Flawed but Still Money
In an odd way, ever since EA nabbed the exclusive NFL license for its Madden franchise, effectively signing the death warrant for 2K Sports’ football aspirations, I’ve been fascinated to see how 2K does with its yearly sports titles. It must have been particularly frustrating for 2K to lose the NFL license, as they’d been building momentum to challenge the seemingly invincible Madden. That’s nearly ancient history now, and 2K Sports has found varying degrees of success with their hockey and baseball titles.
Where the experienced publisher has shined is with their NBA 2K series. Boasting superior visuals, solid gameplay, a bevy of modes, and one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, NBA 2K10 has a lot to offer hardcore and casual basketball fans.
It’s unusual to start a review lauding the soundtrack of a game unless it’s a music rhythm game. But honestly, before diving into a pickup game or starting your career as GM of your favorite team in Association Mode, the inspiring soundtrack is hard to miss. Kanye West may be the most recognizable artist from the listing, but the track One Day by Matisyahu adds an oddly fitting and inspired reggae tune to the mix. Add in one of my favorites, the electronica group Ratatat, to some more traditional rock and hip-hop tunes, and you have a distinctive soundtrack that leaves an impression and makes navigating the menus a joy. I actually used it as a personal jukebox while writing this review.
Of course, gameplay is where a sports title sinks or swims. It has been awhile since I’d spent any extended time with the franchise and there was definitely a learning curve. If you’re new to basketball games or stepping back onto the court after an extended time away, expect some trials and tribulations whilst coming to grips with all the options at your disposal. This is not a lighthearted, arcade run n’ shoot basketball experience; there are touch passes, pump fake to hopstep spins, step-throughs, shimmies, fadeaways, leaners, and defensive flops. And that’s not the half of it. While it may be intimidating, it’s all certainly not needed to get started and will come with time. Even though I was getting blown out in my first several games, it wasn’t a bad or frustrating feeling because I knew there was so much more depth to dig into for a deeper experience.
Unfortunately, for all the depth that comes with NBA 2K10, there are also more challenges making everything balance well together and work with the computer-controlled AI. Defensive play, while strong overall, still suffers from a few hiccups. For example, when reaching for a steal, I would find my players sluggishly making the attempt on a few occasions and being vastly out of position after the animation was completed. The good news is nine times out of ten my teammates had my back and ran over to cover the lane to the basket. Other than a few other minor grievances, everything gelled and worked well together for a complete experience.
Of course, no sports game today is complete without a franchise mode, or “Association Mode” in this case. Upon starting up the Association Mode I decided it best to support and play my local NBA franchise, the hapless Minnesota Timberwolves. After selecting them I was confronted with a “Are you sure you want to choose the Minnesota Timberwolves as a user-controlled team?” prompt. Now I realize that this is the confirmation screen, but I couldn’t help but think the game was trying to tell me something about my poor choice.
After disregarding the warning of my foolishness of selection and now assuring my humiliation at the hands of the 29 other CPU-controlled teams, I was able to set the roles for my players from starter, sixth man, role-player, prospect, and benchwarmer. Each role has added depth to them, I had Al Jefferson set as my starter and team star where the rest of my misfit cast of starters were labeled as replaceable if someone better came along. Certainly not good for their ego, but at least they knew the truth up front. If you stray from using your players during the season as expressed from their role, their mood will worsen and affect team chemistry and individual performance. After taking caring of that dirty business, I was also able to randomly generate an incoming rookie class or go online to import user generated rookie classes, allowing me to grab a fairly realistic group resembling next year’s draft class. It’s a nice feature that more and more games are taking advantage of, allowing in-game sharing of user-created content that couldn’t be more practical or useful.
My Player Mode let’s you try your luck as an NBA wannabe upstart. After setting his looks, attire, size, and style you are set on your journey to make it to an NBA roster. But first you have to prove you’re worth it by playing in summer leagues, getting in practice time, and working drills. Along the way you are guided by your own personal, highly opinionated mentor. This mode is a bunch of fun; where you are forced to control just your own player in game situations and work on adding skills and abilities as you have strong performances on the court.
During games you are constantly graded for how well you are playing as a teammate. Taking a good shot, even if you miss, is rewarded as much as dishing for an assist or snagging a rebound. Try to just focus on getting the ball in your hands as much as possible will lower your grade for being too selfish; ditto on the defensive side of the ball. Slack off on covering your man and you’ll be penalized for giving open shots or failing to block out on a rebound. The grading isn’t perfect and can be overly harsh at times but is enjoyable, regardless. My Player Mode is loads of fun as it is, but it has even more potential over the next few years as 2K Sports fleshes it out further.
Graphically the game is beautiful. Players look great and are full of detail. Tons of unique animations make the players feel more than skinned versions of the same person, as everyone has their own tendencies and movement and shot styles. Arenas and crowd graphics are also strong and only enhance the top notch presentation. Announcing is strong but suffers the same eventual repetitiveness all sports titles have to deal with.
NBA 2K10 is a fantastic, fun, and deep representation of the NBA experience. While it may be too much for a very casual basketball fan looking for an arcade experience and instant gratification, 2K10 will certainly appeal to longtime fans. Game modes like the dunk contest, 3 point shootout, 21, and pickup games give a nice variety while Association Mode and My Player Mode give plenty of reasons to keep coming back. I hate to leave you with such a tired cliché, but 2K Sports’ NBA 2K10 is a slam dunk.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Some framerate problems are the only hitch to an otherwise gorgeous game. 4.3 Control
There’s a lot to learn, but the depth and control is worth the investment. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is an amazing mix of genres, but commentary gets repetitive. 4.4 Play Value
With My Player Mode and Association Mode and the plethora of other things to do, NBA 2K10 should hold your attention for a long, long time. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.