NBA 2K10 is a good all-around basketball simulation, specifically for the basketball fanatic. You nearly must have played the sport, currently play the sport — and I don't mean mere recreational 3-on-3 pick-up games — or be the most avid kind of spectator to truly enjoy this game. Sports gamers in general, who are accustomed to beginning a game at the Pro difficulty setting, will find the AI relentless. If you're relentless as well, you'll hold your own and even win some early games. But at the outset, it's certainly not a kick-back-and-relax sort of sports title. For example, in the first playoff game against the Wizards, I had the wrong attitude: I was looking for some mild and engaging basketball action. I got blown out by 14 points, which is lucky because at one point I was behind by more than 20. The next game, I played like the AI plays — on the edge of my seat — and won by 12 points. It takes a lot of concentrated effort to force the Pro AI into the usual mistakes, like bad passes and shot selections, backcourt violations, and offensive-lane violations. No pressure, no play is the name of this game. NBA 2K10 is not by any reasonable standard a casual endeavor, and it may certainly be your only sports title this year if you expect to enjoy all of its features or excel at any one of them.
The game's My Player mode isn't fooling around, either. When you select your position in creating your own unique player, expect to know that position's role inside and out, or take a lot of time learning it from the Summer Circuit tryouts to an actual NBA franchise career, a goal it may take quite some time to reach if you don't already know basketball really well. Surely, that's NBA realism, but I'm not sure I want things that realistic. Your My Player position is expected to move, control the ball and pass like a real NBA candidate to his particular position. You can't get away with scurrying all over the court trying to make the highlight reels. You won't make the grade required to progress, and it's far easier to get knocked down grades than move back up the charts. A solid working knowledge of basic NBA-style plays is essential. In fact, I'll go so far as to say if you're merely looking for a casual sports experience and you don't want to learn, even in an abstract manner, what it takes to be a forward or point guard with true NBA potential, don't even bother with the My Player mode until you've spent a lot of time playing against NBA 2K10's AI. It wouldn't hurt to buy a technical book on the fundamentals of basketball, either.
NBA 2K10's overall graphics and animations are quite good, with detailed NBA player character models and realistic gameplay motions. A slam dunk looks like your average slam dunk and not something out of an over-the-top arcade sports title. NBA players look like their real-world counterparts, right down to tattoo placement. It's unfortunate that some graphical glitches mar the animation efforts. Most notably, ball-carrying players will sometimes skip large swaths of animations frames, so for a layup attempt, they'll appear on the floor in the paint and then at the rim of the basket, as if teleported there. It's not basketball magic. It's just glitchy graphics. The same thing also happens in some offensive evasive maneuver animations, at the receiving end of short passes, etc.
The game's TV-style broadcast presentation is essentially unsurpassed in the visuals department. Sometimes, during play stoppage, I caught myself blinking as the game cut to a perfect close-up or long shot stolen right from network TV basketball coverage. However, the audio commentary borders on ruining the whole effort. It's stiff, wooden, repetitive and, after a couple of hours playing with the commentary on, it even becomes annoying and is bound to frustrate some players. The commentators are not, unlike some sports games, particularly snarky or offensive when you're playing poorly. Some pithy snark would even be welcome.
Rather, they just sound dead bored and of very limited vocabulary, mostly pouring on the insider's lexicon and occasionally making gameplay calls apropos of nothing that happened on the court. I also question the design decision in areas like playoff mode, matching the scripted color commentator dialogue to the actual real-world date you're playing the virtual game. Sure, this a great feature under many circumstances that adds to the realism of season modes and bolsters a sports title's overall authenticity. However, hearing the commentators remind you to tune in on Halloween for an upcoming NBA playoff game is downright disconcerting. For purposes of playoffs and other modes that occur in the real world at specific times, the date-based calls to scripted commentary should have been skipped for distant dates better suited to the actual times of year these events occur. I can only imagine if this strange design decision, or perhaps purely oversight, wound up in NCAA: March Madness in November.
At first, the default controls of NBA 2K10 seem a bit complicated and awkwardly assigned, especially getting to RB for passing while holding RT to sprint downcourt. I was surprised how quickly I became accustomed to them, though, easily calling offensive plays and defensive assignment changes without even looking at the context-appropriate menu displayed at bottom left corner of the in-game action. Control action is responsive, though I preferred the X button to the analog stick for most shooting, and more than a few times, I felt the game should have registered a shot attempt when I pressed X the first time, but it didn't. Free-throw shooting is placed entirely on the right analog stick, using a pull and release mechanic; it's just a little too demanding, a little too strict in its expectation of common manual dexterity. Even outstanding players who I encountered online regularly missed free throws, and considering the goal of a realistic basketball simulation, actual NBA players, unless they're playing with injuries or just get to a miserable unlucky streak, they don't miss many free throws.
I tend to discover issues with finding and maintaining good network connections in 2K Sports titles' online multiplayer match modes, but not so in NBA 2K10. I had great lag-free, disconnect-free play in all but one of the online ranked matches I played. Sometimes connections do drop, and I can't fault NBA 2K10's Xbox Live network engineering for a single disconnected game. The virtually lag-free experience in a sports title is a great development effort. I found that player matching according to skill is a bit uneven, so it would sometimes match me against Xbox Live players who just flat walloped the living tar out of me. I expect that has more to do with this particular title's rather high barrier to entry, and the fact most people who dare play online are very familiar with the game franchise and sport. It may simply have been difficult for the matching system to swiftly locate an online opponent of similar average skill, so rather than make me wait forever, the system threw me in with somewhat more skilled players who happened who also happened to get way out in front of me early on. I definitely saw places in those blowout ranked matches where I could hold my own if matched up against the same opponent in a future game.
A favored feature tied into Xbox Live network play is the Living Rosters option, which constantly keeps your total NBA 2K10 experience up to date with NBA player injuries, trades, lineup changes and other factors. With the feature switched on, you don't have to specifically seek out and download roster changes, or even constantly respond to questions about updating rosters every other time you put the disc in the console. You can turn off the feature if you don't want 2K Sports messing with anything you're intentionally maintaining offline, but really, it's one of the game's design highlights.
Another nice feature, though one that will almost certainly benefit only the true fanatics, is the Crews mode. It lets you build your ideal team from any combination of My Player custom players or virtual versions of real NBA players, and then play via Xbox Live against other Crews. The feature is designed for real-world gaming buddies to take on the roles of various players on their Crews team; it's a solidly social multiplayer gaming experience, if you have enough like-minded friends or play more for fun than competition.
Of course, NBA 2K10 features all of the various modes, like seasons and the aforementioned playoffs mode. There are also various challenge, practice and unique setup modes with which to challenge yourself, seek Achievements and the like. It's a well-rounded set of features that really lacks for nothing in a current-gen pro sports sim. You won't run out of things to do this NBA season, even if you're already familiar with the franchise or happen to be a NBA 2K10 natural.
Ultimately, NBA 2K10 is disappointing in its rigorous initial difficulty. Although you can back down the AI setting, you can't do much about the quality of your online ranked-match opponents. There are some really good NBA 2K series players out there just waiting to pick you off. Know your basketball before you bother playing much online, unless you intend to only play a few casual challenges against real-world friends. The occasional graphical glitches, usually not too great a hindrance in sports titles, sometimes hamper gameplay in this game: They throw you off, sort of the video game equivalent of being lightly, unexpectedly shoved from behind in a basketball game. The broadcast commentary is just abysmal and should be completely reworked for next year's edition of the franchise. Still, if you already know basketball well, or you're willing to learn to play that game to play this game, it's a solid title including a surplus of detailed features and plenty of variety in gameplay action. Newcomers shouldn't expect to be stars right from the opening tip-off, though.
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