Sadly for most folks, the college experience must eventually come to an end. After years of staying up too late, drinking far too much and occasionally attending a class or two, every young adult is eventually thrown out into the "real world," where the harsh realities of entry-level jobs and paying for their own insurance await. The same is true of the NCAA Basketball franchise, which EA has announced won't be returning next year. Thus we examine the final entry in the series, NCAA Basketball 10, and while it doesn't graduate with honors, its parents should still be proud of their baby's accomplishments.
The first thing you'll notice upon booting up NCAA Basketball 10 is that the game plays exactly like NBA Live. This isn't inherently a bad thing, as Live is a decent enough franchise, but it also means bugs and exploits found in the NBA version of the game are present here as well. Ball handlers stupidly commit backcourt violations or frequently run out of bounds, and the CPU still gets far too many offensive rebounds even if the defender is stationed perfectly under the hoop and in prime position to grab the board. These are all issues that EA was aware of heading into development for NCAA Basketball but chose to ignore. The bugs aren't game-breaking by any means, but they do show up enough to be a persistent annoyance.
A new mechanic included in the college game that works very well is the motion offense. Now, with a simple tap of a button, players can send their team into one of any number of movement-based offensive sets replete with picks and back cuts. Helpful button icons light up over the head of players as they come open, allowing you to move the ball with ease and eventually find the open shot. It's a cool new idea that is way overdue, and fans are sure to be pleased to see it.
There are downsides to the system, however, and there is a bit of a learning curve. First off, even if you pass to a player when he's open, he may end up back in traffic before the ball arrives, so you're often forced to pass before you're ready and hope for the best. More importantly, the game isn't all that accommodating to teaching newbies how to run motion sets, so if you aren't intimately familiar with the process, it may take half a season before you start to get the hang of it. Even so, if words like Princeton and Triangle evoke images of cuts and screens rather than Ivy League schools and geometric shapes, you'll likely be in heaven.
Like most other college sports titles, the focus of NCAA Basketball 10 is on Dynasty mode, where you take control of building and coaching a program that will dominate the college hoops landscape. Therefore, your focus isn't just on the on-court action, but also recruiting new students and satisfying the demands of your alumni, athletic director and fans. Unfortunately, the recruiting system has long been the weak link in college sports titles, and that's still the case here. Simply scrolling through screens full of statistics and then planning a strategy of attack may be fun for some people, but there's so little direction in the recruiting segment that it's hard to get a feel for how to best allocate your resources. I know that real recruiting is lots of hard work and not always fun either, but EA really hasn't done anything with the system to make it even bearable.
The boredom of recruiting players was offset in the NCAA Football franchise with the introduction of online leagues, which allowed you some satisfaction when you managed to steal that top-rated quarterback away from your buddy who was about to graduate his senior All-American QB and had thrown the house at landing this promising youngster. That thrill isn't present in NCAA Basketball 10 because there are no online leagues to be found. Actually, there are only two other game modes outside of Dynasty (Tournament and Quick Play), and there's absolutely nothing to encourage you to play online with friends for any length of time. Even though this is the last game in the series, it would have been nice to have a way to keep it going in perpetuity so groups of rabid college basketball fans could have something to play until the next amateur hoops franchise comes along.
On the presentation side of things, the game is quite impressive, as EA secured rights with both ESPN and CBS to bring an authentic television experience. Every "televised" game your team plays will feature the visual bumps, graphics and announce teams that call the big match-ups in real life. The ESPN broadcast crew of Erin Andrews, Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale are complemented by CBS' own Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery, all of whom do a great job of drawing you into the game. Admittedly, Johnson and Raftery are the weaker group, getting way too excited over even the most mundane moments in the game, but you have to grant them a certain amount of leeway since this is their first foray into video game commentary. Still, no one quite matches Johnson's excitement during a huge play at the buzzer either in gaming or in real life, so it's probably better that he's overly animated than wooden and stiff.
It's sad that this will be the last NCAA Basketball title, not only because that means there won't be a college hoops game next year, but also because the framework really had been laid to build up an impressive and powerful franchise from here on out. With a few balances and tweaks, we easily could have had an extremely impressive title in the next year or so. As it stands, though, NCAA Basketball 10 is still a solid entry and a good note to go out on. It's no real consolation to be the NIT Champion instead of the National Champs, but it's better than nothing.
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