‘NBA Live 10′ Review

Review by Kyle Anderson

Of all the sports that could possibly be made into video games, none of them are as simple as basketball. The rules are pretty straightforward, the skills necessary are not particularly complicated and the presentation is pretty basic. Enter “NBA Live 10,” the latest entry into the venerable EA Sports franchise. It’s just five guys, a ball and a hoop, right? Maybe not.

The Basics

Suit up with any one of the National Basketball Association’s 30 teams to play through exhibition games, playoff tilts and multi-season dynasties.

The Highs

Ultra-smooth Flow
So much of professional basketball is about the speed and pace of the game, especially when working with teams like the Suns and Cavaliers who rely so heavily on the transition game. Hoops video games tend to slow everything down, but “NBA Live 10″ keeps the pace up. It’s a steady flow that isn’t arcade-style quick — basically, exactly as fast as an NBA game is supposed to move.

Player-specific Skills
More than any other sport, basketball is a game for individuals. One man can absolutely carry the other four on the floor to victory (just look at the Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron’s first two years). And if a player gets hot, it can mean the entire game. “NBA Live 10″ understands this and acts accordingly. Any player can get hot at any time and change the tenor of the game. During a game with my beloved Knicks, I managed to string together a handful of quality plays with Al Harrington, who managed to carry the Knicks to victory. It’s like the old “He’s on fire” trick from “NBA Jam,” save for the actual flaming basketball.

Camera-Ready Presentation
Though “NBA Live 10″ carries the ESPN brand with it, the in-game broadcast stuff is totally stolen from TNT, where they treat basketball like the wacky sideshow it typically is. This is a compliment, as all of the graphics, replays and play-by-play (care of Marv Albert) come together to make one of the finest broadcast doppelgangers I’ve ever seen.

The Lows

The overriding problem with “NBA Live 10″ is the adherence to strategy as a part of the game. For anybody who watches the NBA regularly, they know that for every well-designed play there are a dozen that are merely great executions of physical feats. “NBA Live 10″ wants you to call a play every single time down the floor, which slows down the game and makes it somewhat unbalanced. It’d be better if the playcalling system was a little more efficient and intuitive, but even after many, many games I found myself getting whistled for shot clock violations while I was trying to get in position for a pick and roll.

Limited Options
Considering all the mini-games folded into the competing “NBA Inside 10,” “Live 10″ is absolutely spartan. There is nothing to do except play basketball. No skills competitions, no dunk contests, no two-on-two pickup games. It makes the whole affair a little stuffy. There isn’t even really a practice mode, save for a deal on the menu screen that let’s you shoot around with a handful of superstars. I found myself sticking around on the menu screen just as a way to break up the action.

Nitpicky Details
I know the answer to this has to do with contracts or sponsorships, but it’s odd that the arenas in the game are so specific and yet Madison Square Garden is called “New York Knicks Arena.” It’s nitpicky, sure, but when everything else is accurate, that sort of stuff really stands out.

Final Word

“NBA Live 10″ looks and sounds great and is presented well, but it seems like there should be more of just about everything. Whatever greatness comes out of the gameplay is derailed by the fact that the overall outlook is off target. Think of “NBA Live 10″ as Darko Milicic: Fundamentally sound but certainly not a top-shelf superstar.