Game Review: NBA 2K10

October 20, 2009

In sports, rivalries fuel the competitive fires that transform average matchups into heated affairs. The NBA 2K franchise hasn't seen too much competition in recent years, but as it celebrates its tenth anniversary, it's finally feeling the heat. Are new modes and enhanced features enough to hold off the competition for another year, or does NBA 2K10's often frustrating gameplay and a hampered online experience mean that the dynasty has finally come to an end?

The biggest addition to this year's game is my player mode, where you create a baller from scratch and start on the long and arduous road to the NBA. After selecting from an average set of customization options, you begin your journey in the summer circuit, and gradually progress to training camp, the NBA's development league, and ultimately, the NBA.

The emphasis is on team play as you earn the most skill points for performing generally overlooked tasks like boxing out, double teaming, setting screens, and so on. Though letter ratings and generally constant feedback let you know what you're doing right and wrong, much of the time, the results are out of your control. You'll take a hit to your rating, even if you weren't involved in certain plays. Even more troublesome is the woeful skill level of your player starting off, and the extremely slow progression. It just ends up being more frustrating and unbalanced than anything else.


If filling the shoes of a real life NBA player is more your thing, NBA 2K10 delivers plenty to keep you satisfied. The new NBA today integration ensures that each time you boot up the game, it parallels the real thing, allowing you to virtually play out real world matchups on a day-to-day basis while hot streaks, cold streaks, and updated player profiles filter through via the continually updated living rosters.

While the sim style has its pluses and minus, those looking for a change of pace will be glad to see the NBA blacktop mode make its return. Here, you gain access to activities designed to offset the sim-minded nature of the main game.

Quick access to ranked matches, customizable online league support, team play that allows a full 10 players to take the court simultaneously, the ability to form your own crew and create and share everything from your VIP tendencies to highlight reels, make the online component in NBA 2K10 worth the price of admission. That is, if it works. At the time of this review the servers for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are a mess.

The NBA 2K franchise's calling card has always been its realism. Players that know when to push the ball, slow down the play, or capitalize on a mismatch in the post get the most joy from the series. Not much has changed this time around minus some new post play and Iso-motion moves, and that goes for the same nagging issues as well.


Chief amongst the problems are stiff animation cycles. Nearly every move you could imagine is in the game, but unless you execute your moves at precise moments, or wait until a certain animation is finished, you'll never see them.

Also detrimental to the game's core gameplay is teammate AI. Players will often stop short on fast breaks, miss wide open layups, stand still when you'd expect them to cut, step out of bounds, or commit backcourt and three-second violations with abnormal frequency. Missing easy layups has been an issue in the series forever and it's still a huge problem. Why can't this be fixed? While the game certainly rewards you for running your offense and hunkering down on defense, there's very little wiggle room for unscripted moments.

That said, the action is always engaging, if a little frustrating from time to time. To its credit, each trip up and down the court is a chess match of sorts as you strive to execute the proper plays and methodically outwork your opponents. Despite the issues, winning still feels like a true achievement and you feel a certain connection with the players that carry your squad--especially during the long course of a season.

The stellar use of coaching tactics both on the court and during timeouts brings the simulation side of the game to the forefront, allowing you to adjust offensive and defensive strategies while altering matchups, shifting the team's focus, or quickly inserting context sensitive lineups for defensive or offensive purposes. It's well-designed and smoothly implemented, affording a multitude of coaching decisions in an easily executable manner.

The gameplay in NBA 2K10 is rewarding once you can get past some pretty hefty flaws. The franchise has dominated with its realistic style and sim-focused approach, but the chinks in the armor are beginning to become too much to tolerate.

Without a doubt, the presentation in NBA 2K10 is its strongest feature. Everything from the slick overlays to the detailed player models, generally insightful commentary, and flashy arenas make NBA 2K10 the poster child for realistic sports games. While there are some clipping issues and players will occasionally toss the rock straight through an opponent, the overall level of polish is impressive.


Menu navigation has been a sore spot for the series over the years, and while 2K has attempted to streamline things, you'll still often find yourself digging through layers of screens looking for a mode or feature you'd expect to be somewhere else. It's improving, but the franchise has grown to offer so many options that a resolution is long overdue.

The NBA 2K series has enjoyed a long run at the top, but its status is seriously in doubt. Nagging issues we've been complaining about for years have gone untouched, and the meager additions to this year's game aren't enough to offset the problems. The endless list of bells and whistles is pointless when your team is blowing wide open layups when it matters. NBA 2K10 is barely the best roundball game on the market, but at this point it's starting to look like a paper champion.

Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.

Source: 2K Sports