This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of NBA 2K10.
None of the major professional sports in North America translate to video games as well as basketball: it’s sophisticated without being overwhelmingly intricate, it’s fast paced and it hits the sweet spot of being easy to learn but difficult to master.
2K Sports’ NBA titles have always played that way on the current generation of consoles, and NBA 2K10 offers the most refined version. That said, the gameplay shares too many similarities (and particularly negatives) dating back to at least NBA 2K7; players still occasionally clip through each other or the backboards, get stuck in animations or move unnaturally fast/slow based on contextual situations. These are problems that get slightly reduced in frequency and game impact every year, but there’s no excuse for the same flaws to linger through so many editions of the franchise.
With that said, it’s still the best basketball game around. Animations are generally really good, from sprinting down the floor and pulling up for a jumper to swatting aside a shot or throwing down a reverse dunk in traffic. It’s branded as Signature Play, and it’s pretty good; players look and feel authentic, and almost photo realistic in some cases (cover athlete Kobe Bryant needs to be seen up close to be believed). The mascots are also spot on as well, but the coaching staff are unfortunately pretty rough. The biggest chance is the reduced effect and availability of turbo/speed, which now quickly eats into your stamina as well if you hold onto it beyond a few seconds. It’s a big improvement that forces gamers to move from simple speed to controlled quickness to thrive, like shifting from Monta Ellis to Steve Nash.
The offense feels rebalanced, and there’s more of an emphasis on good ball rotation and taking high percentage shots, rather than repeatedly calling for isolations and taking your chances. The latter still works when you create good matchups, but the increase in charging calls and help defense will generally deter you. Speaking of defense, that’s a lot better but not really because of the branded Shut Down D. The aforementioned charging call and help defense parts are beneficial, and the gameplay on this end feels way more authentic: rebounds are based on position more than stats (far less of the magnetic hands effect), blocked shots don’t always explode away after being rejected, and double teaming is more about movement rather than triggering a mousetrap-like animation.
The Association is largely unchanged: you pick a team, run it as general manager/coach/player and proceed through season after season with your franchise. For realistic results, you need to take part in every single game; the simulation is still prone to generating wacky statistics. If it bothers you to carry a franchise forward with wildly fluctuating statistic and minutes from your players in spite of set rotations and minute allotments, you’ll have to block off the time to work through your team’s games.
The interface has been redesigned, and it’s…odd. There’s far fewer tiers to browse through, but it isn’t intuitive and having menus cover the entire screen in gray is really off putting. I’m glad 2K Sports tried something new, but it doesn’t work.
A more successful initiative is deeply embedded online integration, starting with an improved info ticker stream; the scores are still behind, but not nearly as outdated as NBA 2K9. NBA Today brings in today’s real life matchups with real life team rosters and ratings, and Living Rosters is an info push that continually delivers current lineups.
The only player that it doesn’t deliver to you is…you! My Player allows you to rectify that by creating yourself from scratch from size, position and stats as you take part in the draft combine, get picked (if you make it), summer camp and then life on either an NBA or NDBL roster. If you picked up the downloadable NBA 2K10 Draft Combine from last summer, your character from that title can be imported into NBA 2K10 as well. Each game earns your experience for your actions, and you get to spend those towards a large selection of skills and abilities to improve. There are practices for concentrated skill bumps and milestones for XP bonuses as well, and you can play out a full career if you’re that committed.
It’s an addictive idea that falters in its execution. My coach was unusually prone to horrible assignments, like placing my 6’0″ point guard against LeBron James or Kevin Garnett where I got physically annihilated. I also got yanked out of games on hot streaks and kept in while hurting my team with poor play quite often, and surrounded with teammates that were mostly incompatible with my skills and playing style. You get rated on most actions, and the scoring was also buggy; why would I get Good Pass and Bad Pass on the same action? I want to like this, but it needs way more polish.
Online play is where this game should really shine…and it doesn’t. The network code is still terrible: you’ll drop a huge percentage of your games, there’s frequent lag and an unacceptable inability to switch hosts if the original one disconnects. I’ve never even been able to finish an online session with more than 1 other person, and in the interest of disclosure I didn’t even try signing up for a league for this reason; the frustration with the other online experiences was just too much.
Fortunately, the graphics look bright and sharp. The frame rate doesn’t always hold steady, even if you install it to your hard drive, but there’s a lot less shaking and no more tearing compared to 2K9. It also boasts impressive audio; Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg sound a lot more comfortable with each other, and the on-court action feels authentic with ball bounces, sneaker squeaks, net swishes and crowd roars in all the right places. The soundtrack is pretty impressive as well, and takes a lot of chances; I was surprised to find one of my favourite Metric tunes in the set list, and applaud them for the variety and depth of the available tracks.
If you’re willing to shell out the extra dollars, all of the above is also available in a 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition with a whopping metal locker that holds 20 games, an action figure of poster boy Kobe Bryant, a poster featuring the Black Mamba, a bonus disc and a VIP code (which Xbox Live rejected for me, sigh). It doesn’t add anything to the in-game experience, but it’s a hefty trinket for the hardcore which I was happy to get; it looks cool and I’ve packed it with green cases of sports gaming, a nice balance of fun and functional.
NBA 2K10 is solid overall, but far too similar to previous entries in the series. I want this to be great; there’s such a deep and versatile experience in the game of basketball that should translate beautifully to interactive entertainment, and sometimes NBA 2K10 delivers on that. The problem is that 2K Sports has clearly chosen iteration over innovation in the last few years, and haven’t even delivered enough on that front; when you and your buddies can laugh about the same bugs from half a decade ago, there’s a problem. The vastly improved NBA Live 10 is nipping at 2K10’s heels; this game is still the market leader, but radical changes will need to be made if 2K11 hopes to keep its virtual hoops crown.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars