Ten years ago, I had my first experience with NBA 2K on the Dreamcast. I never expected a basketball experience to be so immersive and fun. Sure, I had played most of the games before, with Tecmo Super NBA being my favorite and NBA Live being my least favorite. After 2K, I never really looked back, even though I did give NBA Live a shot every year (including this year). With NBA 2K10 being the 10 year anniversary of the series, you’d expect many great things. While this is true, it’s also true that an unacceptable issue has occurred.
Before I dive into the review, I want to make everyone aware that NBA 2K10 is, out of the box, an unfinished game. There are many issues, most you could say are subtle, but a few are simply inexcusable. For one, there is plenty of slow down in the game, most noticeable when driving the lane (regardless of whether you have key zoom on or off). Another is that online play doesn’t work so well, if you can get it to work to begin with. Visit the 2K Forums and you’ll be able to read about all the issues. The good news, however, is that a patch is coming for both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It might be a couple weeks from the time of this writing, but at least it’s coming. Is this a good thing? Sure! Is it right to release an unfinished game just to get in stores at the same time as your main competitor? Not at all, especially considering NBA Live is making some serious moves to knock 2K out of the top NBA spot!
There’s no need to spend much time on the visuals or the sounds. As expected, both are excellent. Players look even better and move more realistically than last year, with a couple exceptions. For some reason, Carlos Arroyo was given black arms, even though the rest of his body is a much lighter tone. With the latest roster update, 2K took what would seem like the harder way out. Rather than addressing the color of his arms, it appears they attempted a create-a-player substitution – the arm problem is fixed, but the face looks nothing like the original Carlos Arroyo face. I don’t understand this move, but it seems like several aspects of NBA 2K10 were not thoroughly tested and/or given time for in-depth play prior to release. It seems that Danny Green (and possibly even Tyler Griffin and David Andersen, if the 2K Forums are accurate – I don’t follow NBA Basketball that closely) has/had similar issues and was given a similar ‘fix’, which is unfortunate. Beyond that, though, the graphics and animations seem to be very well done. The action in the various arenas is even more lively than last year, with what seems like more animations for the crowd and more detail in the various arenas. The same goes for the sounds; plenty of excitement/disappointment can be heard from the crowd this time around; it’s a bit more pronounced than the crowd noises from last year. The many other sound effects seem pretty accurate, so there’s no need to go there. Basically, everything has been enhanced – generally in ways that aren’t extremely noticeable separately, but when they all come together, it’s one amazing experience.
The presentation has received an exciting overhaul this year. 2K9 seemed like it was testing the waters; it had some nice presentation moments but still seemed a bit rough and kind of cheesy. Now, though, the presentation is a real treat, with great music, appropriate overlays, information about upcoming/previous games, and so on. The commentary is very similar to last year’s game, but it is nice to listen to the announcers discuss such things as a game that was played the night before or something along those lines. 2K Sports really worked hard on elevating the presentation to near NBA broadcast quality this year.
Something that has changed (again) are the controls. Even though the changes are slight (such as L-Trigger being used to initiate Isomotion, instead of the R-Trigger), they do seem much more intuitive as you get used to them. The sensitivity in your player movements (L Stick) has been increased greatly this year; at least it feels that way to me, as I proceed through a learning curve that I haven’t experienced in many years of NBA 2K. If you commit fully to one direction and try to quickly move the L Stick back the opposite direction, you’ll have to recover before you can head that way – excellent and realistic, but tough to get used to at first. Sounds simple, but I don’t remember previous 2K games placing such an emphasis on how much or little you press on the L Stick. You have to be conscious of how much you press pretty much all the time, or else you’ll never be able to drive the lane properly or shut down your man while on defense. I’m not complaining at all, it just feels so different than previous NBA 2K games. Finally, the sensitivity that can be utilized with modern analog sticks is being used effectively!
I want to spend a little time discussing My Player mode, which is basically creating a player (with a low rating) and starting from scratch – earning your way to the NBA Draft and beyond. How fast you get into the starting lineup and signed to a team is dependent upon a grading system. Ultimately, playing smart (choosing wise shots, making good passes, not hogging the ball, etc.) will build up your ‘teammate grade’, while things like bad positioning, turnovers, poor shot selection, and so on will bring it down. Also, before each game, you’ll be give three tasks – generally an offensive goal, defensive goal, and ‘Finish the game with Teammate Grade of X or better’. Usually the offensive and teammate grade goals are reasonable, but sometimes the defensive goal can be downright frustrating. “Limit your match-up to 42% shooting from the field” can be annoying if your match-up only takes one shot and it was a lucky layup, leaving them at 100% and “Force your match-up to commit 3 fouls” can be equally frustrating, since drawing fouls isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do- it’s weak, but oh well. I had imported my player from the 2K Combine, so from there I went into the Summer Circuit. Your options remain similar to the Combine – Drills (to earn points for your character), Scrimmage (a 4th quarter drill, no grading – can’t modify camera angle, which is somewhat annoying), Shoot-around (as the name implies), Pick-up games (online play), as well as playing the next Summer league game. Once this part is finished (after 6 summer league games are completed), you go to Training Camp (either with the team you started with, or, if they deem you unworthy, a team of your choice. It’s kind of strange to have more options if your original team doesn’t pick you up, but oh well. More of the same game types are present in Training Camp – maybe slightly more challenging, but similar), in addition to Position Outlook, which basically lets you know your chances based on the position you selected (I immediately was put in the ‘Likely Cut’ spot – pressure!). You start out around at about 40 overall, after Summer Circuit you’ll probably be in the upper 40’s, then by the end of Training Camp you’ll likely be in the lower to mid 50’s. As you can see, it will take time to become a super-star, so patience is required. Fewer camera angle options in Training Camp (why?). After you complete training camp, provided you aren’t cut, you are then moved into the NBA D-League or possibly the actual NBA, should you impress your coaches enough. I went straight to the NBA and was rated 50. I did well during each game and got golds during all drills, so I’d imagine a rating of 50-55 is probably a reasonable rating at this point. Once in the NBA, you are allowed 10 drills, which will give you a little bit more of a boost before your big day. You still have to achieve similar goals once you get into the NBA and now they are quite a bit harder (such as obtaining an ‘A’ grade when you have limited play time, even if you play longer than 5 minute quarters). My Player is definitely fun, but also very time consuming; patience with the slow grind of building your character is a must, especially if you are trying to make a 90+ rated player. If you’ve got the time, then give it a try. I understand several aspects of My Player were fixed in the big patch (such as giving you the ability to play longer than 5 minute quarters), so it should be a ‘final’ version.
So the patch for the 360 version came out on November 7th and it looks good. I haven’t played online much, so I’m not totally sure how bad connections were before. However, based on what I’ve read from the 2K Sports forum, it looks like things are better for offline play and not much different for online play. I understand that some online modes (such as Online League) still do not work and that some people are having very inconsistent connections. My main gripe, which was slowdown while in the key, seems to have been addressed. Additionally, the AI (both the CPU team as well as your own) seems a bit better in terms of awareness and in keeping the game moving at a good pace. I’d say the patch was generally successful and has elevated NBA 2K10 to it’s pedestal once again, at least if you play mostly offline games. The complete fix list (it’s HUGE) can be found here – http://2ksports.com/forums/showthread.php?t=242034. The PS3 patch was released on November 14th, so hopefully both consoles are enjoying NBA 2K10 the way it should have been on day one.
All said, NBA 2K10 is still the king of the courts (at least post-patch), but Live is finally challenging the throne. If 2K Sports keeps on releasing unfinished products and Live keeps improving at the rate it has over the past couple years, we may see a shift. As much as I love the 2K series and don’t want to see it fall, I have to call out 2K Sports for basically requiring a patch to make this game fully functional. Regardless of whether it was a ‘business’ decision or not, this trend of releasing games only to patch them later is something that needs to stay with PC gaming, not console gaming.
While the patch improved many things, there are aspects of the game that seem to show a lack of proper/thorough play-testing. I have high expectations for every NBA 2K game, so I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of complete polish on this year’s game. However, the improvements in controls, presentation, modes of play, and flow certainly help me to somewhat look past the online issues and random glitches/bugs present. Being able to upload/download everything from players to highlight videos is an awesome feature, one that seems to be a must have feature nowadays, where everyone can show off their skills in some way or another via the internet. NBA 2K10 is definitely the winner again, but NBA Live is quickly catching up! Please, 2K Sports, do not release an unfinished product again – you burn your fan base again, along with Live improving all the time, and you’ll see a big shift next year.