With each year that passes, b-ball fans have had to consider which NBA title to give their hard-earned money to. Up until recent years, 2K Sports has offered the better game for many, but with EA making massive strides in the sporting genre, NBA Live ’10 may have what it takes to convert the masses.
Although not perfect, 2K managed to keep their sports games fun and engaging while EA seemed to be caught up in the idea of using overly complicated controls. It seems EA Canada are learning from this and NBA Live ’10 is not only more accessible but more forgiving in certain areas as well. All of this without sacrificing the high level of authenticity and detail that NBA fans are looking for.
For starters, some of the controls from last year’s effort have been brought back to basics. Shooting is no longer the frustrating chore of twiddling the right analogue stick and instead players can simply press the square button. For some it sounds too simple but EA have kept aspects of finesse shooting intact by letting you add analogue stick controls to adjust which side of the hoop you want to attempt a lay-up or alter your shot type. It means that beginners can get stuck in and win games without hours of training beforehand. At the same time, experts can fine-tune their experience on the court and get better results with practice.
Passing is also a slick affair, allowing you to simply hold down the L2 trigger and then flick one of the sticks in the direction you want to pass. If players are all clustered together then holding down L2 also places indicators above team-mates that correspond to buttons letting you select exactly which player to pass to. The result is extremely fluid and is all helped along by smooth animations from every player as they jostle, duck and spin into position. NBA Live ’10 also incorporates a passing method known as Direct Pass Receiver Control that allows you to control two players at once and initiate a pass. Put simply, it means you can ensure that your second player is in a prime position to make a not-contended three-pointer or charge down from the free-throw line for a dunk.
Defensively the gameplay is equally enjoyable with players diving for loose balls and actually blocking shots from behind now. Successfully challenging for the ball can be tricky and will depend on your timing and of course, the size of the player who is guarding. For example coming up against Kevin Garnett and his giant banana-fingers can often lead to a turn-over if you simply run at him.
The level of detail is all accessible, but never once complicates the pace of the game unless you want it to. The triggers let you set plays or call specific team-mates to come to the ball and using the D-pad lets you change tactics or make team changes all on the fly. And to ensure that the details are all accurate to real-time events, EA have continued to use the dynamic DNA feature that was introduced last year as well. It allows true NBA fans to download all of the latest team performances and real-life player stats into the game and have it relate to the outcomes of the games you play. If one of your favourite players has had an outstanding first half to their season, then his attributes will be adjusted accordingly in NBA Live ’10.
Of course all of the NBA celebrities make an appearance too, including Kobe, Nash and LeBron who all look just like their real-life counterparts. Truthfully, these “star” players didn’t seem to be much of a cut above the others and didn’t command any extra authority on court. However, each one makes up for this by bringing their trade-marked (and over the top) shenanigans and celebrations to the game. Strangely though, these professional athletes all seem to have serious back-problems, as way too often players would jog back clutching their backs in pain. It never seemed to affect the gameplay however and I can only assume it's a standard health issue for those over seven feet tall.
As you would expect, the graphics from EA in NBA Live ’10 are extremely impressive. Especially with regards to the stadium crowds which are more animated and diverse than ever before. 20,000 fans all screaming, cheering, and booing in Madison Square Gardens as you start a match is a compelling experience. The developers apparently spent time recording over 200 different sound effects from arenas of actual NBA games to get that feel just right. In fact the audio is something that pushes this game above the 2K series with regards to more engaging crowds and background ambiance. The only fault in the soundtrack is the eerie silence that you encounter in-between each quarter or sometimes during the replays. Although NBA Live ’10 features a decent soundtrack of the likes of Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, De La Soul, Beastie Boys and Mos Def, it didn’t seem to be integrated as well as say EA’s FIFA series. Thankfully the foley department have also toned down the whole “squeaking of shoes on court” sound effect too, making it more bearable while playing.
The animations across all of the players barely slips up, with only the occasional collision detection error or possibly an inconsistency in a slow-motion replay. But unless you go looking for these glitches, the game looks a million bucks when playing. My only criticism with the visuals is the lighting. EA have opted to use a realistic sweat engine, (like what we saw in Fight Night 4) but the problem is all of the players end up looking like glossy plastic figurines. It was a shame considering how realistic everything else looks.
Many NBA fans are going to have to pair this up with 2K’s effort to see exactly which one is to their tastes this season. NBA Live ’10 certainly delivers on a lot of levels with decent graphics, excellent realism and detail but most importantly is plenty of fun. Regardless of your decision though, it’s great to see EA raising the bar on their basketball franchise and closing the gap between the two NBA titles.