Reviewed: October 22, 2009
Released: October 6, 2009
There is no question that NBA Live franchise has been a cornerstone gaming franchise for well over a decade – and while the series has had its share of darker days a few years back (and one particularly bad year), the last couple of years have certainly been better for virtual ballers. The folks at EA Canada continue the franchise’s forward momentum with NBA Live 10 by steering the series more towards the simulation realm while simultaneously amping up team AI simplifying the gameplay mechanics to keep the experience from becoming overly complicated. The result is a much more cerebral sim-like experience than the previous releases, yet one that feels enjoyable and rewarding without being too taxing.
The NBA Live series has been driving to a more run-and-gun style game over the past couple years – putting heavy emphasis on rapid passing, pressure posting, and making fast dives up the lane. While this fast-paced focus has definitely helped add a dose of excitement to the gameplay, there have been a number of hardcore gamers that have voiced discontent. With NBA Live 10, much of that run-and-gun has been toned down in favor of a more strategy-based thinking-man’s game. It’s as if the dials have been turned way down on the blowout breakaways and over-the-top alley-oops, as NBA Live 10 is more about position and passing; initiating screens and picks to drive the ball to the best possible position to put it through the net.
And while this new gameplay mechanic may sound a bit off-putting for gamers who like their ball with a little more action and a lot less calculation, EA Canada has made the experience more accessible by automating the decision making though solid AI, and lightening up on the typically heavy-handed control scheme with single-button and stick commands that are modified using the triggers. Purists may argue the oxymoron of a strategy-based simulation embracing arcade-like simplicity – but this formula has proved successful in a number of game series over the years so why not apply it to NBA Live? And let me tell you, the results are definitely better for it.
As any soccer fan will tell you, goals are much more rewarding when you actually have to work for them, and NBA Live 10 definitely makes this apparent. I realized this during one of my early Play Now games when I as my local Pistons, and the AI as the Celts (I like to use Boston’s parquet floor as a gauge of visual quality) ended the first quarter with the score 2 – 4. While I agree that it is wildly unrealistic to have such a low score after five minutes of gameplay, the fact that I enjoyed every bit of that five-minute fight was the ultimate reward.
That’s not to say all is rosy – there are a couple of features that were lost in lieu of the strategy-based gameplay. Most noticeably the modifier for posting-up the opposition – while this does not necessarily make or break the gameplay, being a fan of one of the best post-play teams in the league this omission was definitely missed. And yet again, EA Sports misses out on the single-best feature from their own NCAA hoops title in the form of the collegiate game’s pressure defense. I so wish it were possible on defense to manipulate the right analog stock to put directional pressure on the ball handler – I momentarily thought I was doing so in NBA Live 10, until I realized that the defensive motions were automated for the most part. Oh well, maybe next time.
Visually, the game is a real treat. Other than some odd shimmery and plastic-like skin texturing issues, the players look awesome. The modeling is very much in proportion, and the uniforms hang realistically without flapping wildly as in earlier releases. For all the positioning and posturing, the action remains exciting and energetic. NBA Live 10 runs like a well-greased machine – with fast and fluid character animations, and excellent ball movement. In fact, this is one of the first NBA Live titles that I can remember that does not exhibit a momentary hitch in framerate at possession changes.
The courts look fabulous, with great lighting and reflections, and realistically animated backboards and nets. The sideboards can be a bit visually oppressive with their blatant in-game advertisements, but the overall atmosphere is still quite realistic. This is especially true of the crowd, which is one of the best and most authentic looking background audiences to ever appear in a game.
As for the audio, the game does an excellent job of delivering all of the noise and excitement of the arena sports experience. The roar of the crowd is deafening, especially when the heat is on out on the court. The music definitely helps develop the proper mood, and the on-court sound effects are convincing enough to fool a pro.
In terms of value, NBA Live 10 is really an excellent package. Considering the plethora of game modes – from the standard Play Now, Season, and Playoff modes, to the more complex Dynasty mode as well as the new DynamicDNA Season and Addidas Live Run modes – there is enough game here to satisfy even the hungriest of NBA fans.
DynamicDNA taps a subscription-based online service (1yr code included with new purchases) that mirrors the real-time NBA schedules and rosters for whatever particular night that gamers are playing. Once a gamer logs into the service he can play any (or all) games scheduled that night, the results of which are uploaded to a central server that tracks the community’s win/loss ratio giving predictors for that night’s line up of real-life games. The result is maybe not as rewarding as the typical Dynasty mode, but the idea of being part of a bigger audience effectively predicting the outcome of that night’s schedule is oddly addictive.
Addidas Live Run is another brand new addition, allowing up to 5 online gamers to form a team (think: clan) in which each gamer is assigned a position to play in a 5-on-5 game. These kinds of co-op modes always sound fantastic on paper, but scheduling is often an issue so we’ll have to see how this one pans out over the season.
As EA Sports continues to dig the NBA Live franchise out of the deep dark hole it fell into a few years back, the series continues to make improvements. However, there is a little part of me that wonders if the yearly sports releases have not finally oversaturated gamers to the point where interest is going to wane regardless of the quality. NBA Live 10 is definitely the best iteration of the series to date.