Although EA Sports has held the crown for most sports games, the NBA 2K series has still been the gold standard when it comes to simulation styled basketball. With excellent presentation values, solid on and off court play (thanks to its franchise mode) and an incredibly rich amount of features, 2K has frequently held off its competitors, who have lagged behind with disappointing installments in the past. With the ten year anniversary of the franchise slated for this year, 2K Sports had more of a reason to maintain their dominance. Plus, with Sony's first party game taking a year off in the development leagues and NBA Live raising the level of its game, the burden was on them to prove why their game was the best around. Fortunately, NBA 2K10 will not disappoint fans of the series, and while the PC version fixes some of the issues from the console, control issues can try your patience.
Obviously, veterans of NBA 2K9 or any other basketball game will wonder about the on-court experience, which is quite fast paced and, for the most part, plays quite well. One of the most immediate changes that have been applied to the game, regardless of whether you're playing offense or defense, is a revamped turbo, or sprint, system. Previously, you could hold down the sprint button to charge up and down the court, gaining an extra boost of speed as long as you held the button without a fully realistic sense of how burned out your guys would become running up and down the court play after play. 2K10 now adds a new energy system beneath your players, which indicates how long they can continually sprint to push the fast break or get back for that last second defensive play to deny an opponent the easy shot. This bar goes in one of two stages: once you deplete your yellow bar that indicates your sprinting energy, you start to burn off a player's stamina. Depending on how much you use, you may have to rest that athlete for longer times before they get a chance to return to the court. This balancing act between running all out and saving your turbo works well, and ensures that the game won't degenerate to arcade-like speed exhibitions along the floor.
Along with the sprint adjustment comes subtle adjustments to the playcalling system, giving you the opportunity to call a quick play based on the situation you're currently facing as well as calls to take advantage of a player's position. Instead of the eight plays that you were provided in last years game, you now have twenty four, significantly expanding offensive sets when you're moving the ball up the court. This allows you a chance to fully exploit the weaknesses of an opponent by quickly calling one of four plays designed to get your three point specialist open on the perimeter, for example, or work the ball in to your low post players to exploit a bad matchup. When you couple this with a lot of the other changes that have been included in previous games, you'll get a sense of just how crucial this expansion of plays is to the offense. For example, running a play and immediately using dual player control to set a screen to allow a player to slash towards the hole for a score works incredibly well. The only minor downside with having so many additional plays available is that by pulling up the play menu and then scrolling through your options, you can leave yourself a bit more open to easy steals by being distracted as you try to determine the right play to run.
Now, last year, there was an adjustment made to ensure that the players would definitely sink the easy layups or jumpers that they should be making by being in the NBA. To an extent, this seems to have fallen off somewhat within 2K10, as I found way too many uncontested layups, jumpers and put back shots left bouncing around the rim and falling into the hands of defenders. That is a bit infuriating, especially because this can completely shatter your momentum, which does still play a large role within the offense. In fact, get a player on a streak and you can completely watch that athlete drain anything he puts up towards the basket, which can totally demoralize an opponent. Along with this shooting issue comes a quarter to half second hitch every now and then when you press the shot button instead of relying on the shot stick. When you're simply moving the ball around the perimeter and the key, this delay isn't too detrimental. Put it on a fast break, however, and you easily give defenders that are a step or two behind a chance to make a play. Whether they have the extra time to try to block the shot or snap into position varies based on the play, but it can be dismaying to know you had an open shot which simply broke down with a feature that's been handled better in the past.
Speaking of defense, lockdown defense has returned for this year, and for the most part is better than it has been in previous installments. While you're still only able to trigger it when the man you're guarding has the ball, it feels a bit more tangible as your defender tries to deny them from easily sprinting around them for a score. Defenders will fight a bit harder for position, and if you manage to guess which direction your opponent is moving, you can deflect them from their original path, leading them into a potential double team, out of bounds, or a turnover. The largest issue I have with the lockdown defense is that it's way too easy for a ball handler to slip the lockdown defense without having to call for a pick. In fact, even if you choose the right direction that the handler is going, one or two isomotion cuts and your defender can easily slide right out of position, giving an open look at the basket. In some cases, this isn't the end of the world, as your AI controlled teammates will slide over and pick up the coverage, attempting to block any slashing routes to the basket or the quick jumper from ten feet. Clearly, that can sometimes leave the baseline or perimeter open, but this sliding coverage is only supposed to be there long enough for you to get back into position.
However, the AI can also wind up failing you terribly, leaving the lane wide open without reacting to the ball handler. In fact, the AI frequently demonstrates confusing behavior, such as frequently performing backcourt violations without defenders applying pressure, passing to players that run out of bounds instead of down the court, and extremely errant passes that careen wildly out of bounds. You can be subjected to the same horrible passes as well, since the targeting reticule is so tenuous that a pass to a lined up teammate can suddenly become an annoying turnover, even if you're using the icons to throw to someone else.
Now, one of the largest issues that I had with the game on the consoles was the slowdown, which was extremely noticeable during the low post game. Not only was it hard to track the ball, but it could completely throw off the timing of your shots when you were trying to release accurately and the game would hitch or crawl in the middle of your jumper. Fortunately, this has been remedied on the PC version, and I didn't run into a single instance of slowdown or frame hitches once during a play session. In fact, the game ran incredibly smooth, which is rather promising as far as the potential patches of the console version are concerned. However, with this adjustment seemed to come a large tradeoff, one that is as problematic, if not more, than the slowdown.
For some reason, 2K10 doesn't display any of the 360 icons, even though the game clearly recognizes the controller. Instead, it substitutes the letters A through D, as well as LF1 when you're pulling up your icon passing. This is completely confusing, particularly because it doesn't correlate cleanly to the controller, leaving you at times guessing whether you've actually hit the right button to pass to the man you want or perform the action you want to do. For example, you can't have the tip off icon be on the Y button and then suddenly without any explanation shift it to the B button, but the game frequently shuffles icons without warning. Keyboard controls aren't nearly as responsive as a gamepad (obviously, especially when it comes to isomotion), so you're essentially stuck with this clumsy, awkward control scheme. Plus, the icons look horrible, which is particularly jarring to the visuals on and off the court.
This actually brings me to the presentation, which clearly is the stand out of this year. Not only do players look extremely realistic, just about every action they perform looks extremely solid. Everything from behind the back passes to diving for loose balls looks phenomenal, pre-game cutscenes look great, and on-court animations overall are great. This includes watching players fight and swim around picks to maintain their defense and tighter, more eye-catching slams. Everything, from the broadcast overlays that take holidays and team schedules into effect to the menu system, is cleaner, easier to read and more immersive. I didn't even notice the same cloth physics issues from the console, meaning that visually, this is the strongest version of the game itself. Overall, 2K10 presents an experience that is closer to what you'd expect from watching a game on television, which is excellent.
Part of this is derived from a new feature that has been implemented within 2K10 called NBA Today, which integrates the latest news, trade info, stats and more to provide the commentary team with completely new conversational topics to cover during a game, making the trio of Harlan, Kellogg and Miller seem more natural and less canned than previous years. Think of it as a blend of Dynamic DNA from the NBA Live series and the 2K Living Rosters feature which is highlighted by the announcers. However, the NBA Today feature has a larger scope than simply refreshing splash graphics during a matchup; it's effectively been implemented across most of the other game features. Similar to the NBA Replay feature found in Sony's first party game, NBA Today scans the NBA schedule of upcoming games and presents the best matchups for players to instantly leap into for a quick play match up. That means that if a team suddenly goes on a run during the regular season, you'll find their games popping up much more frequently in the quick play section than before. On top of this, the NBA Today feature provides an AI driven "insider" known as the 2K Insider (who looks like a cartoonish version of Stephen A. Smith), who provides blog info and commentary on the league. While much of the continual updates based on the real NBA season weren't fully possible to be evaluated, the past couple of pre-season games have been available to check out the quick play features, and playing through the Association highlighted glimpses of how the stats will play into this feature.
The Association has received a few cosmetic improvements, such as a new facelift for the home page of the franchise mode. However, apart from the ability to customize your draft class and upload or download these via 2K Share, there aren't many massive changes to the feature formula. The largest, and perhaps most significant addition is the inclusion of the developmental league teams, allowing you to cultivate and prepare for your team's future with players that you can call up from these squads. Where the D-leagues play a larger role is within the largest new feature for 2K10, which is the My Player Mode, allowing players to create up and coming stars. After building a player, you engage in various drills and exhibition matches in the summer league and practice squads before hopefully joining a team, with your progress graded after each game. If your skills aren't actually up to par, you'll be sent down to the developmental leagues to build up your skills so you can contribute to your team in your given role.
You can also take your created My Player athlete online, and form new "online crews" with other players, bolstering your stats by playing various pickup games that won't affect your career game schedule but will provide you with extra points. While you're not forced to use these created characters in online matches, bringing in your scrubs to the online court against other players can be extremely useful for everyone involved as they try to build up their player to make a run onto a roster.
As far as the mode is concerned, the game mode is a great addition to the 2K series, and even as a first step, you can definitely see how it could be developed into a stronger, title defining feature. However, there are some downsides to the mode. For example, the 2K Insider, who pretends to be your mentor, will frequently chastise you for insignificant items within play. After one game, I was essentially told that the guy I was defending burned me because he dropped two points on me. Seriously, a coach wouldn't care about those two points unless they were the game winning points and I completely blew my assignment. What's more, while the game frequently will stack your achievements or your penalties during breaks, there are some grades that drop for inexcusable reasons. One time, I called for the ball and was flagged by the game for excessive ball calling. Another time, I was dribbling the ball up the court and decided to reset instead of try to force a score on a defended basket, and was called for holding on to the ball to long. I can understand the reasons for grading performance, but when you're getting degraded for lame reasons, it doesn't go over well.
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