It’s almost hard to believe that the NBA 2K series has been around for only ten years. It truly feels like I’ve been playing this franchise for my entire life. What’s even harder to believe is that the franchise has critically dominated any and all competition for nearly just as long. In this day and age, it’s extremely hard to stay on top for as long as 2K has, and with recent editions of NBA Live taking massive strides forward in an effort to compete, it seemed like 2K’s time in the sun was running out. Of course, that was before I got my hands on this year’s version of the game.
There’s nothing drastic about the changes made to this year’s version of NBA 2K. From a gameplay standpoint, the last few years have been all about tweaking what’s worked, like Signature Play, which maps real-life shot styles and post moves to in-game players, and Isomotion, which controls dribble moves, in an effort to provide the most realistic representation of the action on the court. Once again, shooting is mapped to the R-stick, and while you can use the button as well, the game just feels more natural when you’re timing your player’s release with the release of the analog stick. There are much fewer blocked shots this year thanks to quicker releases, which is a big plus. Last year it was way to easy to get a hand on shots, and while you can still block opponent’s attempts to score, it’s slightly more difficult. Working the post has become much more interesting this year thanks to improved post play. Backing your man down is as easy as coming into contact with him close to the basket, and you can now pull of a variety of moves with different combinations of both triggers and the R-stick.
When working the point, or technically any position, you can make use of the slightly improved play calling. This year, you’re able to assign up to four plays to any particular position, enabling you to really tweak your gameplan for each and every opponent. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to use this system as it is in NBA Live 10, nor do the players react as intelligently as they do in EA’s game. Often, I found myself just winging the offense, and simply relying on ball movement and the post game, versus isolation plays and off-ball screens. Thankfully though, there are now Signature Tendencies, which is very similar to Dynamic DNA, that allow for AI players to play much more like their living counterparts. While it’s true that Kobe would tear you up in a game for the past few years based on his attributes alone, now the virtual Kobe will actually score at will from all over the court using his vast set of skills to carve through your defense. As frustrating as it can be to try and defend him, it’s actually pretty cool to watch unfold when you’re playing.
Defensively this year’s game implements Shut Down D, which thankfully gives you an incredible amount of control on your end of the court. You can face a player up by holding in the Left trigger, and when doing so, you’re able to corral them in a particular direction. That’s not to say the man you’re guarding won’t be able to blow past you, in fact I found myself relishing in the control the game gave me defensively, and played way too aggressively. When that happens, you’re just leaving yourself open to get juked out of your shoes. I learned my lesson pretty quickly, and thanks to improved AI defense, opposing teams no longer went on huge scoring runs. In fact, once I got my bearings on defense the only play I had trouble stopping regularly was the alley-oop. Listen, I appreciate a good lob pass to a streaking player that catches the pass midair and slams it home as much as the next guy, but the computer pulls them off way too easily, and they’re nearly impossible to defend when trying to cover the ball carrier and not the man streaking. On the offensive side, I could live without the alley-oop as it happens a bit too much accidently for my taste. I never once intentionally tried for one, but at least once a game, one of my players would lob the ball towards the rim instead of making a straight pass, and turn the ball over. It was a tad frustrating, but I’m sure putting in a little time to actually run the play on purpose will be worth it.
The standard Quick Play, Season, Playoff game modes return, as does the astoundingly deep Association. This year, Association makes use of the new NBA Today feature. NBA Today is the 2K equivalent of EA's Live Season, updating stats, overlays, and commentary in conjunction with the real NBA season. You can even play the real schedule as it happens that day to see if you can perform better than your favorite team. The Association also introduces for the first time the NBDL (National Basketball Developmental League), where you can send prospects that need a bit more seasoning, or call up players who deserve a shot at big league playing time. There are even more minute details like 10-day contracts included for free agents, allowing more flexibility to personnel decisions. 2K really wanted their newest game mode, My Player, to be the go to mode for gamers. However, after spending a great deal of time with this mode, it’s not worth the struggle. Basically you create a player, get placed on a team in needs of your position, and head off to the summer leagues. Your attributes are so terrible at the onset that even playing two minutes of a game is a real struggle for your supposedly professional player. I get that they want you to earn your playing time, but when you go from playing with a real team, to playing with your unrefined rook, frustration sets in faster than normal. Maybe I just don’t have the patience to sit on the bench, only to get called upon to miss wide-open jumpers because they’re outside my predetermined range, but this mode needs some work for next year.
Getting into an online game is incredibly simple this year. All you have to do is start a game in any mode, and you can invite a friend, search for a quick or ranked match, or just check and see what your friends who are also playing the game are currently doing. It’s incredibly smooth, and makes for a huge improvement over last year’s difficult online interface. Team-Up and NBA Blacktop return in 2K10 as well, but Crews are where I can see most people spending their time online. Joining up with a few other friends with either your My Player characters, or by using actual NBA teams (not individual players), you can take on other crews across the globe. Everything gets tracked, so you can see how your Crew matches up against the others, and it’s a fairly fun mode. Why you can’t just pick players to use at will is beyond me, but perhaps it’s something 2K will consider for next year’s iteration. The online experience in general runs fairly smoothly, with only occasional dips in frame rate. Lag this year was not really an issue for me, but I’m sure like with any online game, there will be users who experience it to a greater degree.
Graphically, 2K10 impresses. Player models are fantastic. Animations are hands down the best in the business. The uniform cloth physics are still a bit off, but the collision detection is great for the most part. Upon closer inspection during a replay, players will sometimes not actually touch the rim when dunking, and there will be times that they ghost through one another. It’s not a major issue, and happens so quickly and infrequently that it never mars the game. While the presentation could use a bit more spicing up, the commentary is sharp, and surprisingly not annoying in the least. I’m sure in another few months the commentary may begin to get a bit stale, but if NBA Today works as well as 2K claims it will, then that concern may not be as big a worry as it normally would be. Players display emotion on the court, but nowhere on the level that they do in NBA Live 10, and occasionally look aloof when standing still. Arenas all look the same for the most part, and while 2K has never been known for their crowds, this year’s game has a well-rendered stadium packed full of fans. Most of the sounds are very true to the real thing, but I wish there was a bit more variety from court to court.
Another year, another solid effort from 2K Sports. NBA 2K10 maintains its dominance of basketball video games once again, and the developers are clearly not resting on their laurels. While there haven’t been a great deal of changes to the core of the game, there are certainly enough tweaks and improvements to show that 2K is listening to the fans, and is working to make the NBA 2K the best it can be. Live is slowly creeping up on the franchise though, and like the great Lakers/Celtic rivalry of the 80s, the next few years should provide some great basketball games for fans. For now, 2K10 is still the best around, and clearly won’t go down without a fight.