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NBA 2K10 (Xbox 360) artwork

NBA 2K10 (Xbox 360) review

"Excluding the My Player mode, NBA 2K10 is a good (though very familiar) basketball game that still manages to capture the essence of the sport."

It seems that we have arrived at that dreadful time in a console generation when sports game developers begin to lose their ability to create fresh gaming experiences. EA just released NCAA Basketball 10, a basketball game that’s a ton of fun so long as you haven’t played through the insanely similar NBA Live 10. If you consider racing a sport, Sony would be guilty of scaling back the Gran Turismo franchise with its GT5 prequel (released last year) and the first GT for PSP. NFL Tour was a boring rehash of NFL Street, and we shouldn’t even talk about the fallout of Tony Hawk, MLB 2K, and NBA Ballers.

In spite of these depressing developments, there is one sports franchise that has been improved continuously for the past several years: NBA 2K. This year, players can look forward to another dose of great b-ball action – provided that they stick with the primary modes that 2K Sports has had several years to perfect.

The long-awaited My Player feature, which could be described as NBA 2K’s answer to The Life from NBA 06 and NFL Superstar: Hall of Fame from Madden 07, came to NBA 2K10 with a lot of promise. Ideally, the mode should be just about perfect: players take control of one user-generated basketball superstar (in the making), guiding him as he plays through the summer circuit in hopes of getting drafted by the NBA.

To accomplish this goal, players are expected to retain a certain grade level (ranging from A, the best, to F, the worst) throughout their career. But you don’t have control of the team, just one aspiring athlete. His grade is the only one that’s revealed because it is the only one that matters. You can improve it by passing successfully, by assisting with a goal, by keeping an opponent from scoring, by taking advantage of any rebounds, and by taking a skillful shot. His grade will drop, however, if you foul, call for a pass when he’s not open, take a risky shot and miss, lose the ball to an opponent, or let an opponent score when he presumably shouldn’t have. (When he should or shouldn’t, the game never takes the time to clarify.)

On paper, these categories seem to make for a logical grading scale. But in this virtual environment, they turn NBA 2K10 into a game that’s either boring or frustrating.

Since it doesn’t matter how many goals are actually scored, you could be a star player – the guy responsible for ensuring your team wins – and still walk around the court with an F rating. That’s just what happened (repeatedly!) until I was willing to change my strategy. We’ll get to the strategy adjustment in a moment, but let’s first go over what happens when you try to play like a star. After scoring four three-pointers and helping my team take the lead, the game should have been praising my player up and down. Instead, it used the reward system – or lack thereof – to remind me that I called for a pass one too many times. Sorry NBA 2K10, but I’m used to tapping the A button whenever I want the ball. It’s a silly habit, yes, but when most sports games let us control every player on the court (just as this one does in every mode except My Player), you can’t help but get a little zealous with the A button.

My grade endured another hit for the three shots I took and missed. Never mind the 12 points that were just obtained, and you can forget about the next couple of three-pointers, which would give our team a greater lead. Win or lose, when it comes down to it, the game only cares about how badly you screwed up or how closely you follow the rules – not how well you actually played the game.

This was perfectly illustrated during a 20-second pass-fest, in which there were not any clear shots to take. I called for the ball when my homemade player (let’s call him First Last since I thought it’d be interesting to keep his default name) was open, and passed the ball when his teammates were available. But since the right opportunity did not present itself, no shots could be attempted, so no goals were made. However, since the AI interpreted these actions as being appropriate, First Last’s grade improved.

Literally seconds later, the ball fell back into the hands of the opponent, was quickly overturned, and we were right back to where we started. But this time, after passing the ball back and forth, there was an opening. First Last took the shot and landed it from within the three-point range. Woohoo! Another goal! That excitement was short-lived since, when all was said and done, no grade improvements were given. All that work, all that success, and the game basically sends me on my way by saying, “You did everything the team needed. But that’s not what we wanted.”

After a few games of this nonsense, it was time to switch to a strategy that would hopefully be approved by NBA 2K10. That strategy included: simple passes to First Last’s teammates, no three-point shot attempts, very few dunk attempts, few pass requests, and little else. The good news is that this strategy worked: the game appreciated my lack-of-effort, playing-it-safe attitude and quickly raised First Last’s rating to B status. The bad news is that it turned My Player into the most boring mode ever featured in the NBA 2K series, where stupid and repetitive actions that’ll kill the scoreboard somehow manage to improve your own personal grade. You cannot possibly imagine how painful it was to watch AI opponents miss three-point shots (which they risk taking all the time – ironic, no?) that you were certain you could have made yourself. But the game discourages you to take that chance, creating the lovely situation we have here.

No one is going to enjoy doing what it takes to get a decent grade, which is quite surprising for 2K Sports. Not to make excuses, but it almost feels like a mode that the developers were hoping would work, and by the time they realized it didn’t, it was too late – the game had to be shipped.

Excluding the My Player mode, NBA 2K10 is a good (though very familiar) basketball game that still manages to capture the essence of the sport. The returning modes – The Associate, Season, Playoffs, Rookie Challenge and Online Leagues – remain strong, and no one will be able to pick up the controller without being impressed by how well the game plays. NBA 2K has always been a fast and highly responsive basketball game, and this year’s edition is no different.

Of course, if you have NBA 2K9, you’ve already experienced the best parts of NBA 2K10. Upgraded features are hard to find in this update, and the few that exist – call plays by pressing the D-pad, upload replays without the Reel Maker, and build a team (a “crew,” if you will) with friends and compete against others – are anything but game-changing. In theory, the play calling feature should have been great. But since it doesn’t (and realistically can’t) freeze the action while you decide which play is best, the game continues on, allowing your opponents to make your life miserable in the process.

These issues could pose a serious dilemma for the faithful NBA 2K fan who doesn’t want to be without the latest iteration but expects more from a game than flawed modes and iffy upgrades. NBA 2K10 is a good game, no question. If you don’t own last year’s game, there is no reason why this version shouldn’t be in your collection. But if you’re one of the fans that has been playing NBA 2K9 since it was released, consider this new chapter a rental at best.


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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (December 02, 2009)

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