Reviewed: December 18, 2009
Released: November 17, 2009
The 2009-2010 college basketball season might be a bit unusual this year. It seems like the normally dominant teams are not quite as strong, and rest are a bit more competitive. The college basketball videogame marketplace was like that a few years ago. Back when 2K Sports was still profitable and making good games, College Hoops 2K was my game of choice. They had everything EA's March Madness had, plus classic and All-Star teams. It was great! Then EA poured a bunch of money into improving their graphics and suddenly 2K was down for the count. So once again we have another sport where EA is the only game in town. There is no choice if you want a college basketball game, at least if you want the current rosters.
When you start the game you get to pick your favorite school, which affects the initial menu screen. You start out with a player on an outdoor basketball court on campus. Online linkup with The Weather Channel affects the look of your practice court. Snow on the ground outside your window means snow will be on the ground in the practice court. New gameplay enhancements in NCAA Basketball 10 are nothing major... just some tweaks here and there. The shot control system has been simplified to one button. There are some new player animations – especially as one drives to the hoop for a dunk. But in some ways this feels like a step backwards to the days when starting a play with animation meant you couldn't stop in mid-play. It looks nice, but something about it just feels too programmed.
Probably the biggest enhancement comes in the form of Dynamic Updates. Similar to what EA tried with FIFA 09 and 10, you can get weekly updates to statistics and ratings. One of the best features is unfortunately one that EA is being sued over... the inclusion of authentic stats. When you download the latest update, you can choose to have it just get the stats, the ratings and appearance, or just the ratings. You apply them to your current roster file and your team will play a lot more closely to what the real team is doing. Best of all, it doesn't overwrite any names you may have programmed into the game.
The time of user programmable rosters may be coming to and end however. In the past year, former NCAA players have sued over the use of their statistics, likeness, and names in videogames. It's hard not to agree with them, since the NCAA and EA are profiting from the use of the likeness of those players. However, many of them have received scholarships and various other athlete perks that normal students don't receive. So where does it end?
For the time being, EA has done a great job giving videogame players the ability to change the default generic names. In recent years we can even upload our rosters to Xbox Live for others to download. There is even a handful of people making a living just reprogramming all 300+ NCAA rosters and charging players for the file. Thankfully, our friends over at www.freencaarosters.com have provided an excellent roster update free of charge for all to download. When you download the dynamic updates, you can simply apply them and no harm will come to your player names (though always make sure you back up your files). Additionally, the updates include the 2009-2010 authentic schedule and they promise to have a “tournament bracket pack” just after Selection Sunday.
The game modes include an extended Dynasty Mode where you take on the role of coach for your favorite team. Not much has changed from last season. Additionally there are the usual NCAA Tournament and 5 others (Maui, NIT, Old Spice, Anaheim, and Puerto Rico). Winning any of those will reward you with an achievement. You can also participate in Xbox Live games with Rival Challenges. If a player picked one of your teams rival schools, you can have a virtual showdown online. Online play also includes the standard ranked and unranked matches though EA hasn't followed in the FIFA and NHL footsteps by allowing full rosters of online players. We just get the usual 2 online players. I wish I could say that EA was doing some really innovative stuff online, but they are not with NCAA Basketball 10.
Once again the authenticity of the NCAA Basketball college atmosphere has improved but not anything close to previous years. The arenas have improved again, however there are still some annoying errors and omissions. They still haven't fixed some problems and have even taken some content away! Some errors are simply bad staff work. Mackey Arena (home of the Purdue Boilermakers) looks about as accurate as I've ever seen in a videogame. However the crowd is once again completely wrong. The Purdue home crowd is mostly wearing gold shirts and cheers “let's go Boilermakers”. Not only do the fans in the real Mackey Arena mostly wear black, they also use the correct “Boilers” nickname in their cheers. “Go Boilers Go”, “let's go Boilers” and “Boiler Up” are the usual cheers. Even worse, they removed Purdue Pete entirely!
NCAA Basketball 10 is somewhat of an improvement over 09, but some errors are still around and EA doesn't seem interested in fixing them. There are no major gameplay issues, though playing zone defense still generates too many turnovers. EA has been pretty good at patching their sports games, but widely reported rumors are saying the NCAA Basketball 10 is selling poorly and EA isn't putting any resources toward a patch (or downloadable content).
The graphics have improved over last year, but this isn't the huge leap forward like previous years. Some of the player animations have improved, however EA is building on the NBA Live engine that they started using last year. The player models are still closer to an NBA player than a college player. The problem is there are a very limited few who make it to one of the 30 NBA franchises, while there are over 300 teams in the NCAA. The range of player ages, experience, and body type is vastly different.
EA says they added over 200 new player heads and body types to help improve the look and feel of NCAA Basketball, but it still doesn't feel quite like a college game should feel. The biggest change comes in the overall presentation. EA has included both ESPN and CBS network graphics and it is the best NCAA Basketball has ever looked. I even ran a little test on some friends and from a distance it took them a few minutes to realize this wasn't a real basketball game. In a few years it may be difficult for players to even recognize the difference.
I wish I could say the sound has improved in NCAA Basketball 10. But here is where EA takes a big step backwards. I'm no fan of Dick Vitale or Brad Nessler. Vitale is just too over the top for my tastes with his repertoire of overused sayings. But nobody can argue the fact that the guy knows his basketball. I am all for a refreshing change in commentators, but what we got was a disgrace. In a CBS broadcast we get Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery, while ESPN gets Dick Vitale, Brad Nessler and Erin Andrews.
While EA claims they added over 2,000 new audio samples in NCAA Basketball 10, I was horrified to hear their implementation. Somehow the announcers repeat themselves more than any sports game in recent memory. In the CBS broadcast there are long periods where there is no commentary at all – and I thank EA for being merciful. Johnson and Raftery are about as bad as I've heard. I never thought I'd say this, but I'd prefer Dickie V every game than what we got in NCAA Basketball 10. The only plus in the sound department is in the overall college arena atmosphere. EA did a fairly good job capturing crowd noise, bands, and chants. Some are inaccurate – I'm betting they got a group of people together in the sound booth to record fake cheers – but the overall sound is believable (just not accurate).
NCAA Basketball 10 has a total of 20 achievements with 1,000 gamerscore points up for grabs. Twenty achievements seems a little sparse compared to other recent releases. The achievements range from no-effort “view your career stats from the My NCAA Online menu” to massive time investment of “complete a 30-year dynasty in Dynasty Mode”. There is no downloadable content available, which is incredibly stupid. EA put some nice avatar clothing out for NCAA Football, but not a single item for basketball. I would bet there are a lot of people who would like to equip their avatar with their favorite college team uniform. I guess EA really doesn't want to put forth the effort anymore.
It is very sad that EA can make such huge strides one year, then a year or two later take several steps backward. NCAA Basketball 10 isn't a complete train wreck; it is a fairly solid game with good features. But it's also very flawed with lingering bugs, ill-chosen commentary, and NBA player models.
For my money, I still say 2K Sports' College Hoops 2K7 was the most fun I've had with college basketball videogames. EA is fully capable of topping it. Look how they turned around their NHL franchise. Too bad they don't give the same effort to NCAA Basketball. Unfortunately with multiple lawsuits, dropping sales and lackluster support, I have to wonder how much longer EA will make NCAA Basketball. Enjoy it while you can.