In the last couple of years, EA has made a concentrated effort to improve the quality of its basketball franchises. Facing stiff competition on the Professional B-Ball game front, they made substantial improvements to their NBA Live franchise in an attempt to catch up to the superior NBA 2K series. Seeing an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (although thankfully requiring no actual birds to be slain in the name of progress), they passed many of these upgrades on to the NCAA Basketball series. While last years title featured most of the heavy lifting in terms of upgrades, this years product does its best to refine those improvements in gameplay and presentation into an even better final product. While they’ve certainly succeeded on elevating the quality of the franchise considerably, a few nagging issues prevent the game from living up to its championship potential.
NCAA 2010 is set up nearly exactly the same as last years title, down to the “shootaround” court during loading screens and when you first boot the game up. Anyone who’s ever fired up a college basketball game will feel instantly familiar with the games somewhat anemic selection of modes, of which Dynasty mode is the clear standout. Dynasty mode begins with you selecting a physical representation for your coach, which sadly follows last years lackluster pattern of limiting your choices to pre-made avatars rather than allowing you to create your own doppelganger from scratch. Once you’ve selected your coach, you have the option of either choosing any school you wish to start with, or limiting yourself to only those schools who are willing to offer you a job. Each school is represented here with ratings for not only athletic prowess, but also ratings for Prestige and School Pride. These two factors will become very important as you progress through your coaching career, and many of your goals will revolve around maintaining or increasing these numbers.
Once you’re off and running, you’ll find a staggering amount of options available to you. Everything from deciding how much time you want to commit to offense/defense/shooting/conditioning in practice to the types of plays you want to run. You’ll have to select an on court tempo for your team, whether you want an up-tempo style team that is constantly pressing on defense and taking quick shots on offense, a more traditional Half-court style team, or a solid balance of the two. Its very important to make this decision based on your actual playstyle, as your team will play better when the games tempo matches your specialty.
Perhaps the most in depth section of the Dynasty mode is the substantial recruitment section. You’ll spend a considerable amount of time in here, building your team for the future. From information about which states are your “pipeline” states, to detailed information on each individual recruit this section is incredibly fleshed out and does a fantastic job helping you to make correct decisions when it comes to who you should go after and how much effort you need to put into landing them. Players will email you telling you they’ve received your letter of interest, High School coaches will offer to “put in a good word” with their star player for you, and your Athletic Director will make his own suggestions as to where you should be spending your valuable recruitment points. The attention to detail here is fantastic and really adds to the illusion that these are real players with real opinions on where they want to play ball.
Once you hit the court, the first thing that you’ll undoubtably notice is how slick the presentation is. ESPN and CBS are both on display here, and the games are portrayed just as they would be on television. When a team calls a timeout, you get the standard “going to commercial” music and a mini-highlight reel of the action so far. As in last years version, Brad Nessler, Dick Vitale, and Erin Andrews do a superb job of calling the action. Unfortunately, Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson on the CBS side of things don’t turn in quite the same high level of performance, but its still solid enough to not detract from the otherwise very high quality of the presentation.
Of course the most important quality is how the game plays, not how it looks. On this front, I’m pleased to report that the gameplay from NBA Live 10 transfers quite well to its amateur sibling. Fans of the series will feel instantly comfortable shooting, passing, dunking and dribbling. Some welcome changes to the shooting mechanic go a long way towards alleviating some of the issues past games have had with missing easy shots under the basket. The playcalling system makes it very easy to switch offensive or defensive sets on the fly. The biggest new addition in this area is the ability to call Motion offenses by tapping the LB/L1 button. After tapping it, your team will go into motion (it’s not just a clever name) and will display passing icons when they are in the correct position to work the ball around to an open man. This motion offense system works quite well most of the time, although occasionally a player will show the passing icon when they are not open, causing a turnover.
Unfortunately these mistakes aren’t the only AI related gaffes to be found here. Occasionally players will call for the ball while out of bounds, or get trapped in an animation and run straight out of bounds after receiving the ball. You’ll also occasionally run into similar issues with backcourt violations. These issues have been prevalent in the last several iterations of the franchise and will hopefully be ironed out in next years release. The other, somewhat more subtle, problem with the gameplay is that because the gameplay engine is stripped from NBA Live, it can sometimes feel more like you’re watching Pro ball in college uniforms than an actual NCAA contest. While the crowd (especially in the Top 20 Most Difficult Arenas) gets into it like they should, you’ll find it’s less necessary to really work the ball around, drive, then kick out than when the game had its own engine and the “March Madness” tag. Some folks may prefer this change, and it’s hard to argue that swiping the Live engine wasn’t a great way to improve the game overall, I can’t help but feel like the process has stripped the game of some of its soul.
While these issues should definitely be worked out for next years version I can certainly still recommend NCAA Basketball, especially for college ball diehards. Perhaps the games greatest accomplishment comes from building a solid framework for future iterations to polish to perfection. Until then, the deep and engaging Dynasty mode, solid on court gameplay, and fantastic presentation should satisfy your bracket crazed madness from now through March.
Review copy provided by publisher.