If I go out and run a mile on the track by myself, I’ll get a decent result (I’m still in pretty good shape), but if I go out and run a mile on the track with someone else who is just a bit faster than me, pushing me to go faster the entire way, I’ll get a much better result. This is the way we work. We are driven by competition—by wanting to match or exceed what others around us are doing. This has a point, trust me.
When I was growing up as a kid, I had one option—or at least one viable option—to choose if I wanted to play a good game of virtual basketball. That one option was EA Sports’ NBA Live series. And then the new millennium came, ushering in a new era of the basketball video game industry—one in which years of competition would push the genre forward in so many ways. When 2K Sports decided to launch its own basketball series way back in 2000, it was the best thing that could have happened for basketball video games. For the past 10 years, these two series have pushed each other forward in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. This connection between the two series is THAT important, and that’s why if you head over to check out my NBA 2K10 review as well, you’ll find the same introductory paragraphs as the ones you’re reading right now. It’s not because I was too lazy to write two of them—it’s because it is so relevant to both games.
I am VERY happy to report that NBA Live is back on track in a big way. Known as the cheaper, arcade-feeling option in recent years (the 2K series being the simulation option), Live has taken very big steps toward the real game of basketball this year. The controls are much tighter and better reflect the speed and movement of actual NBA basketball.
The presentation is excellent (not quite up to par with 2K10, but excellent nonetheless), and the overall feel is just so much better than it has been the last few years. Game lead-ins, menus, stadiums, and other touches are executed well. There really is no good way to explain this—when you boot up the game and work through the menus and a few games, you will realize that it all comes together and simply works well and smoothly.
This year’s game plays better than it ever has. The controls are very tight, and the movement of the players, both on offense and defense, is very realistic and well done. Player contact feels real, and directional changes are believable. It is, however, frustrating that the biggest issue that has plagued this series for the last few years is still present. It is simply way too easy to penetrate and get inside shots. Even with slower players, one or two moves done well will get you into the lane, almost without exception. This is something EA Sports needs to adjust in the future in order to move toward further realism.
As far as the speed of the game is concerned, this one tends to move a bit faster than 2K’s entry. You’ll be able to fast break if you play your cards right, and on the flipside, it will be very important for you to get back in transition unless you want the opposition dunking on you on the break. Also new this year is pick and roll control. Simply hold the B or circle button, and the big man will come execute a high pick and roll with you for as long as you have the button held down. This was a great addition in my opinion, because the pick and roll is such a large part of the NBA game today.
The usual game modes can be found in this year’s entry. Dynasty mode makes a return, and is beefed up with even more options and things to tweak and control on top of what you already know and love. Quick game, playoffs, and FIBA Tournament are all here, and there are no surprises. The biggest addition to this year’s game is the Dynamic Season mode. This is a fantastic addition, and provides a ton of connection to real NBA basketball. Stats, injuries, tendencies, and more are updated to your console every time you boot up, and transferred into Dynamic Season mode. Basically, you play along with the actual NBA season as it is happening in real life. Any games you play take the place of the game in real life. If you drop 60 with Dwyane Wade, his average will probably go up by a point or two—especially early in the season. You can even go back and play games from the past, and all the stats and info will be adjusted accordingly. It works incredibly well. This is the kind of mode that would have been considered impossible even just a couple of years ago.
Online, this game is great. You can play a versus game, or you can team up and play a game with 9 other users—everyone controlling one player. These games can be very fun (if you find people that actually use teamwork and are amiable), and emphasize strategy and team play. Similar to 2K’s implementation of “crews,” Live lets you create or join “squads” of players that can compete against other squads for bragging rights. I did encounter some lag in my week or so of online play, but nothing that made the game unplayable. Some great steps forward have been taken in the online department.
Visually, the game looks good, but I have to say that 2K10 wins in my book. The player models tend to have a plastic and shiny look, and the crowd still tends to move in unison, taking away from its realism. Overall, however, movements and environments are still very strong, and you will not have many complaints visually. Steve Kerr and Marv Albert provide solid commentary. It manages to stay very fresh, and the updating background stories on the players and teams are a very nice touch. Sound effects are what you’ve come to expect. No complaints here either.
I am happy to say that I can recommend this game without hesitation this year. This has been the best year for basketball games in general in recent memory. EA and 2K have both turned in great games, and the choice is yours. NBA Live 10 looks great, and finally plays great as well. The Dynamic Season mode is the highlight of the game, and is worth the price of admission by itself. Couple that with the solid online play, and you’ve got an impressive virtual hardwood game. I’m not going to say that it’s better than NBA 2K10—it’s still a matter of preference between the two—but it does indeed finally stand up as a great game in its own right.