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Op-Ed: NBA Live 10 perfects gameplay to satisfy all basketball fans (Includes first-hand account)

How can a sports video game improve year after year? NBA Live 10 is a perfect example of how to add the small nuances that make a sports game both fun and challenging.

I’ve often heard a common refrain about sports video games: “How can it really be different every year? Same rules, same gameplay, nothing new.” To the casual observer, Madden 09 might be any much of an improvement over Madden 08. But to the ardent gamer, how wrong that refrain is. Case in point: NBA Live 10 from EA Sports (reviewed on an Xbox 360), undoubtedly one of the best basketball games released in the past decade.

Why all the love-in? First, the gameplay is challenging and realistic. You can’t just spin-move your way to the bucket for an easy deuce. The computer’s AI is smart, and they’ll strip the ball if you hold the rock too long, or they’ll intercept lazy passes. Instead, you have to call plays, run off-the-ball screens, and pass the ball to the open shooter or dunker. It’s not simple, and the gameplay forces you to learn the ropes for a few quarters before you can master a quick score.

The finest offensive enhancement is the advanced pick and roll play. Instead of just calling the pick like back in the day, you can now also direct where the rolling back runs to, such as to the rim or close to the three-point line. Simply flick the right toggle-stick to the direction the player should move towards, which gives you more control of how the defense plays the pick and roll.

Steve Nash in NBA Live 10

Steve Nash in NBA Live 10
Courtesy EA Sports

NBA Live 10 also simplifies shooting. Hit the X button to propel the player in the air to shoot and release it when you want to shoot the ball. Sounds commonplace, but many bball games merely release the ball automatically, which is pretty lame. And if you want to dunk, hit Turbo and the shoot button near the bucket. If your player doesn’t dunk much (Steve Nash, Tony Parker) then the player will lay up instead.

The small tweaks add to the gameplay goodness. You can tip rebounds to yourself, which always occur in real NBA games but never in video games. You can dive to save balls from going out of bounds, and can block the ball by pinning it to the backboard. Imagine doing that with LeBron James and then running up the court to dunk it. Exciting stuff.

Passing has been improved, too. You can do “icon passing” by pressing the left back-button, allowing you to pass to players marked with an X or B, for example. Nothing new there, true, but NBA Live 10 offers direct-player control — it lets you make cuts with off-ball players yourself rather than relying on the AI. Receive a pass from the point guard and then lay up quickly before the defender can catch up.

It’s fun to watch an individual player’s personality shine through in the game. In player intros, Vince Carter will do chin-ups on the basket’s net, and LeBron James will float powder high into the air, as he always does. After a dunk, Kobe Bryant might give you his traditional fist-pump. For hardcore NBA fans, they can spot the nuances that make a player unique.

LeBron James in his intro in NBA Live 10

LeBron James in his intro in NBA Live 10
Courtesy EA Sports

The games mode are expansive, from Dynasty Mode (run a team through an entire season) to FIBA World Championships mode that now includes 32 teams. Create your own dream team with the fantasy league, which I plan on trying out once I get my NBA fantasy team sorted out in a week.

A few small gripes: where’s the post play? In basketball, dominant big men can post-up with their back to the basket, and can perform a variety of moves. But NBA Live 10 seems to think post play isn’t worth keeping around, even though the NBA 2K games allow you to spin and dunk and sky-hook. It’s a bad move, considering how fun it can be to control Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Chris Bosh.

Also, NBA Live 10 doesn’t include any all-star game mode. No dunk competition, no three-point contest. It might not be the most popular mode for gaming fans, but I’ve always wanted a smooth and simple way to windmill dunk in a dunk contest. And with Dwight Howard on the cover of this game, it only makes sense to include this all-star competition.

These complaints are minuscule compared to the makeover EA has given its trademark NBA game. Pick up NBA Live 10 to recreate your favourite matchups (Boston vs. L.A., anyone?) or finally control a skilled athlete like Lebron or Dwayne Wade. Thanks to the polished gameplay, NBA Live 10 manages to surpass expectations about ye ol’ sports video game.

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