Although EA Sports has held the crown for most sports games, the NBA 2K series has still been the gold standard when it comes to basketball simulation. With excellent presentation values, solid on and off court play (thanks to its franchise mode) and an incredibly rich amount of features, 2K has frequently held off its competitors, who have lagged behind with disappointing installments in the past. With the ten year anniversary of the franchise slated for this year, 2K Sports had more of a reason to maintain their dominance. Plus, with Sony's first party game taking a year off in the development leagues and NBA Live raising the level of its game, the burden was on them to prove why their game was the best around. Fortunately, NBA 2K10 will not disappoint fans of the series, even with some annoying problems that can try your patience.
Obviously, veterans of NBA 2K9 or any other basketball game will wonder about the on-court experience, which is quite fast paced and, for the most part, plays well. One of the most immediate changes that have been applied to the game, regardless of whether you're playing offense or defense, is a revamped turbo, or sprint system. Previously, you could hold down the right trigger (R2 button) to sprint up and down the court, gaining an extra boost of speed as long as you held the button without a fully realistic sense of how burned out your guys would become running up and down the court play after play. 2K10 now adds a new energy system beneath your players, which indicates how long they can continually sprint to push the fast break or get back for that last second defensive play to deny an opponent an easy shot. This bar goes in one of two stages: once you deplete your yellow bar that indicates your sprinting energy, you start to burn off a player's stamina. Depending on how much you use, you may have to rest that athlete for longer times before they get a chance to return to the court. This balancing act between running all out and saving your turbo works well, and ensures that the game won't degenerate to arcade-like speed exhibitions on the floor.
Along with the sprint adjustment comes subtle changes to the playcalling system, giving you the opportunity to call a quick play based on the situation you're currently facing as well as calls to take advantage of a player's position. Instead of the eight plays that you were provided in last years game, you now have twenty four, significantly expanding offensive sets when you're moving the ball up the court. This allows you a chance to fully exploit the weaknesses of an opponent by quickly calling one of four plays designed to get your three point specialist open on the perimeter, for example, or work the ball in to your low post players to exploit a bad matchup. When you couple this with a lot of the other changes that have been included in previous games, you'll get a sense of just how crucial this expansion of plays is to the offense. For example, running a play and immediately using dual player control to set a screen to allow a player to slash towards the hole for a score works incredibly well. The only minor downside with having so many additional plays available is that by pulling up the play menu and then scrolling through with the bumpers (L1 and R1 buttons), you can leave yourself a bit more open to easy steals by being distracted as you try to determine the right play to run.
Now, last year, there was an adjustment made to ensure that the players would definitely sink the easy layups or jumpers that they should be making by being in the NBA. To an extent, this seems to have fallen off somewhat within 2K10, as I found way too many uncontested layups, jumpers and put back shots left bouncing around the rim and falling into the hands of defenders. That is a bit infuriating, especially because this can completely shatter your momentum, which does still play a large role within the offense. In fact, get a player on a streak and you can watch that athlete drain anything he puts up towards the basket, which can totally demoralize an opponent. Along with this shooting issue comes a quarter to half second hitch every now and then when you press the shot button instead of relying on the shot stick. When you're simply moving the ball around the perimeter and the key, this delay isn't too detrimental. Put it on a fast break, however, and you easily give defenders that are a step or two behind a chance to make a play. Whether they have the extra time to try to block the shot or snap into position varies based on the play, but it can be dismaying to know you had an open shot which simply broke down with a feature that's been handled better in the past.
Speaking of defense, lockdown defense has returned for this year, and for the most part is better than it has been in previous installments. While you're still only able to trigger it when the man you're guarding has the ball, it feels a bit more tangible as your defender tries to deny them from easily sprinting around them for a score. Defenders will fight a bit harder for position, and if you manage to guess which direction your opponent is moving, you can deflect them from their original path, leading them into a potential double team or out of bounds for a turnover. The largest issue I have with the lockdown defense is that it's way too easy for a ball handler to slip the lockdown defense without having to call for a pick. In fact, even if you choose the right direction that the handler is going, one or two isomotion cuts and your defender can easily slide right out of position, giving an open look at the basket. In some cases, this isn't the end of the world, as your AI controlled teammates will slide over and pick up the coverage, attempting to block any slashing routes to the basket or the quick jumper from ten feet. Clearly, that can sometimes leave the baseline or perimeter open, but this sliding coverage is only supposed to be there long enough for you to get back into position.
However, the AI can also wind up failing you terribly, leaving the lane wide open without reacting to the ball handler. In fact, the AI frequently demonstrates confusing behavior, such as frequently performing backcourt violations without defenders applying pressure, passing to players that run out of bounds instead of down the court, and extremely errant passes that careen wildly out of bounds. You can be subjected to the same horrible passes as well, since the targeting reticule is so tenuous that a pass to a lined up teammate can suddenly become an annoying turnover, even if you're using the icons to throw to someone else.
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