I’m slowly but surely becoming a gaming veteran. I date from an age where the best selling NBA ‘sim’ was called ‘Jam’ and you played two versus two with 2D sprites that supposedly represented Jordan or Barkley. If you were on fire and wrecking the other team your ball literally caught fire. Two buttons and a D-Pad was all you needed and good times were had. Nowadays you can’t play a sports game without having the need for at least eight buttons, super realistic players and ditto crowds, elaborate plays, tactics, injuries, stamina and so on. The big question is, are forgetting to simulate fun while we are perfecting the physical simulation?
Where EA Sports rules about every digital sports scene, they have been falling short in the NBA department for years. A decade to be more precise, because 2K Sports has been calling the shots for ten years now. It’s hard to say why but for some reason 2K Sports has been able to collect just enough fairy dust each year to sprinkle on the NBA 2K franchise making it more magical than the competition. One of the major features that gives 2K the advantage is the fact that it feels as if you play a real NBA game. Everything is there from the cheerleaders over the crowds and atmosphere to the real life looking players. But what completes it for me is the fact that I’ve only had one single game that ended in both teams scoring less than seventy points.
When you’ve been on top for years you can’t re-invent your game every twelve months. Maybe once every four or five years you can look for a revolution but the other years you are probably down to an evolution and perfection of things. In 2K09 the major improvement was the fact that a player wouldn’t miss easy layups or boards that you aren’t supposed to miss when in the NBA. This ensured two things: The scoring would run up to more realistic results and it wouldn’t end a player’s streak and consequently your team’s momentum. In 2K10 all of the above seems to be gone again. I’ve had several frustrating moments where my team is running a ten to nothing streak and then a star player misses an uncontested layup on a fast break. This is really painful and also an ideal moment to smash your controller if you want an excuse to buy a new one. Luckily this is more exception than rule because this game really relies on tempo and momentum.
Enough about what’s gone, let’s move on to what’s new. You can ignore all the bells and whistles and focus on one thing: The new turbo system. Previously you could sprint up and down the court with you player and the game responded by burning out said player. To me this felt good enough but clearly 2K deemed this feature outdated and introduced a new energy bar. This bar indicates how much your player can keep sprinting up and down the court. Once you deplete it, you start tapping into the stamina bar and that’s where it gets interesting. Now you have to decide between scoring or preventing a bucket that might be important to the game or needing to rest your player longer later in the game. While I liked the old system, the new one seems more realistic and urges the player to rotate the team more. No more cruising past the Nets by just having Kobe sprint to the perimeter and drop buckets, nope, even the Black Mamba will need his rest now.
The other big addition is the tripling of the number of plays to run to twenty four. There is a significant rise in offensive plays and most of them are pretty effective. The downside is that selecting the right play on the fly will take some more time and good teams sometimes use that opportunity for a steal and make an easy two or three point play.
The game itself looks and feels spectacular. Players look like copies of their real life counterparts drizzled in sweat. The crowd clearly looks like it’s having a blast and makes the game sound like a true game. Heck, even the coaches are themselves. More than once I had someone walk in and ask me how I get NBA games on TV in this country. Even when I told them it was a game, they still had to come and look closer to see it wasn’t the actually teams competing. A+ on the visuals and audio part there chaps. I will gladly take my hat off when I run in to the team responsible for putting so much awesomeness on my screen.
Then I will put it back on and punch the guy responsibly for the code optimization right in the nose. Man do these slowdowns suck. Good thing they mostly only appear during cut-scenes and replays but I’ve had them happen during mid-play in an online game too which is another great moment to ask for another controller for Christmas and smash this one.
Before I conclude, there are two more issues with the game that should be fixed in NBA 2K11. First of all, there is a small lag if you are oldskool and use the shot button instead of the shot stick. It’s only a fraction of a second and not that big of a deal if you are just building up offense or trying a play because you shouldn’t shoot when you are lockdown defended or have a player up in your face anyways but it can be just enough to have your player blocked on a fast break with a defender jumping up from behind.
A second small issue is the AI. While it is generally great and usually good in trying to pick up your mistakes it sometimes seems like a player lets fly a total brain fart and leaves a big boulevard open for the opponent to put two up uncontested. This happens mostly in defense when not running a play and when you are doing lockdown defense. The offensive AI can circumvent that lockdown quite easily with a few moves and your defense seems to be tying their shoelaces at that moment.
Don’t let my words fool you. I’m mostly summing up what’s wrong with the game because most of the players already know the strengths of the franchise. Summing up all that’s right with the game would take me several more pages. All in all NBA 2K10 is second to none. Granted, it will bring you a frequent moment of frustration and anger by hand of some small bugs and slowdowns but there isn’t a single basketball sim that presents the game with so much presence, flair and urges you to kick ass. The learning curve is quite steep and it will take you many hours of play to really dominate regardless of what team you choose. Newbies will also enjoy the game by just selecting one of the big four which automatically gives you an edge in two thirds of the games. Great job 2K!