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NCAA Basketball 10

Score: 67%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Online Multiplayer 2)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)/ Sports/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

Taking to the hardwood for another year is EA Sports' NCAA Basketball 10, and this year, the game boasts about a number of improvements in both gameplay and presentation. Beginning with the latter, the player models look quite good when the cameras get close, and there are a fair number of very realistic animations. Some of my favorites are in cases of a driver being fouled and taken to the ground, or when a player will try to tip-toe the sideline and save the ball from going out of bounds. Most of what happens on the court is visually pleasing, to say the least, with the exception of a few moments, like when all of the players snap into their free throw stances at the same time. The crowd animations are similar, where the lack of variety distracts a bit from the overall presentation.

However, for those who are familiar with a couple of little television stations like CBS and ESPN, playing NCAA Basketball 10 will truly feel like you're watching a broadcast. Signature visuals are present for each, depending on which network is covering that particular game, including different star commentators. On the CBS Sports sideline, you'll be treated to announcers Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson, and while playing a game on ESPN, you'll be treated to the voices of Brad Nessler, Erin Andrews, and of course, college basketball legend Dick Vitale, baby.

The in-game audio is actually done quite well in terms of quality, from on the court sounds to the play-by-play and color commentary. However, it must be said that the commentary is also very repetitive in nature, especially from game to game with the same team. Sometimes it also feels like there's a bit too much dead air between vocal tidbits.


Gameplay:

NCAA Basketball 10 takes to the college campus what NBA Live tries on the professional circuit. Unfortunately, in terms of gameplay, it comes up short. There are definitely some positive takeaways for the game, but first and foremost, the essence of scoring needs to be addressed. I'm not sure if it's just a timing issue or broken mechanics, but shooting the rock often (all too often) ends up as more of a brick than a bucket. I find it absolutely ridiculous that most of the shots I put up near the hoop end up extremely flat and clanking off the rim rather than going in. When I say close to the hoop, I am talking layouts and what should have sometimes been dunks. I've never seen so many missed shots in my life, and no matter what I try, nothing seems to work.

The game does try to allow for more control on layups, depending on stick direction, for you to choose which side of the basket you'll put it up on. It may be this "feature" that is getting in the way of better gameplay, but I'm just speculating because even the computer clanks its fair share off the iron down low. One of the biggest problems is that the players always want to do some crazy, special, overly-complicated animation instead of just squaring up for the shot or layup. In general, the post play feels almost as broken as the bunny shots. NCAA Basketball 10 tends to force you to focus on driving and throwing it back to the spot-up shooter. While this dynamic certainly helps capture some of the feel of college basketball, it definitely negatively affects the overall fun factor of the game.

Where all of this is going is that NCAA Basketball 10 is now focusing on more of a motion-style offensive control system, called Motion Movement Control. The in-game ability to switch up your play-calling (both offense and defense) is great, but the game goes beyond that. This college baller really does a decent job of forcing you to read the defense and makes you feel a bit more like you're actually coaching as you're playing. In addition, the players will essentially stand around if you don't actively hit the "motion" button, which in turn causes your players to make cuts and other movement based on your play-calling and the defense's positioning and formation. Here, timing becomes everything and it can be the determining factor for scoring, especially when you up the difficulty a bit more.

One thing that NCAA Basketball 10 lacks is features. Unfortunately, the game doesn't have anything in the way of a Training Camp or other similar feature for those who are new to the game or just want to get better. There is a non-interactive tutorial that describes the Motion Movement Control ability, but even that could have used more on-screen diagrams explaining what is happening in the examples. Missing from the game is also any type of Create-A-Player, which would have been perfect in a college basketball environment. Another key mode that the game lacks is Online Franchise. Instead, NCAA Basketball 10 is quite bare-boned, only offering up Rivalry games, Tournaments, Dynasty, and online Versus play.

Fans of college basketball will certainly appreciate the fact that real-life RPI ratings are imported into your game (via Xbox Live) on a weekly basis. Of course, you can also challenge other gamers via Xbox Live as well. In fact, one of my favorite features is the ability to click the Left Analog Stick button anywhere in the Menu system to quickly find a rivalry game online, based on your selected default team. NCAA Basketball 10 contains an incredible number of teams to choose from, so fans will definitely not have trouble finding a featured school.


Difficulty:

NCAA Basketball 10 has four difficulty levels to choose from, so most gamers will have no problem finding their perfect setting for their style of play. Coming in having experience with EA basketball titles (including NBA Live 10) helps, and as such, playing on the default "Varsity" (second) setting was a bit too easy, yet bumping up to the third setting proved to be a better challenge. Of course, difficulty also depends a lot on your team and that team's opponent. In games where I played against sub-par teams, my Badgers (a nationally ranked team) ended up trouncing them at the default setting. Yet, when played against other ranked teams, the games were a lot closer and more entertaining to play.

While the play-calling feature is pretty good in NCAA Basketball 10, it has to also be said that there were times of computer A.I. letdown. One example game had me up by 4 points with approximately 8 or 10 seconds remaining in the game, yet my computer-controlled opponent held the ball for a last shot instead of trying for a quick two or three. It almost felt like the computer thought it was a game-winning attempt (which they made from behind the arch, incidentally) instead of realizing the true situation at hand. Another situation that arose was that the computer began fouling at the end of the game (as it does anytime the game is close and they are trailing), yet didn't continue doing so when there was still a legitimate chance for a comeback. A big letdown also came when it was super-easy for another human player to drive and cause my big man to foul out in less than one half of play. I elected to leave him in the game to see if the A.I. would stop causing him to leave his feet and try to always block the shot, only to be disappointed. Another small issue that cropped up from time to time was that A.I.-controlled players (both on my team and the opponent) would sometimes not grab a rebound and slowly wait for it to go out of bounds.

With all of that said, the game's varying difficulty levels and A.I, isn't the only thing that impacts this title. As mentioned above, performing layups and close-range shots seems to be very difficult, either because of the ability to adjust these types of shots on the fly or by design. Either way, it is unnecessarily difficult to score easy buckets sometimes, which ends up being a frustrating experience as well.


Game Mechanics:

College basketball is a slightly different breed when compared to the pros, and that is exactly where EA was going with NCAA Basketball 10's Motion Movement Control system. While the feature is certainly a neat way to give a different gameplay experience, it also felt a bit annoying to have to tap the (LB) button every time I wanted my offense to stop standing around. Something like this feels a bit too contrived instead of feeling as natural as it could have to simply allow the A.I. to do it themselves after an on-the-fly play call (hold (LB) and tap a face button). The fact that you can adjust your layups to either the right or left side (by pressing Left or Right on the Left Analog Stick) is another mechanic that, on paper, sounds great... yet in reality caused too many missed shots from the paint and took away from the enjoyment of the game.

Passing felt a little better this time around, yet there are still times when you wanted to pass to a certain individual only to have the ball end up in the hands of another. The precise way around this is to hold the (LT) button and choose exactly who your receiver will be based on the face button icons over there heads, but it is also too slow in fast break or other quick reaction situation situations. Clicking the (LT) in the Menu system also brings up one of my favorite features, the ability to challenge a rival online. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts so it can sometimes be hit or miss if you'll get to play a game that usually offers up a stellar matchup.

One final point that I have to make is that the presentation is generally pretty good in this title. The fact that you'll be playing games with ESPN or CBS themes and commentators is outstanding. One thing I need to point out is that there are times where the presentation lets down a bit... and most frustrating of all is that there is often a whistle blown with no explanation from the booth, no referee indications, or no on-screen text explaining what just happened. Instead, the ball will be taken out of bounds and you find yourself wondering why there was a change of possession. These whistles are certainly not bugs... they are completely legit, whether it be a guy stepping out of bounds or a back-court violation, but without explanation they feel like they come out of nowhere sometimes.

NCAA Basketball 10 is a fairly solid title, but it certainly has its quirks that take away from the gameplay, especially in the shooting department. The flat shots from anywhere inside of 10 feet that consistently clank off the iron get frustrating, for sure. The college atmosphere is definitely captured though, with home-court advantages that stem from the crowd and a vibrating controller as they pound on the stands. Fans of the series will likely find NCAA Basketball 10 enjoyable, but most may want to view this one as a rental before shelling out hard-earned cash on a mediocre basketball title. If you aren't specifically looking for college hoops action, I would recommend NBA Live 10 or NBA 2K10 instead. But if you've got to experience the collegiate atmosphere, give this one a try.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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