NBA Live 10 has been out for close to two months now and to date has received one official update. Although I have posted some impressions since the game’s release, I’ve yet to write up a proper, full review owing to the release of the official update and the anticipation of a second update which will hopefully address some of the remaining issues as well as some issues that have come about as a result of the first update. However, I’d like to rectify that now with a long overdue full review of the latest release in the NBA Live series.
The tagline for NBA Live 10 was “NBA Live is back”, a bold claim that predictably (but understandably) drew some sneers and a healthy dose of scepticism. I personally felt that NBA Live 09 was a good game in its own right with the introduction of Dynamic DNA setting up further enhancements to the AI and realism, but some nagging flaws prevented it from reaching its full potential. I can honestly say that the series has made some great strides this year with some impressive improvements to gameplay (and in particular, realism) – some of which have unfortunately been adversely affected by the first update – but the game did turn out to be a letdown as far as the modes are concerned, particularly Dynasty Mode which is in desperate need of expansion and improvement. However, the improvements in the core gameplay experience are both pleasing and promising and have gone a long way in bringing the game up to speed. If NBA Live 11 focuses on Dynasty and the other game modes it should deliver a great all-around experience, but that’s something I’ll get back to a little later.
An instantly noticeable change to gameplay in NBA Live 10 is the revamping of the shooting controls. For the uninitiated, this year the controls utilise a single shoot button in contrast to the two-button approach that has been in place since NBA Live 2004 (along with the once-off three-button shooting controls in NBA Live 07). Layups are performed when a player is moving towards the hoop (or directly under it) while dunks may be attempted while holding turbo on the way to the hoop. There are some intuitive controls involving player momentum, left stick movement and turbo usage that aren’t too difficult to get the hang of. The changes haven’t compromised player control as I feared they might when word of a single button approach first broke.
The most controversial change to the shooting controls probably remains the decision to assign the shot button to X on the Xbox 360 (Square on the Playstation 3). Not everyone is particularly welcoming of the change and for some players it’s proven to be something of a gamebreaker, though personally I haven’t found the change too intrusive as the button was previously put to use for the layup/dunk control. The rigidity of not allowing the user to customise the controls is a bad idea though. I understand the reasoning behind it as it makes it a lot easier to explain the controls and produce the tutorial videos that have been released on the official website, but the “like it or leave it” approach doesn’t do much for anyone who isn’t keen on the default configuration. Bringing back that level of customisation in NBA Live 11 would be for the best. On the whole however, I do think that the shooting controls are working out, and as such I don’t have too many nitpicks in that area.
Substitution logic is much, much better this year. It’s been problematic in the last few years (to put it mildly) but I’m pleased to say that longer quarter lengths do produce more realistic rotations, with bench players getting more time and for the most part, the right players getting the lion’s share of the minutes (barring foul trouble, of course). NBA Live 10 possibly makes the best use of secondary positions of any game in the series to date, not only bringing players in at their secondary positions but also sliding players currently in the lineup across to their secondary position to accommodate a player that’s subbing in. This is something NBA Live’s substitution logic has desperately needed for years and it’s great to finally have it as it makes automatic substitutions for both the CPU and the user (if you choose to use auto subs) much more realistic, especially for deeper teams and sixth men who get a lot of minutes being able to play at a couple of positions.
Timeout logic is still a little sketchy though. The CPU will call a timeout when it’s taking a beating, but it’s usually a little slow to do so. The game could probably benefit from representing the mandatory timeouts that are charged during real NBA games as well, but if nothing else both the CPU and the user should have greater incentive to call timeouts outside final minute strategy. The number of timeouts remaining isn’t shown in the menus either, requiring you to keep track of them yourself or rely on the appropriate stats overlay to pop up and inform you of the number of timeouts remaining for both teams. That kind of information needs to be more readily accessible. The length of timeouts is also automatically determined when you call them, so you can’t choose to use a 20 second or full timeout; you just have to call timeout (assuming you have any left) and take what you’re given, rather than being able to choose between calling your 20 or taking a full timeout as we could in the last couple of NBA Lives.
During my first few full games of NBA Live 10, I was concerned that there was some point guard domination coming into play but I would have to conclude that it’s not an issue this year. The right players are getting the most shots in the hands of the CPU and for the most part they’re scoring in ways that you would expect them to (some players who rarely or practically never dunk are throwing down dunks though), marking another step forward in the use of Player DNA and faithfully representing real life. However, the CPU remains extremely opportunistic and if you door a poor job defending the point guard and especially if you leave the lane wide open, expect the point guard (or anyone you leave open) to try and exploit your defensive lapse.
That brings us to one of the most pleasing aspects of NBA Live 10’s gameplay: strategy actually matters. I’ve seen the game panned for being too strategic, which I suppose is a legitimate gripe for the more casual gamers but for those of us who are more sim orientated, I can only say it’s about time. It’s still possible to score without running plays every single time down the floor but if you do run plays you’ll find yourself being rewarded for executing them properly, yet not to the point where it can be abused (at least on the difficult settings). A lot of effort has been put into faithfully replicating each team’s actual playbook as well, so while you can modify playbooks to your liking you probably won’t want to make too many drastic changes if you want to emulate real life as the default playbooks are geared towards realism for all 30 NBA teams.
The means of running plays in NBA Live 10 is effective; after you call a play, on-court markers show you where to start the play, where to go to next and when to pass the ball. It works, and as I said there’s a genuine chance of being rewarded if you run a play to perfection. Previous games almost seemed to punish realism but if you want to try and play NBA basketball as you’ve seen it on TV, NBA Live 10 accommodates that, arguably more so than any other NBA Live to date.
As far as the CPU is concerned, the AI will run the team specific plays as well, setting up its offense and adjusting their defense according to what you’re doing at the other end. As such, there is definite improvement here but there are a few quibbles pre-patch and post-patch that must be noted. I feel that before the first patch came out, the AI was much more patient in running offensive plays and looking for its go to guys for the shot. However, there was an issue where the offense would sometimes stall, which led to the point guard wasting time before launching a shot to beat the shot clock. It didn’t happen all the time but when it did it was easy to force the point guard out way beyond the three point arc and force a really bad shot, sometimes even an air ball, when normally a team would reset and try to run another play or the ballhandler would improvise something much better.
That brings us to the post-patch performance, which included a fix that allowed the CPU to improvise in those situations. Unfortunately, the CPU is sometimes too quick to improvise and launches a shot without really setting up its offense, especially if the play breaks down with a big man holding the ball on the perimeter. Instead of giving up the ball to the point guard (or someone else to get it back to the point guard to reset the offense), the player usually turns and fires off an ill-advised long range shot with plenty of time left on the shot clock. This is something that definitely needs to be resolved in the next update, as the issue out of the box was preferable (and slightly less frequent).
The unfortunate consequence of this new error means that anyone who didn’t play the full version un-patched out of the box isn’t getting a taste of what the game can and did provide in terms of realistic, strategic gameplay, so again I really hope the issue is resolved with the next update.
Getting back to the controls for a moment, rebounding has improved thanks to the better box-out system, which did benefit from a fix in the first update. The responsiveness, thankfully, is much better compared to NBA Live 09 with that useless hop when you’re a fraction late on the button press being done away with which makes things feel much less pre-determined when battling on the boards. There’s still the occasional offensive rebounding frenzy by the CPU which nets it a few baskets it should really have to work harder for, but it’s a lot fairer without the delay that sometimes occurred in NBA Live 09, even after it was patched.
There was an issue with blocks flying in the wrong direction pre-patch that has since been fixed and the method of tapping the button to challenge the shot, holding it to go for the block wasn’t a bad addition either. Blocks are a little too plentiful with the default sliders though and the CPU seems to have an easier time rejecting shots, but other than that I don’t have too many complaints. Steals and in particular interceptions are probably the bigger concern, the CPU tends to pick off some passes it really shouldn’t and while it’s nice that the ball gets stripped in traffic, it’s too easy for the user to lose the ball compared to the ability to force the CPU into coughing it up. The release notes for the first update did make mention of the issue being addressed, but I think a little further tweaking is required as it’s still a bit too difficult for the user to hold onto the ball and causing some turnovers that really shouldn’t happen as much as they do.
There isn’t much of a post game in NBA Live 10, a lot of the moves and controls that were added with Own the Paint back in NBA Live 08 appear to be phased out or at least severely limited which is a bit disappointing, but there are still some spin moves, drop steps and an assortment of hooks, leaners and turnaround jumpshots to take advantage of. The addition of the backdown button via the patch was definitely a good fix, as the method of “feathering” into the defender wasn’t sufficient and was contributing to the aforementioned issue of the ball being stripped too easily. I’d like to see more of a post game in NBA Live 11 though, with some of the Own the Paint controls brought back.
It is possible to play defense in NBA Live 10, though on the harder difficulties you’ll want to use the Defensive Assist to make sure your players pick up their assignments, especially if you want to try your hand at defending the ballhandler. Defensive Assist shouldn’t be used as a crutch but it can be handy in terms of standing your ground and helping to anticipate your opponent’s moves. You’ll find that it’s possible to challenge shots, block shots, come up with crafty steals, cut off the lane, force bad shots and even force shot clock violations…in short, all the things you should be able to do with good defense. The hustle plays make for some fun loose ball situations as well, though there’s still a bit too much standing around happening in said scenarios.
There is still a bit of an imbalance with the CPU in terms of abilities. The CPU still tends to do a better job of clogging the lane and swatting shots, as well as picking off passes. In contrast, it’s a bit harder to keep them out of the lane at the other end but certainly not impossible. Aside from the number of turnovers, it doesn’t really result in unrealistic stats but there are a few moments during a game where you’ll get a bit frustrated at the CPU’s ability to get into the lane and finish after you’ve blown what felt like a well-timed, wide-open shot at the other end. However, I’d have to say it’s not quite as bad as previous years, at least on All-Star difficulty which so far is providing me with a good challenge while keeping a satisfactory amount of realism on both sides.
There are some annoying bugs and issues that have to be mentioned, such as some blocked dunks resulting in goaltending calls (presumably because they’re being confused for a layup or jumpshot on its downward arc), players stepping out of bounds without getting called for it (seemingly more so after the first update), long continuations on foul calls that result in too many shooting fouls and in particular and-ones, fouled-out players still being eligible to play and a couple of “unable to inbound” situations that thankfully seem to be rare and can usually be overcome by calling a timeout. Post patch, there’s also a lockup issue that appears to be related by buggy replays which has made me a bit hesitant to play until the second update comes out and hopefully resolves it.
Disappointingly, injuries seem to be completely absent from gameplay. There are moments where a player will take a hard hit and be shaken up which will be acknowledged in the commentary, but there are no in-game effects with players becoming unavailable, nor do players sustain injuries outside simulation in Dynasty Mode. There are also a few glitchy menu options such as the automatic lineup selection options when making substitutions (Starting Five, Free Throw, etc) not giving the desired results; selecting Starting Five for example will not quickly and automatically bring all the starters back in, but rather assemble a seemingly random lineup instead.
On the whole however, I would have to say gameplay is pretty solid and certainly fun, but has been adversely affected by a few issues in the official update and there is definitely still room for improvement, if not in subsequent updates then certainly in NBA Live 11 which will hopefully weed out the bugs and so forth while leaving the unbroken elements alone. That said, I’m getting realistic stats and scores, I feel like I’m in control of the players and have no major complaints about the controls. We do need that second update to clean up problems caused by the first but things are looking good for NBA Live 11 with the level of realism and strategy that has been incorporated this year. The developers set out to make great strides in the gameplay and I feel they’ve accomplished that. Things are on the right track and a pleasing amount of progress has been made in one development cycle.
NBA Live 10’s primary shortcoming is the lack of game modes. The standalone Playoffs Mode is back – hopefully to stay – Dynasty Mode is still there, Dynamic Season has been introduced but All-Star Weekend is gone, as is Be a Pro. As I understand it, the latter two modes were removed due to the developers’ dissatisfaction with them but I think this was a mistake as it makes the game look rather bare and for all our quibbles with All-Star Weekend, it was still fun (the Three Point Shootout worked perfectly as far as I’m concerned) and Be a Pro was something a little different, even as a single game mode.
Dynasty Mode has also fallen into a state of disrepair, with the simulated stats being a huge disappointment in NBA Live 10. It’s not uncommon to see players like Dwight Howard averaging paltry numbers compared to what you’d expect them to produce. Their numbers during gameplay are usually realistic but this hasn’t carried over to their simulated performance with the results by and large being far from desirable. Little else has been added or improved in Dynasty Mode: we still can’t use the traditional reorder roster screen, we aren’t able to improve outside shooting using the Academy drills, we can’t hire or fire head coaches and although we’re presented with the option of manually managing off-court tasks, there’s no way of actually doing that through the menus, to name just a few issues (some of which carry over from last year). I really hope that NBA Live 11 will redeem the series in this area as I do think Dynasty Mode still holds a lot of appeal for a majority of the fanbase and remains one of the most popular game modes.
On the bright side, Dynamic Season is a good addition and kind of an alternative for Dynasty Mode if you’re after a season that follows what’s going on in the real NBA. By using real NBA data, the problems of the faulty sim engine are alleviated and you don’t have to worry about the CPU making unrealistic transactions. However, there is less control and you can’t really create your own NBA reality outside replaying games to change the result and final stats. I do like the concept however and would like to see it return as a Dynasty/Season Mode alternative in future games. I’ll have a separate write-up with more thoughts on Dynamic Season Mode out in the near future.
Looking at the gameplay and game modes in NBA Live 10, I honestly believe that the focus in NBA Live 11 should be on the game modes since the gameplay is approaching a level where small additions, tweaks and fixes should ensure an enjoyable experience with a very healthy amount of “sim”. However, to really deliver a truly all-around NBA sim experience, Dynasty Mode will need to brought up to speed and other modes such as Scenario Mode, a proper standalone Season Mode, Be a Pro (even if it is just one game) and the All-Star Weekend need to make a return. Even if modes like Be a Pro and All-Star Weekend remain largely unchanged, the variety will be welcome and should make for greater replay value. NBA Live 11 needs to be about the modes because aside from the attraction of online play, the game needs those modes to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting, no matter how good it may be. A string of meaningless exhibition games can’t hold a candle to Dynasty Mode.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about online play, aside from the addition of adidas LIVE Run and a few additions to online league management there isn’t a lot in the way of new features. LIVE Run isn’t a bad concept and there’s a nice element of basketball “culture” to it, but it’s replaced the traditional Online Team Play feature from a club standpoint and I’m not sure that was the right move. As with offline and single player modes like Dynasty and Dynamic Season respectively, there needs to be variety of options to hold interest and add replay value. I don’t have too many issues with online play personally, but I am admittedly more of a Dynasty player than an online gamer.
Presentation has certainly been given a massive upgrade this year. Again, there’s still room for improvement in the way of full starting lineup introductions, Dynasty cutscenes and the like but I do like what has been done in NBA Live 10. The pre-game introductions in recent games have been marred by effects that have artistic merit but are decidedly video game-like, such as the freeze frames during introductions in NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08 and the excessive (but understandable) Dynamic DNA branding last year with NBA Live 09. NBA Live 10 has stepped it up with a more authentic approach with broadcast style overlays, replays at dead balls highlighting a certain player or aspect of a team’s performance, players shooting around in warmups before the game (and wearing warmups on the bench during the game) and player specific pre-game rituals.
It all adds to the atmosphere which is bolstered by the new crowd response settings and team-specific chants and arena sounds. A lot of people still have their quibbles, Steve Kerr is not a popular choice on commentary for everyone, but I’m impressed with the work that went into presentation this year. Here’s hoping for an encore with further enhancements in NBA Live 11, especially given the ESPN and CBS Integration in NCAA Basketball 10.
All in all, I would have to say that NBA Live 10 is a game that for the most part delivered a much better product on the gameplay front despite some nagging issues, some of which came about as the result of the first fix. However, the game’s shortcomings in terms of the game modes prevent it from being the true all-around classic I was hoping it would be. It does seem that every year we make some excuses for NBA Live for simply making strides and seemingly get back on track but I do think that the focus on gameplay has paid off this year, bringing it to a level where it’s in good shape moving forward (glitches in the update aside) and that opens up the opportunity for NBA Live 11 to make similar strides with Dynasty and the rest of the game modes. Moving forward, that’s what I’d like to see: the gameplay of NBA Live 10, with appropriate fixes and updates, with some great new stuff to keep our interest going all the way until NBA Live 12.
That just about wraps it up for my NBA Live 10 Review. I expect I’ll post something of a mini-review following the second official update, to follow up on the issues that have been addressed (and those that haven’t). Please feel free to post your thoughts in the NBA Live 10 section of the NLSC Forum.