Another year has passed, and another batch of NBA game titles has hit store shelves. While I haven't had a chance to play 2K's basketball entry this year, I'd say that it won't be getting a lot of competition from EA's latest effort, NBA Live 10. NBA 10 isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but going from last year's entry to this one, I'm not sure that the developers have managed to capture the "feel" of traditional basketball, despite claims to the contrary. All of the shine and polish is in place, and the Dynamic DNA aspect of last year's title has certainly seen some much-needed expansion. However, there are still some issues with the AI, particularly on defense, and the commentator needs some serious improvement. These issues aren't particularly new to the series, either, which makes their presence this year a bit troublesome.
As the game starts up, you're introduced to the same open court loading screen that was featured in the previous games, allowing you to instantly jump in and control a few guys on the training ground while you're waiting for your selected mode to boot up. Right off the bat, you'll notice that the standard shoot, pass and defend controls haven't seen any real change this year, other than your shooting functions being tied to one button press. Shoot with the X button, steal and block with the X and Y buttons, pass with the A button, and so on. There is nothing too complex on the surface, and it's easy for anyone to pick it up and start playing. You can hold in the right trigger to get a boost in speed and an enhanced drive to the net, or you can switch out plays and formations with the left and right bumpers. It's nice to have the ability to change plays on the fly, along with defensive formations, and it adds some much-needed flexibility to the menu system, especially if you don't like to get bogged down by the pause function while playing an intense game of five-on-five.
The overall gloss and shine of the game really stand out, and while NBA 10 doesn't seem to be fundamentally different from last year's iteration, it's still a really solid effort on EA's part. Right off the bat, when you start the new Dynamic Season mode, you're given the option of using a code that's included with the game for a free pass of the Dynamic DNA season. This is EA's deterrent to used game sales, so if you bought the game secondhand or are renting it, you won't be able to make use of the Dynamic DNA function without a separate purchase through Xbox Live.
Otherwise, you input your code and go from there, and the game will automatically update your season in accordance with what's currently happening in the league, including roster changes, scores, etc. It's more integrated into the game this year , allowing some interesting changes to take place, and it certainly gives the title a lot more interaction with real-world events and changes. You can even go back and replay games that have already happened if you want to make changes to your season that you didn't care for, or you can just let things play out naturally. Overall, I think it's a cool thing to have in the game, and I'm curious to see how well it plays out once the season officially starts in a week or so.
Along with the Dynamic Season stuff, there's a new pick-up online five-on-five mode that's worth checking out. Now that the game is on store shelves, I had no trouble getting into consecutive matches with friends, and it's a lot of fun to play. I'm not a big fan of dealing with EA servers since they seem to limit options for matches and the ability to search, but overall, the experience was solid. In my opinion, it's not worth picking up the game for this mode, but the title definitely has a healthier online presence than NBA Live 09.
My biggest beef with the game is definitely with the AI, more so on the defensive side than anything else. I'm not the type of player who feels the need to constantly tap the A button and be the closest to the ball; I'm more content to pick one or two players to control manually and then let the AI do the rest. It's easier for me to rely on the AI for rebounding than it is to constantly rush the net after a shot, and it seems more practical for my play style. NBA Live 10 doesn't do the job for me, especially when it comes to defense inside the paint or taking advantage of turnovers. I'd often have situations with a loose ball, but my teammates did nothing until I did it for them. They'd stand around motionless while the ball slowly rolled past, often just inches in front of their feet. If I weren't particularly quick on the take, I'd lose a possible advantage instantly.
Rebounding is a bit better, but there were plenty of instances when my teammates wouldn't even bother to jump up for retrieval. These issues aren't particularly new to the game, as I remember them clearly from last year. I'm still disappointed to see them present, even though issues like this were specifically addressed in this year's version. The problems aren't exactly deal-breakers when you're going into the season mode. The game is a bit easy on the default difficulty, and shots are still abnormally easy to make, even from the three-point line. The ridiculous nature of it has been toned down from last year, but there's still a lot opportunity for some unbalanced scoring, which in turn tones down my annoyance from the defensive issues. Two wrongs don't make a right, though, and the realism could definitely be better.
If you're trying to decide which of the two NBA titles will get your attention this year, keep in mind that NBA Live hasn't seen enough changes to its gameplay so if you've played NBA Live 09, you won't be getting a considerably different game. On the surface, everything is shiny, new and certainly well done, but gameplay-wise, I can't help but feel the necessary steps to improve the unbalanced AI weren't given their due diligence. The commentary was also somewhat awful this year; it was really repetitive and sometimes just wrong, which seems odd since it's an element that should constantly be right (and stay current!).
I'd advise fans to try a rental before purchasing NBA Live 10, especially if you're on the fence. After playing NBA Live, I'm curious enough to see how NBA 2K10 turned out, and while I understand the need for sports fans to have a new version of a basketball title every year, be vocal and let EA know if you have any suggestions or feedback. With any luck, EA will improve upon the franchise so that we can get a concerted effort out of them next year.
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