NCAA BASKETBALL 10 REVIEW (XBOX360)

I am a huge college basketball fan and every season I eagerly await the release of a new NCAA hoops game…and pretty much every season I am disappointed when I pop the game into my console to find a stripped-down NBA port or an unplayable basketball game featuring college teams.   Considering its popularity, I’ve never understood why college basketball got this sort of treatment when compared to the amazing gaming experiences available for the NFL, NHL, NBA or even college FOOTBALL.

There are big differences between the Madden franchise and its NCAA Football cousin and rightfully so considering that they are vastly different games.  Yet every season, college hoops fans are expected to digest a watered down version of the production company’s NBA game with no attention to the unique aspects of the NCAA game.  They call different plays in college basketball and the atmosphere is different than in the pros.  EA’s Sports’ March Madness was one of the most blatant offenders but, last year, they rebranded the series to NCAA Basketball and promised a more college specific experience.  NCAA Basketball 09 was a mediocre game but had improvements within it that promised that better things were to come.  Will NCAA Basketball 10 finally be the definitive college hoops game?

Pros

The TV presentation for NCAA Basketball 10 is OUTSTANDING…perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in a sports game.  The big jump forward this season is the inclusion of two completely different style broadcasts.  Users can choose either CBS or ESPN broadcasts each coming with a different graphic set, music and set of announcers.  Whether you are talking about the pre-game presentation or the in-game stat layovers they are faithfully recreated to exactly match the real life CBS or ESPN broadcast.    Fans of the college game will know that both networks cover NCAA hoops with a different feel than a NFL or NBA broadcast and this is captured in NCAA Basketball 10.  The result is a realistic and immersive experience.  More so than any previous college game, presentation wise, NCAA Basketball 10 feels like a college basketball game.

Also adding a more college-style flavour to the game, is the addition of new motion offensive system.  In last years NCAA Basketball, it was a little too easy to get to the rim by using a pick-and-roll or an isolation play.  While these are standard calls in any basketball game, their real-life effectiveness is more at the NBA level.  The college game features a lot more motion on offense with all five players moving and setting screens in order to lose their defender to get an open shot.  NCAA Basketball 10 now includes an option where you tap the LB button and your teammates start running a motion set and you can choose to hit a open guy on the perimeter for a jumper or wait for another player to cut to the basket for a lay-up.  These plays aren’t always successful…just like real-life, people miss shots or throw bad passes…but they do add realism to NCAA Basketball 10 in that these are the types of plays actually being called by college coaches.

That being said, you can still call pick-and-rolls and isolation plays but their effectiveness is reduced this year by improved defensive AI.  Gone are days were you can beat your guy off the dribble and sprint to paint for a lay-up or dunk while the other opposition players stand there enjoying the show.  NCAA Basketball 10’s defensive AI is a lot better at moving other players in the lane to provide help which forces you to have to decide whether to continue your drive, shoot, or pass to an open player.

Another good addition to this years game is the addition of Dynamic Updates.  Every Monday, users can download updated stats, team ratings and even new plays.  This feature is standard across most sports games now but this is the first time it’s appeared in the NCAA Basketball series.

Cons

While there have been significant improvements to the gameplay in NCAA Basketball 10, there still is room to improve.  Past games have been marred by weird player animations that took you out of bounds, or behind the basket or across the half court line for a turnover.  There has been improvement in this area but there are still instances where you drive to the basket, try to stop and your player continues his motion and finds himself standing out of bounds.  Also considering the improvements made to precision passing in the NBA-level game, the passing in NCAA Basketball 10 could use a little love.  Sometimes, when running a motion set, your big guy works hard to get good inside position and, for some reason, when you pass him the ball he moves towards the pass negating any advantage he gained for his efforts.   Passing is now that much more important considering the addition of motion offenses and improved AI defence so this needs to be looked at for next year’s game.  None of these problems pop up regularly enough to be a game breaker but when they do it can be a little annoying.

As mentioned before, the TV visual presentation is a big positive for this game but the sound continues to be something that should be improved.  The actual basketball sounds are fine but a huge part of the college game is the atmosphere created by crazy student sections, cheerleaders and school bands.  NCAA Basketball 10 does have a feature called “Toughest Places to Play” where it ranks the top 20 noisy arenas but I found no real difference playing at Duke than playing at non-powerhouse Buffalo…apart from the TV announcers mentioning that Duke was a tough place to play followed by me inevitably turning the ball over.  I guess the game is trying to tell me that the crowd caused that turnover but it seemed pretty random and cheap.  The crowd noise is a little generic and the team-specific chants consist of “Let’s go <insert team name>.”  Also why are there no school fight songs in the game?  To me this is a huge part of the college game and their absence is particularly mystifying considering that EA has used many of these songs in NCAA Football.  Lastly, while I give EA credit for bringing two different sets of announcers into the game, they can get repetitive really fast…maybe having to record 5 different people reduces the space available for depth of dialogue but with games like GTA 4 having hours and hours of unique speech I doubt it.

The dynasty mode is where most players will be spending most of their time and, while there have been improvements in the realism of the recruiting mechanic, I found the menu system in dynasty mode to be a little non-intuitive and time consuming.  The absence of an on-line dynasty mode which has been a great success for other EA titles is a little disappointing too.

Here’s the deal

While the above “cons” prevent NCAA Basketball 10 to be considered the holy grail of college hoops games, there is no denying that the improvements made by EA have moved the series a lot closer to the unique experience of the college game.   The inclusion of motion offenses and improved AI are significant steps forward and are signs that the folks at EA are serious about the franchise’s direction.  Overall, while by no means perfect, NCAA Basketball is an enjoyable game that will keep college hoops fans entertained during the season.  7.5/10 MARK.G

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~ by consolecreatures on November 29, 2009.

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