NBA 2K10 Review: Ball, You — Man!

Without question, the NBA is the crown jewel of the 2K Sports catalog, whose NBA 2K10 released Tuesday to the expectations faced by a clear winner - stick with what works, or keep up the full-court press?

To continue the metaphor, NBA 2K10 delivers both. All sports titles face a justify-your-existence question of what to offer every year beyond a roster update. NBA 2K10 has been such a clear leader that it's almost exempt from such what-have-you-done-for-me-lately questions, and has the luxury of refining its visuals and presentation. That's not to say the game doesn't add new ways to deliver, and experience, the performance art that can happen any given night in the NBA.

Loved
Where Basketball Happens: So much of a sports game review fixates on what's new in a game, but the guts of it still have to be there, and NBA 2K10 shows restraint in its gameplay tinkers. This year's update focused more on nailing down animations for players' signature moves and even facial expressions, rather than how you manipulate them. But the most conspicuous control is how your speed burst works. You have a finite supply of it, and not only can it run out over a single play, going to the well too often will deplete his overall stamina. You cannot sit on the trigger in this game and expect to get away with it for long. This brings some useful balance, especially to run-and-gun multiplayer games. Shot selection is more of a key this year as the game seems to have tightened up on on the ease of shooting. That could also be because of changes in shooting animations, as your point of release means everything to whether the ball goes in. Otherwise, the control scheme remains solid and caters to your preferred style, whether that's set plays versus a more freelancing approach, or basic player manipulation vs. more advanced shooting and post play. If you prefer to make things up as you go along, you can still have a great time in NBA 2K10. My only gripe is that players seem slow to get open on their own, meaning you'll need to do so at least through a quick play from the menu or draw the defense and kick it out yourself.

This is a presentation of the NBA: I halfway expected to hear a 4th quarter announcement that any rebroadcast without the express written consent of the NBA is prohibited. Out of the box, the commentary of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Cheryl Miller is much stronger and less repetitive than the competing title from EA Sports. Although the season has not started yet, when it does their remarks, supported by on-screen graphics, will reflect what's taking place in the league, such as recent big performances, slumps, etc. I'm assuming. The point is that the game will serve you up - even if it's just for a one-off matchup - more than the current rosters but the current state of the league and its players. This may not as technically detailed as NBA Live 10's Dynamic DNA, which will break a player down to his tendencies, not just his skill strengths. Gamers who can make use of that information will have to make the choice for themselves; what 2K10 has done here is good enough for me.

NBA 2K10 Review: Ball, You — Man!

That's My Player: This is a compelling mode of play, one that really makes you want to be a better player and learn the game. But you really have to know what you are getting into because you will be judged very strictly in it. In My Player, you are starting off with a rookie rated near the bottom in everything and only slightly better in some core positional attributes. Then, through conditioning drills and scrimmages in a summer league you build yourself into a draftable talent. Or not. Most everyone will head through the NBA Developmental League first. I just don't see how you can accrue the points necessary to make an NBA roster right off the bat and even then, I'm not sure what good it would do because your playing time would be minuscule. But back to the development - your success will depend upon knowing your position and how it contributes to a game. And I mean, if you have no organized basketball experience and are only a casual spectator of the game, it will be rough on you. You need to pay attention to your teammates if someone's calling for a pass. You've got to proactively set picks. You've got to call for the ball only when you're open and even then, you'll be bitched at for doing it too often. You need to do these things more than you need to score, because the development places a premium on being a good teammate. Even burying an spot-up jumper will get you tsk-tsked for taking one too soon, with an attendant reduction in teammate grade. All this said, I know I am a bad baller, so even if I was frustrated I didn't feel like I was being judged unfairly. And I can see that for someone who knows and loves basketball, how the challenges offered and won by My Player stand out not only for this sport, but among all career modes of pro sports gaming. If you're not 100 percent sure you know what you're doing in the game, you should stick to the team mode, unless you are really committed to using My Player to teach yourself video game basketball in a very granular, intensive way.

Multiplied multiplayer: The first two days of the release I could not connect to the 2K servers at all. As of the weekend, the problems appeared to be solved, but this was still an unfortunate black mark against a game going out the door packed to the gills with multiplayer modes. The most intriguing of these is the Team-Up, where you can form or join a crew and run ball in a virtual league against teams comprised entirely of other users. If you don't want to commit to that you can create a pick-up game for a single instance only. My preference trends strongly to singleplayer in sports titles and getting my ass kicked online in this game definitely reinforced that. But the game's deep multiplayer offerings, along with its season simulation, once again make it this year's winner.

NBA 2K10 Review: Ball, You — Man!

Hated
Fritzy framerate: Certain shots during cutscenes, or certain gameplay sequences - especially going into heavy traffic with everyone breaking back to the rim - dropped the framerate quite noticeably on my 360 version. It may be, unfortunately, because of the superior character modeling combining with the crowd animations and background to overwhelm the console. 2K says it's working on a patch, but others have noted that even 2K9 still had its own framerate stutters in some of the same situations.

Information overload: The game triples the number of plays you can call this year, breaking them out by the five positions on the floor plus a menu for calling quick picks and isolations. Unfortunately, the menu deals in floor positions, not which player's number is being called. So if you're running automatic substitutions and don't know everyone on the floor by name and position, you might find yourself in the dark about who you're dialing up. It's petty to gripe about greater options, but it can feel like a big one when you're getting run out of the gym by a superior opponent and trying desperately to think of something that will work.

(No) thanks for the advice: I did not care for the Stephen A. Smith-esque cartoon figure who appears in your season sim and who pretends to be a mentor in My Player. No, his voice isn't as obnoxious as Screamin' A, HOWEVAH, I found him to be condescending to the point of discouragement in My Player, and I could have just taken the pointers in a bullet-point text box. For someone who's pretending to have a close relationship to your player, he needs to have a real face, or at least a more recognizable voice. I'd respect what this guy says a lot more if I knew who it's coming from, instead of someone who passes off another player's quotes as inspiration.

The little things that NBA 2K10 does right could fill a review twice as long as this, but of course they should get a nod here, for pushing the whole enterprise over the top and again delivering this year's NBA choice. Your crowd will chant MVP! when a star player on a hot streak comes to the line for his and-1 free throw. When this happens in the playoffs, it just feels right. The off-ball players' animations, usually where you see forced or sped-up repositioning when the AI has to move them, are very refined and build that overall sense that you're watching an NBA telecast. The players and the coaches' features are mesmerizingly accurate - I loved any cutscene with George Karl in it and could instantly pick out Stephen Curry - a straight-up rookie - from the standard camera angle.

NBA 2K10 represents the brand of choice among hardcore ballers and reputation counts for plenty in both real-world professional basketball and its virtual counterpart. Outside of My Player and the multiplayer modes, the game delivers more subtle changes than profound to your experience. When it's in control of a game, a winning team maintains that lead, and focuses on execution. That's NBA 2K10.

NBA 2K10 was developed by Visual Concepts published by 2K Sports for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Wii. Retails for $59.99 USD (PS3 and 360) and $49.99 (Wii and PC). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all singleplayer game types and tested multiplayer quick play mode.)

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