Now that the refs finally agreed to come back, we can get down to NBA basketball. As hoops season arrives, so do two new basketball video games: NBA Live 10 and NBA 2K10. Watch our video review and read more about out how they break down...
NBA Live 10 (Electronic Arts)
* The newest mode to test drive is Dynamic Season. Once the real guys start playing, you'll be able to play any game on the NBA schedule. Live will merge your results with real scores and stats from the season as it progresses (in other words, you'll have more control over the outcome of the season than Tim Donaghy did in the 2007 playoffs). The only drawback is that you don't necessarily stay attached to one squad throughout the process, so there's not that same connection you feel in franchise mode.
* The NBA has always been about superstars, but NBA Live still recognizes the importance of the scrubs with new off-the-ball teammate controls. Using the L2 button, you can make a specific teammate cut to the basket, camp out by the three-point line or set up in the paint. Sure, you can still be successful as a me-first gamer gunning for big stats, but it certainly helps to get everyone involved.
* Luckily, getting teammates involved is so dynamic, because the size-up and Quickstrike 2.0 one-on-one moves lack precision controls. Combinations of right and left joystick maneuvers can get lost in quick gameplay action, especially the step back combo, which often violently launches your ball handler into a backcourt violation.
* Obviously, you can adjust the difficulty level of your opponent, but no matter what setting you choose, the AI will bring defensive intensity. For Live 10, EA placed an emphasis on elements like help defense, double teams and rotations. While you may be frustrated early, tough competition plays a big role in upping replayability in a sports title.
NBA 2K10 (2K Sports)
* My Player puts you through the rigorous challenge of trying to make an NBA roster. The mode drops you into the Summer Circuit as an undrafted rookie. Through a variety of challenges, you battle it out for training camp and D-League roster spots before eventually going up against LeBron, Kobe and the rest of the NBA's elite. 2K did a nice job of not making the trip to the league a cakewalk in this challenging mode.
* A new turbo meter will make you think twice before unleashing your itchy trigger finger. In years past, you could just hammer on the R2 button to give your player an extra burst of speed at any point in the game. In 2K10, not only do you have a turbo meter, but that meter directly affects your overall stamina. If you hold the turbo button down long enough to empty your turbo meter, your player's stamina will then start to decrease, forcing you to give him some time on the pine to refresh.
* Couch potato coaches will be giddy to see that there are now 24 plays available in the quick play menu. Just be sure you're comfortable playing the game before you try to show off your playcalling acumen, because with so many options, it's very easy to get your pocket picked in the backcourt. The first couple times you try it, scrolling through the plays while controlling your ball handler is akin to texting while driving.
* The addition of Signature Play will make NBA die-hards smile. Spot-on pre-game rituals (LeBron's chalk toss); free throw routines (Richard Hamilton's side dribble); and signature jumpers (every star from Gilbert Arenas to Dwyane Wade) are perfectly executed. Throw in subtle nuances like deflections in traffic and players fighting around screens and 2K10 gives us the most realistic representation of NBA basketball we've seen.
NBA Live 10
* The players move and act more like real athletes than they have in previous builds of Live. Guys hit the floor and sprawl out on drives to the hole. When a player grabs a loose ball near the baseline, he'll naturally try balancing on one foot while trying to find a teammate to pass to before falling out of bounds.
* Every missed shot doesn't just clank of the back of the rim like a brick. There's a variety of missed shot animations, like the ball softly rolling off the rim, that not only up the realistic gameplay, but add another level of rebounding strategy.
* The action flows smoothly and looks great, with touches like reflections in the hardwood and broadcast-like close-ups on the jog back up court after a score. Tight shots on the players are photorealistic, which is always good. (Well, unless it's a close-up of Andres Nocioni.)
* Pre-game scenes look so much like a real broadcast, they're worthy of double takes. Panning shots of each arena before the action catch a variation of fan actions, instead of a full arena of robotic fans all moving in unison.
NBA Live 10
* If you're a certain age, the only thing you think of when you hear Marv Albert's voice is intense basketball action. (Well, that and bite marks.) While having Marvelous on the play-by-play just feels right, for some reason, he's paired up with Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr. Albert and Kerr made one of the best announcing crews when they worked together at TNT, but Kerr hasn't been at the press table in a couple years and hearing his voice just seems odd.
* Clark Kellogg and Kevin Harlan handle announcing duties, which is another strange fit. While Harlan makes sense as TNT's number one play-by-play guy, Kellogg is a studio analyst for CBS during college basketball season -- do you think in real life, Kellogg even knows who coaches the Memphis Grizzlies?
* The fans' actions add another level of excitement to the gameplay experience. Crowd noise swells on a fast break before exploding if you convert the basket. Home fans sit down in stunned silence if the opponent goes on a run. There's also plenty of booing for bad calls and dry spells. Overall, you feel like the fans are living and dying with the home team in real time.
NBA Live 10
* In addition to Dynamic Season, there's also the new adidas LIVE run mode online. It's basically a pick-up game where you can team-up with four other buddies online and challenge other gamers. Track individual and team stats as you try to dominate one of the month-long mini-seasons.
* Dynamic DNA picks up where it left off after its debut season last year. Hot streaks, slumps, late-season breakout stars -- whether these anomalies are on your team or your opponent's, they'll be reflected in each game you play.
* The new NBA Today feature looks to bring the same touch of realism to 2K10 that Dynamic DNA offers in Live. Up-to-date stats help keep gameplay realistic and are also added to keep commentary and in-game graphics from growing stale. It will be interesting to see how dramatic the updates are over the course of the season.
* As 2K did in NHL 2K10, NBA 2K10 makes sure you're only a click away from online play from every menu screen and game mode. A seamless transition from regular play to online play seems like a simple addition, but it's an adjustment we'd like to see in more sports titles.
Live 10 looks better than the past few editions of the game and has improved the fluidity of the gameplay. Still, 2K10 boasts crisper graphics, smoother gameplay and those seamless online transitions. NBA Live 10 has gotten EA back into the discussion about the best basketball simulation, but NBA 2K10 still holds court.