And It Goes In!
I reviewed NCAA Basketball 2009 last year around this time, and I have to say right off the bat not much has changed. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I should clarify. The game is a whole heap of a lot better in certain, very distinct ways. I wasn’t the first to point it out, but I’d like to jump on the bandwagon and say that most of those ways are very similar to the recently released NBA Live 10. Still, as a fan of college sports, I have to say that NCAA Basketball 2010 is a strong entry in the series even if it’s reminiscent of years past. Presentation is better than ever, play-calling has improved, and EA’s collegiate level focus on tempo and crowd involvement is stronger than ever. I just hope you haven’t played Live or NCAA 09 in a while.
I hate to always be Captain Buzzkill, so let’s start with the good things, and there are plenty of good things about NCAA Basketball 2010. One of the first things you’ll probably notice about the game is the all-new (at least to NCAA) Motion Control offense. Essentially, this is a hotkey that maps offensive play-calling to the left shoulder button. As I remarked about the feature in Live; while not entirely revolutionary, it definitely streamlines gameplay a bit without removing the strategy that makes the game more than a shoot-out. As a side-note, I’ve considered running plays and strategy obsolete and unnecessary in the all-star swish-fest known as ‘Live’ for a few years now. Yet in NCAA 2010, it makes a strong comeback. While it is entirely possible to run and gun or pick and roll all game, the best defense really is a good offense – or a well run one.
With a tap of the button, the ball handler will call the motion and send players screening and cutting across the court. When held, the shoulder button brings up a quartet of signature plays, each mapped to one of the face buttons. While these plays don’t feel overly powerful, they can be quite effective when played to their strengths (feeding a backdoor cut, luring the double team and kicking to the perimeter for the three, etc.). The system isn’t perfect, but it can slow gameplay down considerably and, when used properly, can offer a real advantage. For once in a sports game, it’s actually gratifying to see a play called and run and not just watch star players knock down improbable shots.
The gameplay scales nicely and most games won’t be blowouts. Offense is all about finding and taking the intelligent shot, controlling the floor, and keeping the ball out of defenders’ hands, while defense boils down to controlling the paint, limiting second chance opportunities, and playing the passing lanes (this is very effective). This pace can be realistic to a fault. I played a rivalry game as Wake Forest against NC State and won by ten or twelve. During the last two minutes of the second half NC State fouled to stop the clock, naturally. At first it seems like a smart touch, except that it’s nearly impossible to avoid the defenders. It may be true to life, but it’s very annoying. Gamers hoping to smash their opponents by fifty won’t necessarily be unable to, but it is important to note that fast break points, outside shots, and the other staples of that kind of offense are tough to come by. It’s up for debate, but I think it makes for a much better game.
Fans of the “home court advantage” will be thrilled to find that EA pushes the envelope yet again with the Toughest Places to Play. Apparently, fans around the country voted (although when I’m not so sure) and EA selected the top 20 arenas where the crowd is a factor. It’s an interesting idea and it plays a significant, though perhaps not game-changing, role. When you enter one of these arenas, chants shake the camera during key moments, free throws are tougher (though I’m not a fan of that mechanic anyway), and you really get the sense that you’re playing under the scowling eyes of thirty thousand fans. What’s more interesting is the fact that a team can earn its way on the list by winning during dynasty mode. Kind of a nice gesture to all of the fans of college hoops whose teams don’t play in North Carolina.
Pulling an impressive legal sleight of hand, EA has managed to secure the rights to both the CBS and ESPN NCAA Broadcast licenses for NCAA 2010. Graphics and presentations are pretty spot-on compared to their real life counterparts. Commentary is delivered by the CBS and ESPN and it’s pretty good, though CBS pales in comparison and tends to drop uninspired epithets like “It goes in!”, and they tend to point out fairly obvious and unnecessary things. It’s actually kind of amusing if you think about the commentator played by Jason Bateman in Dodgeball. On the plus side, Dick Vitale and company are a treat. It actually may be one of the features that put this edition over the top. To quote the real life commentator: “Don’t count your Dukies before they hatch.” For anyone who’s ever watched the legend in action, ’nuff said.
You may have noticed I haven’t really spoken of anything outside of standard exhibition gameplay and the new and improved presentation. That’s because there aren’t many new features to speak of, especially in terms of game modes. It’s unfortunate, but if you’ve played any other basketball game in the past two years, you’ve seen most of what NCAA has to offer in terms of on court options. Exhibition, a few preseason tournaments, and a dynasty mode are about all you have to choose from, and most of them haven’t changed since NCAA 2009.
The only exception (if you want to get technical) is the addition of Dynamic Updates to the dynasty mode. This online feature offers gamers a weekly download of all the rosters, stats, rankings, player updates, and all other types of numerical gobbledygook that you could ever ask for. While it’s a cool enough idea, one has to wonder: what’s the purpose of simulating years of NCAA scheduling, recruiting classes, Tournaments, etc. if you’re just going use the data from the actual NCAA anyway? Go figure.
All in all, NCAA 2010 is an earnest attempt even if it doesn’t quite escape the shadow of Live. If for no other reason, the lack of actual superstars holds the franchise back, even though it ironically seems to focus the title a bit more on solid gameplay. Sadly, this is a good game, it’s just not unique and there’s very little you haven’t seen before. If you’re a college fan, it may or may not be worth it. Ultimately, it just depends how stat hungry you are, how much you like playing Live, and how much you like Dick Vitale’s voice. And I love it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Didn’t really notice the players, which is a good thing. The new ESPN and CBS logos, overlays, and transitions are awesome. 4.0 Control
New motion controls are simple and practical. What took so long? 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Dick Vitale’s good anyway 3.0 Play Value
Not a lot, unless you just love college. For my money NCAA is better than Live, but you probably already got Live so, *sigh* …yeah. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.