is still a great NBA sim.