Game Review: NBA 2K10

October 31, 2009 in Basketball, Game Reviews, NBA by pacejmiller


I don’t think I have ever rushed out to buy a video game on the day of its release like I would for a movie or a book, but I did in the case of 2K Sports’ latest offering in basketball, NBA 2K10 (on PS3).

It was a difficult decision to make, especially since NBA Live 2010 has made a valiant attempt to steal back the title of ‘best NBA sim’ from 2K this year.  For those who are having trouble deciding between the two, check out this post here.

Visuals (9/10)

Now I would just like to preface this by saying that the last NBA game I played properly was on the PS2, so needless to say, the graphics on the PS3 blew my mind.  If you have poor eyesight and/or you are old, it’s easy to confuse the graphics for an actual basketball game.  You wouldn’t be the first.

Visually, NBA 2K10 is a treat.  Every person on screen is constantly moving, and I don’t just mean the players on the court.  The bench players, the coaches, the referees, the cheerleaders, the mascots, the photographers, the crowd.  And they’re not just there to look at because you can interact with them.  You may take a difficult shot and fall into the floor sweeper, or you may dance along the sideline running back on defense and tumble into the bench.


The player animations are also stunning.  Almost every notable player style in the NBA (and outside the NBA) has been captured.  You can tell how extensive the research and motion-capturing has been just by creating your own player, because for each movement – whether it is a jump shot, free throw, fadeaway, leaner or dribble move – there are dozens of options to choose from.  Passing, screening, rebounding, boxing out – just about anything you can do on the real basketball court can be done in NBA 2K10 – except it looks better in the game.

That said, the visuals are not perfect.  While the animations themselves are smooth, the switch from one animation to another is sometimes a little choppy.  For instance, if you are trying to move your player and execute a series of cross-over moves at the same time, the player might start doing some awkward jerking movements.  Likewise, when a referee tries to fetch the ball, they might run, walk and turn in weird robotic movements.  Further, the crowd can also look like a bunch of square-headed mannequins.  And when you look closely at some of the close up shots of the players, the fingers might look a little squarish, or the jersey might go straight through part of the player’s arm, or the hands might not be firmly attached to the ball.  Nitpicking, I know, but it shows there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Compared to NBA Live 2010, 2K10 holds its own very well.  I think it’s a matter of personal preference.  Some people think NBA Live players look too skinny, while others thing 2K players look too squarish.  Personally, I think the Live 2010 players are too shiny, but the 2K10 players sometimes don’t look like they sweat enough.  The Live 2010 faces probably make the players look better but the 2K10 faces look more realistic.  One thing I will say though is that the colours in Live 2010 look and feel a lot more vibrant.

Sound (9/10)

The NBA 2K10 commentary is second to none.  The team comprises Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Cheryl Miller, and it’s a solid trio.  The banter is interactive and responsive.  You may still hear the same thing, especially if playing a season, but it’s a huge upgrade on its predecessors.

The best part about 2K10’s audio though, is what is called ‘dynamic commentary’, which is part of a feature called ‘NBA Today’ (see below).  Effectively what this means is that if you are connected to the internet, the commentary will update itself according to what happens in the real world.  I was surprised enough when playing with the Indiana Pacers that Cheryl Miller started talking about Danny Granger’s plans to build a Bat Cave (which is relatively fresh news), but I guess I should expect more fresh bits of information like this now the real NBA season has commenced.

The sounds on the court are also very impressive, though to be honest I don’t think they break any new ground.  That said, it’s nice to see that they got the sound of the ball right when it hits the hardwood, the ring, the backboard, and when it swishes through the net.  The squeaking of the sneakers and the chatter amongst players are a given now in any basketball game, but at least they have been done well and don’t overshadow the things that truly matter.

Furthermore, the NBA 2K10 soundtrack is awesome, comprising a mix of songs from popular and up-and-coming artists.

In NBA Live 2010, there is a strong focus on re-creating the atmosphere of a real NBA game, and EA actually went out and recorded over 200 real crowd sounds from NBA games.  What this effectively means is that the crowd noises and intensity will differ depending on the teams that are playing and what is at stake.  For example, the atmosphere for a game between the Celtics and the Lakers in the NBA Finals will be a lot more electric than say a regular season game between the Pacers and the Thunder.

Personally, I think the dynamic commentary offered by 2K10 is a lot more impressive than the realistic atmospheres offered by Live 2010.


Gameplay (9/10)

Having been an NBA Live guy over the years, I was amazed by the gameplay that NBA 2K10 offered.  I had been told for years that 2K’s gameplay was a vast upgrade over Live, but it wasn’t until I played 2K10 that I realised I had been playing arcade-style basketball games for too long.  Granted, the differences in gameplay is not especially significant in the more recent versions of NBA Live (in particular Live 2010), but the difference is there.

Even if you are a superstar, you can’t just blow by any defender and finish above the rim in 2K10.  Boxing out is integral to rebounding.  Cutting and setting screens is imperative to getting open.  You can take risks by jumping into the lane to intercept passes, or you can try and deny your man the ball.  You can double team a guy and tie him up for the jump ball.  You can call an assortment of plays on the fly or from a time out.  It’s not perfect, but the gameplay in NBA 2K10 is the most realistic I have ever experienced.

Now, the basic controls are relatively simple, but if you want to be able to execute some of the more difficult moves it will take some time.  Moving around the court utilises the left stick, but unlike Live 2010 (which uses the right stick), 2K10 uses a combination of the left stick and the L2 button to pull of more complicated dribble moves (such as killer cross-overs and hesitationd dribbles).  Shooting can be done with either the square button or the right stick, though the latter offers more control over the type of shot you want to perform.   Leaners, fadeaways, bank shots, reverse layups, 360 dunks – all of these moves can be executed on demand, provided to know where and when to do it.  Post moves, on the other hand, involve a whole other set of controls.

The complexity of the controls can be offputting for those that just want to get into the action, but once you master them the game becomes that much better.  I would recommend using the various control tutorials and some one-on-one or two-on-two games to get the hang of things before testing them out in full five-on-five play.  Remember, not all players can execute all moves, so don’t be surprised if you turn the ball over if you try to do behind-the-back dribbles with Shaq.

Another plus for me was the stamina system.  You have your basic stamina bar but also a turbo bar which gives your player a burst of energy but only for short periods of time and diminishes as your stamina is drained, much like in real life.  When your player is feeling fatigue, a Gatorade cup will appear next to the bar.  What it means is that you can’t keep your finger on turbo the whole game and expect to get away with it.

On the down side, there are a couple of minor glitches, but none have been irksome enough for me to remember right now!  I have read about problems with the frame rate, particularly on the XBox 360, though it has not been very noticeable for me on the PS3.

Gameplay has been a huge focus for NBA Live 2010, but the word on the street (and my opinion) is that while it has improved significantly, it’s still not quite as realistic as 2K10.  Now for some people, especially those who like their NBA sims to still have a little bit of fantasy in them, might find Live 2010 the more enjoyable game.  Again, it is a matter of personal preference.

Presentation (8/10)

2K features a TV-style presentation that’s easy to like and get comfortable with.  You’ve got the pre-game rituals, the Sprite ‘Ice Cold’ keys to the game, the cheerleaders, the Slam Cam and ‘Moments of the Game’.  During timeouts and breaks in play, you might get updates on the league standings or league leaders.  The replays come just at the right time and for the right plays.  It is very much like a standard TV broadcast.

2K’s presentation is simple but effective.  What I like most is the post-game wrap up, which declares a ‘Jordan’ Player of the Game, complete with a package of highlights.  There’s also an assortment of cool things to check out after each game, including top moments, photographic stills and highlight packages for each player.


On the other hand, I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a while to get used to the menus in NBA 2K10.  The game utilises a full screen, 9 block menu that can be accessed at just any time.  Pressing the circle button on one of these blocks may take you to another identical menu, and so forth.  If that sounds confusing it’s because it is.  Personally I prefer the conventional, line-by-line menus.  But you do get the hang of them after a while.

Features (9/10)

NBA 2K10 has a whole host of features and game modes.  There’s the old ‘Quick Game’ (default set to last season’s finalists, the Lakers and the Magic), the ‘Blacktop’ mode which allows you to play streetball, the Rookie Challenge, the Association, Season and Playoff Modes, as well as Online Leagues.  You can also set up a ‘Situation’, or you can just Practice.  Note also the use of Living Rosters (for those connected to the net), which keeps the game fresh with up-to-date team and player information, reflecting roster changes, trades, injuries and even player ratings.

All of these things are great, but they are generally expected these days.  However, there are a couple of features that make NBA 2K10 stand out.  The first is ‘NBA Today’, which is a dynamic feature that delivers audio and visual presentations based on real-life news and games.  The dynamic commentary mentioned above is a part of this feature.  What you can also do (now that the season has started) is to mirror the real NBA by checking out what games are on the schedule for the day and you can jump in to play those games right away, either before or after or as it happens!

The second, and the most impressive feature of NBA 2K10 (in my humble opinion), is this thing called ‘My Player’ mode.  Gamers are used to creating the perfect dream player with max stats to dominate the opposition, but this is not what ‘My Player’ is about (that said, you can still create such a player for use in other game modes).

The NBA 2K10 Draft Combine mini-game which has to be purchased online gives you a taste of ‘My Player’ mode, but that’s for the privileged players that were fortunate enough to be drafted in the NBA draft.  ‘My Player’ is about the undrafted player with NBA aspirations.

You don’t start off as some kind of freak athlete destined to be a superstar in the NBA.  You have to work for it.  It is an unique game in many ways, but it is also extremely rewarding.  You start off creating a player, including their position and style of play, but regardless of what you do, your player will have some ridiculously low stats.  You will have to work hard through training drills and performing well in games to acquire skill points in order to improve.

The first goal is to perform well enough in the Summer League to be invited to an NBA Training Camp.  However, this doesn’t simply require scoring a whole bunch of points (which is difficult anyway due to poor stats and limited playing time).  The aim of ‘My Player’ is to be a team player that teammates approve.  A role player, if you will.  That makes sense because if you were good enough to be dominating everyone, you’d already be in the NBA.

How do you be a good team player?  Much like in real life.  Take good shots.  Don’t be a ball hog.  Box out your man on the rebound.  Finding the open teammate.  Set screens.  Lock down your defensive assignment.  Each time you do something good, you get a boost of approval.  Your teammate rating starts off a C, but if you play well, you could move up to as high as A+.  On the other hand, a terrible performance could see your rating drop to D or worse.

And so if you play well enough in the Summer League, you might get invites to NBA teams to participate in Training Camp.  And if you can make it through the ruthless cuts, you’ll be on the team.  If not, then it’s off to the NBA Development League (with real life teams and all).  The goal is to finally fulfill your dream of playing in the NBA.

What is important to note is that ‘My Player’ mode is truly a single-player simulation.  You cannot switch players in the middle of a game.  You’re the same guy, from beginning to end.  This may sound boring for some, but it is a surprisingly rich experience.  You can’t just stand around and wait to be passed the ball – you need to make an effort to get open.  You really have to play some defence.  I can’t recall how many times I tried to double team a player in the post, only to be burned by the open shot I gave up to the man I was supposed to guard.  Further, you don’t get to play every minute of the game.  If you start from the bench or get subbed off, you can watch the others play or you can simulate the game until your next appearance.  What it means is that you need to make the most of the limited minutes you have, much like a player struggling to make the NBA in real life.

Right now I am playing for the Orlando Magic on a short-term contract, averaging stats good enough to get consideration for the 6th Man Award.  Though a ‘scoring’ shooting guard, I have become somewhat of a hustle player, grabbing offensive rebounds for putbacks and deflecting passes into the lane.  It shows that the type of player you become depends entirely on you.

Another feature worth mentioning is that you can form a ‘Crew’ of ‘My Player’ mode ballers with your friends and go challenge other crews online.  Haven’t tried it yet but I’m sure it would be fun.  In all, ‘My Player’ is an excellent addition to the NBA 2K franchise.  There is ample room for improvement and there have already been plenty of complaints (such as restrictions in playing and simulation time, amongst other gameplay glitches), but as a concept it is terrific and what 2K has been able to accomplish in the mode’s maiden run is impressive.

Overall (8.8/10)

To sum it all up, NBA 2K10 is a realistic and innovative basketball experience that can keep you busily entertained for hours on end.

Having been an exclusive NBA Live gamer for many years, I don’t have a previous 2K title to use as a benchmark.  Nonetheless, there isn’t all that much to complain about in this game.  The visuals are the best of any basketball game I have ever seen.  The sound is also great, especially the dynamic commentary which keeps you from being bored to death by the repetition from games of old.

2K10’s gameplay is its core strength.  Playing NBA Live 2010, I did notice a vast improvement from the older titles but NBA 2K10 is still that little bit better when it comes to realism.  That said, there are still some minor issues – but there aren’t any deal breakers.  Hopefully the first downloadable patch, scheduled for release very shortly, will address the various nagging problems gamers have had with the game thus far.

In my view, what takes NBA 2K10 up a few levels from previous NBA sims I’ve played are ‘NBA Today’ and ‘My Player’.  The former is more polished than the latter, but both are hopefully going to be in all future incarnations of the game.  I’m glad that NBA Live 2010 was so robust this year and hopefully this will push both EA and 2K to kick it up another notch for 2011.