College football is nearing the end of its season, and once the awards are handed out, sports fans’ attention will take a fast turn to the hardwood. College basketball is in full swing—and there is nothing quite like it in the world. Unlike the vast, open-air, coliseum-like feel of big-time college football games, college basketball presents a frantic, intimate, intensity-packed feel that is rivaled by no other event. The sense of taking pride in your school, of playing your big rival, and of knowing that anything could happen on a given night makes college basketball a truly special experience.
NCAA Basketball 10 is EA’s new college basketball title, and EA has made a huge attempt to improve on what has been a mediocre series in recent years. Since 2K Sports abandoned the college game a couple of years ago, there has been no competition to push it along. Despite this lack of competition, EA has found the motivation to improve the college game, and the result is a very solid, if a bit bare-bones entry into the series.
The first thing you need to know about this game is that it is very closely modeled after EA’s recent NBA Live 10 entry. The first time I booted up the game and jumped onto the floor, I felt very much like I was playing NBA Live 10 with college teams and a college atmosphere thrown in. The controls and gameplay feel very much similar, and even the animations feel borrowed from the professional counterpart. Now, lest you think I am bashing the game for this, the striking similarities between the games are not necessarily a bad thing. If you’ve read my review of NBA Live 10, you already know that it is a very good game—a welcome improvement from recent years.
The one thing that distinguishes NCAA 10 from NBA 10 is its presentation. ESPN and CBS broadcasts have both been bundled into this game, and in many situations, you get to choose which network you want to broadcast the game. March Madness, of course, is done exclusively by CBS. These broadcasts are the highlight of the game. The commentators for these respective networks do admirable jobs recreating their real-life counterparts, and the on-screen graphics for each are spot-on. I’ve actually had people walk by the TV and ask who is playing, due to the graphics being displayed so realistically.
College arenas and atmospheres are also represented very well. Go into Syracuse, and you’ll see a steep sea of Orange that will actually have a big impact on the game. Go into Cameron Indoor, and you’ll be up against all the Crazies. Because of the huge impact of home stadiums in college basketball, EA has included a list of the Top 25 toughest places to play. This list will update as you play the game, and it adds a great touch of home court pride.
Where this game starts to fall a tad short is game mode options. You’ve got your standard quick-play modes, some tournament modes, rivalry games, online mode, and of course, dynasty mode. However, in an era in which more modes such as Career, My Player, and others are becoming standard, the game feels bare without one. Taking a player through high school, perhaps, and then choosing a college and having to live the college life and work your way up through the ranks would have been simply awesome. It’s a shame that opportunity was missed. Maybe next year! The Dynasty mode, however, is as engrossing as ever, and this is where you’ll spend most of your time. Recruiting, roster management, strategy, staffing—it’s all here, and the menus, for the most part, are simple enough and easy to navigate. Online play is smooth, and I encountered very little slowdown in the games that I played. Again—it could have been much, much deeper. Online March Madness would have been a blast.
The gameplay found here is very engaging and smooth. Smart AI makes for a much more fluid and realistic experience, with a few exceptions. You will encounter a few unexplainable backcourt violations, but it does not happen enough truly to detract from the experience. Motion offense is the highlight of the gameplay, and is something that will surely be a staple of the series in the future. By holding the left bumper or trigger, you can pull up your list of set plays. By tapping the same button, you can initiate your motion offense. Whatever motion offense you have chosen will begin. Players will cut and call for the ball, and the next pass within the offense will be shown to you by an icon over the intended target. Many of your points will come by using this motion offense, as screens and cuts are extremely effective once you learn how to time your passes in the offense.
Freestyle passing and direct pass receiver control also add more control. By holding a trigger and using the right analog stick, you can throw a pass in any direction, at any time. Also while holding the same trigger, you can take control of a player off the ball and make a cut yourself, calling for the ball. These gameplay elements are enough to make the gameplay seem set apart from NBA 10, but you still won’t be able to shake the feeling that it is the same game at its core.
Visually, all you really need to know is that the game looks like NBA Live 10, except with a college twist. The animations are largely the same, and the player movement and feel are the same—which are both good things. Movement is smooth, and player models look acceptable—you will be able to recognize your favorite players, even if they are nameless. The highlight of the visuals, again, is the college atmosphere, from the stadiums to the fans to the graphic presentation. The game also sounds great. CBS and ESPN broadcast presentations bring in the authentic jingles and color commentary, and in-game sounds are believable and consistent.
NCAA Basketball 10 is a very good game of basketball. Gameplay is engaging and fun, the college atmosphere is alive and intense, and Dynasty mode will still keep you busy for hours. But if you already have NBA Live 10, it will be hard to justify a purchase. The omission of any type of career mode is a real shame, and you won’t be able to shake the feeling that this is NBA Live with a fresh coat of paint. For any college basketball fan that does not own NBA Live 10, I can recommend this game without hesitation.