In case you guys didn’t know, it’s October and that means EA Sports and 2K Games are doing their yearly duel over who should reign supreme on the basketball courts. With this year being 2K Games’ incredible 10th year anniversary into its franchise, I expect NBA 2K10 to offer true reasoning as to why it has dominated the basketball genre over the last ten year stint. 2K basketball has always provided a sense of great presentation, visuals and gameplay in a tightly rolled together package that made it impossible to compete with on a simulation level. However, over the last couple of years, its main competitor, NBA Live, has been making strides of its own – because of this, 2K is on the bubble in order to provide a truly next generational basketball title that solidifies its control over the competition.
After spending roughly forty hours or so of actual game time (not just day time), I feel as though I have a good grasp for the things that have changed and work well and things that just don’t. I put in an equal amount of time with NBA Live 10 this year in order to provide a split review on both products. That’s why this is the introduction to both title’s review. So – Let’s jump into the gameplay review and we’ll follow them up with presentation and close out on the graphics/sound.
NBA Live in recent years was beginning to become a laughing stock in the basketball simulation genre, with arcade gameplay, there was almost no place for it alongside the NBA 2K franchise. However, over the last couple of years, the team at EA Canada has had a strong focus towards both gameplay and presentation while slowly helping the franchise regain a footing of respectability within the sport. NBA Live 09 made small strides in the right direction, but it wasn’t until EA Sports hired one of the head guys from the 2K basketball team that the series was able to take that giant step forward in this year’s iteration, Live 10.
The NBA Live team put a strong emphasis on defense this year, which, in turn, allowed for the game to play not only more authentic on the defensive side of the ball, but on the offensive side as well. Once users bump up from the noob difficulty levels up to the All-Star settings, you see a huge difference in gameplay. No long can you drive to the basket, make a spin move and glide dunk over a tall Center awaiting you in the air. Now, defenses strip you in the paint and force you to create your own opportunities and your own lanes to score from.
Furthermore, defenses play smart enough to deflect poor pass attempts and this causes you to make crisp passes to open players. If a guy is getting double-teamed down in the paint and you try to pass him the ball, it won’t just go through the defender and get to him like in past iteration, now the defense actually makes a legitimate play on the ball. This is such a refreshing change in gameplay that I honestly thought I was playing an entirely different franchise when I first put the game in.
The shooting mechanics have also returned to a simplistic one-button method where Square allows you to take any type of shot you’d like. You utilize R2 and the left analog stick to modify your shot depending on whether you’d like to take a fade away opportunity or drive hard to the basket for a dunk or layup. Holding R2 under the basket with a big man like Dwight “Superman” Howard will result in a devastating dunk over the opponent (not unrealistically though) and holding the left analog away from the hoop will cause that fade away jumper. The timing of your release of the square button during shooting determines whether the shot is any good or not, thankfully making its return after last year’s disappearance.
For those of you who loved taking a guy like Dirk in previous years, posting up low, shooting a fade that would go in roughly 100% of the time, that’s gone. There is no longer a button to post up, but rather a way to utilize the left analog stick to engage it. Once engaged, you can then use your right stick to make an assortment of post moves to the basket. This has added a nice strategy element to the game because not all players are good at posting up like they used to be.
This leads me into the Artificial Intelligence of your opponent and teammates. This is where I feel NBA Live has made the biggest stride forward because your team no longer feels like a bunch of rookies and the opponent is actually a legitimate contender to beat you in every game played. While the AI does have its minor issues such as standing out of bounds to receive a pass (lack of awareness maybe), it doesn’t detract from the fact that your AI buddies will do what they can to get open to receive a pass to create the best scoring opportunity possible. This is a nice addition to the game and one that was overdue for arrival.
Surprisingly enough, NBA Live shines in presentation unlike ever before. Like in NBA 2K10, players use their signature styles through cut scenes such as Kevin Garnett getting chalked up before the big game or watching KG throw down some intensity after a big score – all of those elements are front and center. Not to mention the actual highlight reels between quarters is a great addition to the authentic feel of the game.
The pregame matchup is one of my favorite parts of Live. Watching the starting 5 show up and do their own unique thing each game is pretty entertaining. I played a game with the Orlando Magic and before the game Dwight Howard was doing the superman dance that has annoyed America for some time now, but it felt “right” to see it. It’s small things like this that help make the presentation something to enjoy and be impressed with.
As always, NBA Live boasts very strong visuals and player models. This, teamed up with great animations is something that has brought people back to the series time and time again. The only thing ever lacking from Live was the gameplay and that’s been focused on and fixed this season. Thankfully, EA didn’t lack in the graphics department in order to do it. Cuts to the basket look crisp, shots look signature styled, and everything in between is a 100% win. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the look and feel of this game in terms of graphics. However, the sound is another story.
Unfortunately for anyone with a working TV, ears or no mute button, NBA Live 10’s announcers are annoyingly repetitive. This is never clearer than in Dynasty mode when you’re playing with the same team over and over again. You will hear the same insight and the same analysis about 82 times throughout the season and it gets old after the first couple of games. This is why the beauty of listening to music exists. The best way to play Live 10 is with your own music blaring and the controller in your hand.
I’m sure most of you reading this weren’t alive when the United States sent a man to the moon, but that type of big step forward is about on the same level as the step forward NBA Live 10 took this year. While the company behind the game, Electronic Arts, hired one of the main people responsible for its competitors success, it’s no surprise that NBA Live has grown so quickly in reaching a similar state of respectability as the 2K franchise this year. Gamers looking to spend $60 on a basketball titles, regardless of which they buy this season are going to be happy with their purchase – however, if I have to make a decision on who I’d give the slight edge to, I’d have to go with NBA Live 10.