25th Anniversary of NBA Live: NBA Live 10 Retrospective

25th Anniversary of NBA Live: NBA Live 10 Retrospective

To mark the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, we’re taking a look back at every game in the series with retrospectives and other fun content! This also includes re-running some features from our 20th Anniversary celebrations, with a few revisions. Whether you’re a long-time basketball gamer who grew up with NBA Live and are keen on taking a trip down memory lane, or you’re new to the series and want to learn about its history, we hope that you enjoy celebrating the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live here at the NLSC! Next up is a retrospective of NBA Live 10.

After NBA Live 09, EA Sports pulled the plug on further PlayStation 2 releases for the series. Given the state of NBA Live 09 on PS2, it was the right call. It allowed EA Sports to focus on the current generation, though there was a PlayStation Portable and iOS version. Did the decision pay off? Well, NBA Live 10 is often considered to be the last great (or at least, really good) NBA Live release, so their efforts weren’t for nothing. At the same time, it didn’t recapture the lead in sales from NBA 2K, leading to a disastrous decision the following year with NBA Elite 11. Before we get to that though, let’s take a look back at NBA Live 10, and how well it holds up.

I’ll get this out of the way upfront: I don’t think NBA Live 10 is the best game in the NBA Live series as some people suggest. I do understand their opinion, because it is a very solid release, and in hindsight, EA Sports really should’ve kept building upon the foundation it established. However, if we’re talking about overall quality, I’m inclined to rank it behind NBA Live 2000, 2004, 2005, and 06 on PC. The biggest problem I have with NBA Live 10 is that while it did improve on NBA Live 09 in some ways, it also took a few backwards steps. The second patch also ended up breaking several aspects of the gameplay, leaving it in worse shape than it was when it was released.

Before I talk about that, let’s run down the positives of NBA Live 10. It ditched the two shooting buttons in favour of a single button that could be modified with the sprint control and movement of the left stick. While I don’t dislike the two button approach as others do, I would agree that having a single button and modifiers is the superior concept. There’s no risk of pressing the wrong button, and the combination of contextual animations and manually-triggered moves is simple, yet very effective once mastered. Holding down the sprint trigger to perform signature size-up dribbles let us make more explosive moves than we could with Quick Strike Ankle Breakers.

Dirk Nowitzki Fadeaway in NBA Live 10

In fact, signature animations were the name of the game in NBA Live 10. On top of the size-up dribbling animations, several players had signature jumpshots, signature dunk packages, and even signature running motions. Throw in the return of Dynamic DNA – still powered by Synergy Sports – and it’s obvious that the game was striving for authenticity. Go-To Moves were still in the game as signature animations, though once again, they weren’t a huge area of focus. In general, NBA Live 10 felt smooth and intuitive on the sticks. Holding the left stick in different directions to perform reverse layups or bank shots, and holding sprint to dunk, was a great approach.

Issues such as the little hop when trying to jump for rebounds, and some of the jerky transitional animations, were also ironed out. Although newer NBA Live games do have better faces, textures, and environments, NBA Live 10 still holds up very well visually. In fact, when it comes to the look and feel of the animations, on top of the smoothness and responsiveness on the sticks, I would have to say that it’s actually better than its eighth generation successors. Newer games just haven’t been able to strike that same balance between animation quality and responsive controls. It’s why I completely agree that EA should’ve built on NBA Live 10’s foundation much longer.

If there’s one thing that basketball gamers remember about NBA Live 10, it’s The Hangar. Although the NBA Live Academy remained a part of Dynasty mode, it was replaced by The Hangar as the new shootaround court. The design philosophy behind The Hangar was to create the ultimate basketball practice facility. I’d suggest that the art team did a spectacular job! When you fire up NBA Live 10, you’ll arrive in The Hangar, where several stars (including cover player Dwight Howard) are shooting around. LeBron James joins them, and once you gain control, you can switch between any of the players shooting around on the court, and put up shots at either basket.

The Hangar in NBA Live 10

The whole aesthetic, from the aircraft hangar-like building with fans and big screens on the wall, to equipment and benches off to the side, was perfect. Again, they nailed the concept of the ultimate NBA practice facility. It may not have had the same NBA-oriented vibe as the Academy or NBA Live 08’s empty arena, but it looked like the kind of facility that stars would meet at to work out, train, and play pick-up games. The developers also got creative with the groups of players. The same selection of All-Stars always appeared at boot up, but returning to The Hangar after games loaded other themed groups, such as number one picks, 90s Draftees, and shoe brands.

I’ve got to share a personal nitpick here, and note that although The Hangar and its groups of players was a cool concept, it was a little annoying not being able to choose specific teams and players to shoot around with. Messing around in The Hangar still gave you a feel for the game of course, thanks to each group including players with a variety of abilities and play styles. All the same, being able to use the player of your choice is a staple of practice modes, so while it hardly ruined the game and it was worth trying something new, the approach did have its drawbacks. It also makes NBA Live 10 rather unique in hindsight, being the only game to change it up like that.

Dynasty and the FIBA World Championship mode returned, but unfortunately the All-Star Weekend was dropped. The loss of the Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shootout were unquestionably drawbacks. However, their place was taken by a couple of new modes. A standalone Playoffs mode made a welcome return, and Quick Pick Play was rebranded into Fantasy Teams. Dynamic Season allowed us to play along with – and replay – the 2010 season, powered by Synergy data. At the end of the year, we were able to play a custom Playoff, created through a mix of real life results and results that we altered. It was similar to NBA Today in 2K, but in season form.

Dynamic Season in NBA Live 10

Online Team Play returned, and was joined by adidas LIVE Run. As with OTP, LIVE Run involved up to ten players on ten consoles. By joining or creating a squad, you could take part in season play with monthly leaderboards. Before each game, the ten players, shoes, gear, and preferred positions were chosen. Games were first to 21, and took place on an adidas court. If you’re familiar with LIVE Run in recent NBA Live games, it was a similar concept, except that it involved NBA players instead of career mode avatars. Additionally, rather than individual clothing options, the players could either wear adidas jerseys, or the practice jerseys of their respective NBA teams.

Despite branching out with the pick-up game atmosphere of adidas LIVE Run, NBA Live 10 still placed a great deal of emphasis on being an NBA sim. Each team had an authentic playbook, and Dynamic DNA powered tendencies and kept rosters updated daily. The atmosphere in the arena changed depending on whether it was a regular season, Playoffs, or NBA Finals game. These atmosphere settings were also available to select in Play Now, and changed the presentation as in Dynasty mode. There were also pre-game rituals, and details like Steve Nash sitting on the floor instead of the bench. Vince Carter even got booed in Toronto, though the NBA didn’t like that.

It’s clear that authenticity was the aim with NBA Live 10, and in many ways, the developers succeeded in that goal. As I mentioned though, there were some problems. Although the Dynamic DNA did bring some authenticity to the way players played – as it had done in NBA Live 09 – the old issue of point guard domination somehow made its way into the game. My go-to example here is Chris Duhon, as I remember him always lighting me up for double-doubles with 30+ points and upwards of 15 assists on twelve minute quarters. Shot distribution and stats in general could’ve been more realistic, especially given the ratings and tendencies coming from Synergy.

Chris Duhon in NBA Live 10

Contact in the paint, or even on a drive, often results in an awkward-looking adjusted shot. It’s effective enough, but doesn’t look quite right. Unfortunately, the second title update introduced an issue where alley-oop passes tend to go to players who are in the midrange rather than at the hoop, resulting in a weird, slow-motion layup. Broken plays also leave AI opponents stumped as to what to do. This often leads to big men dribbling out the shot clock on the perimeter before launching a shot that’s out of their range. Although the issues with point guard domination, contact shots, and broken plays did exist at launch, the gameplay was definitely in worse shape after Patch #2.

There were also issues in the modes. Generated stats in Dynasty mode left something to be desired, as several players didn’t score enough points. Ironically, cover player Dwight Howard was often affected, rarely averaging over 12 ppg. Not only were we still stuck with the cumbersome Rotation menu to manage our lineup, but rotation logic in general was broken. It wasn’t uncommon to see the Cleveland Cavaliers starting Shaquille O’Neal at power forward, alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the middle. Additionally, the Academy lacked a drill that boosted shooting ratings, so there was no way to work on that aspect of your team’s game through training.

The loss of the All-Star Weekend also stung. Even though it hadn’t really changed that much since being introduced in NBA Live 2005, it was nevertheless functional, and still fun to play; both in exhibition form, and during a season. It was another example of content that had been lost, as Legends and All-Decade teams had been missing since the beginning of the generation. On the bright side, a large assortment of retro jerseys returned in NBA Live 10. These included some unexpected uniforms, such as the New Orleans Hornets’ red Valentine’s Day alternate that was worn once in 2007. The Oklahoma City Thunder even had two Seattle SuperSonics throwbacks to wear.

Seattle SuperSonics Retro Jersey in NBA Live 10

Overall, however, NBA Live 10 was still a very solid game, even with the issues caused by the second patch. Although it’s admittedly a low bar, it can be called the best NBA Live game of its generation, and again, it’s a foundation they could’ve built upon. Unfortunately, the series lost even more ground to NBA 2K that year. Looking back, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the quality was to blame here. It was favourably received at the time, which is why it has an enduring legacy as one of the best games in the series. By 2009 however, a lot of basketball gamers had lost faith in NBA Live. NBA 2K had the better reputation, and was also available on more platforms.

Nevertheless, most gamers who were willing to give it a chance did come away with reasonably favourable opinions. The potential was obvious, the authenticity was very much appreciated – especially the little details – and even with the second patch, there were noticeable improvements over NBA Live 09. If you were able to adjust to some of the quirkier aspects of the gameplay, and accepted that there were a few issues in the modes, NBA Live 10 could be very enjoyable. That was easier said than done for some gamers, but I believe many people wrote off NBA Live 10 without ever playing it, due to the general anti-EA and anti-NBA Live sentiments that had been brewing.

NBA Live 10 wasn’t a complete flop, as it sold around a million copies. The problem is that NBA 2K10 sold almost two million copies on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 alone. Once again, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of both games, though in some respects – such as franchise play – NBA 2K10 is the deeper title. As I noted, NBA Live’s reputation had suffered greatly by the time NBA Live 10 came out, and NBA 2K was seen as the sim game of choice. Too many gamers had felt burned by disappointing releases in previous years. Going back to the sixth generation, console gamers had been making the switch to 2K. Now PC gamers could play it, too.

NBA Finals Presentation in NBA Live 10

I’ve never played the PlayStation Portable or iOS versions of NBA Live 10, and to be honest, I often forget that it also came out on those platforms. Perhaps the fact that it ended up being the last NBA Live game on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 also leads me to incorrectly recall the game as only being released for those two consoles. Glancing at the reviews for those versions, it doesn’t look like I missed out on much. There are times that I wish I spent more time with NBA Live 10 on Xbox 360, but I felt too put off by the undesirable changes caused by the second patch. Little did we know that things were about to get a lot worse with the next instalment of the series!

I’ll leave the details of what happened with NBA Elite 11 for the next article, but in the wake of its cancellation, NBA Live 10 was suddenly in the unprecedented position of remaining the current NBA Live title for another year. As such, EA decided to continue providing roster updates for the game through the 2011 season. It didn’t deter gamers from buying NBA 2K11 – which sold five million copies, then a record for the NBA 2K series – but it was a show of good faith and goodwill, and probably the best PR move they could’ve made in the wake of the disastrous collapse of NBA Elite 11. The game’s servers subsequently remained online until January 11th, 2013.

This makes NBA Live 10 one of the longest-supported games in the series. It also holds the dubious distinction of remaining the most recent game in the series for four years, until NBA Live 14 was released in November 2013. NBA Live 14 has since surpassed it for online support, as its servers remained online until November 2019; almost six full years. NBA Live 19 is currently in a similar predicament, passing two years as the most recent release in September. It’s unfortunate that NBA Live 10’s legacy is intertwined with the series’ struggles, and dubious records and distinctions. It overshadows what a good game it was, and how it could’ve led to a better future.

Cover Player Dwight Howard in NBA Live 10

Of course, that raises the question: just what is NBA Live 10’s legacy, and what should it be? As I noted, it’s a game that some people give the nod as the best in the history of the series, but I’m inclined to disagree. I think the loss of All-Star Weekend, quirky sim engine and rotation logic, and the gameplay issues introduced by Patch #2, do ultimately preclude it from taking that title. I believe that other games were better-rounded in terms of enjoyable modes and gameplay, especially relative to the time they were released. If its Dynasty mode were deeper, if it had All-Star Weekend, and if gameplay were just a bit better, NBA Live 10 would have a strong case as the best.

As it stands, I do agree that it ranks up there. In many ways, it’s the most authentic game in the series, thanks to all of its signature animations. The little touches such as Steve Nash sitting on the floor rather than the bench, or Vince Carter getting booed when he touches the ball in Toronto (though not if he’s traded back to the Raptors), really add to the atmosphere. The Hangar, the enhanced presentation, the smoothness of the revamped controls, and the innovation with adidas LIVE Run, all make NBA Live 10 a really good game. With the right additions and changes in its sequels, it could’ve been the first step towards a huge resurgence for the NBA Live series.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. We shouldn’t let that take anything away from NBA Live 10 though, as it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It has too many major issues and missed opportunities for me to rank it as the best – especially after the second patch left it rougher than it was at launch – but I think it deserves to be ranked in the top ten. In many respects, NBA Live 10 feels more polished, authentic, and downright fun than the NBA Live games that have followed it. I don’t think it’s the greatest NBA Live game, but if nothing else, it’s the last NBA Live game that approached greatness. If only it had been built upon moving forward…but we’ll get into that next time.

Stay tuned throughout the rest of 2020 for more 25th Anniversary of NBA Live content! Share your thoughts in the comments below, and join in the discussion here in the NLSC Forum!

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