NCAA Basketball 10 (PS3)
The speed, the enthusiasm. The youth, the angst. Teens growing into manhood right before your eyes. The crowd doesn't just go wild. It's rapturous for the whole game. Every second, it's on its feet jumping up, down, up, down, as one. The mascots are court jesters enhancing the fight; the cheerleaders whip you into a deeper frenzy. This is the standard of sports excitement, and when one team goes down, this is deep loss. And when one player cries tears from losing, this is pathos. This is NCAA basketball.
So forget the NBA with its big money and big egos. Kobe. LeBron. We don't want no gods, no super-humanity, no media-made heroes. We want humanity; we care about the underdogs like the improbable Gonzaga Bulldogs in '98-'99 when they made it to the Elite Eight. So, as college basketball's proselytizing preachers might say, Let us play!
Well, wait a minute. There's something, well, extraordinarily familiar about NCAA Basketball 10. Is it that it's like last year's model? Did they do nothing to change the roundball this year? I blew the dust off NCAA Basketball 09. That wasn't exactly it: There have been upgrades made, subtle ones.
Then, I realized what had happened. It looks like NCAA 10 is made from the skeleton and guts of NBA Live 10. And that's no fair. It's like that show "V" with Morena Baccarin. Cut that skin open and -- ahhhh!!! -- these college players are NBA players. They may not have the same genetic code. But they have a pretty similar computer code.
The most stirring part of NCAA 10 is this. In 20 arenas deemed to have tough and boisterous crowds, you do get the feeling that you're playing in a place where the fans have some control over the game. That's because the yelling and bouncing in the seats is hot, heavy-metal hot.
It makes you nervous when you shoot, tense. The crowd gets in your brain in the fourth quarter when the score is close, even if you have the focus. I'm not saying you have a heart attack, but your heart might well beat faster.
But that's about it. You think your college players should be hyper-aware -- caffeinated without the java, coked-up without the powder -- because they're young and alive. So why do they sometimes miss passes like they're Michael Jordan (well, now)?
Why do they sometimes look like automatons in NCAA 10? You got one guy in the paint for Ohio State who, instead of guarding a pass, looks like he's doing jumping jacks with Richard Simmons. That ain't right.
I'm certainly not the first to catch this. But here's what bugs me about it. How can you acquire the fever and furor leading up to March Madness when the NCAA game's so similar to the NBA offering? I'm not a fan of big-time colleges and all the money that goes into college basketball games. Nor am I a fan of the marketing surrounding them. But there's more that needs to be done here to make NCAA Basketball 10 feel like the university experience. If I wanted to play as the big leagues, I'd be playing NBA Live 10. 4
What NCAA 10 should be is a game that pushes the envelope more than NBA Live 10 does. Even in this advanced day and age, you still sometimes see players sliding on the court like it's ice, instead of moving naturally with light feet. Skating just takes a sports gamer out of the illusion of real play. In real life, you'd have to spread Mazola on your Nikes to skate like that.
They do get it right with some tasty details. Take a look at the cheerleaders just after the first foul shot hits the bucket, and they'll be reacting, high-fiving one another. Like all the basketball games now, NCAA 10 also has real-time updates for scores and rankings -- albeit only once a week. You'll enjoy the feature because it draws you into the fantasy, making it feel somewhat real. And true to the real game, NCAA Basketball 10 is all about scoring streaks. If you're doing well, everyone on the team gets psyched and you can extend your lead (although the other teams will have their streaks, too).
According to EA, this edition is supposed to be the "most fluid basketball game on the market." It's not exactly true. For instance, there's all this last-seconds fouling of the other team when you're way down. It happens in the NBA Live game, too. That's not intelligent coaching on the part of the artificial intelligence. It's micromanaging that never helps.
Another thing that's kind of screwed up is the fairly complex Motion Offense, a new addition to the game that's not in NBA Live 10. You can start your team's default Motion Offense by tapping the left bumper. That's easy enough, and you'll see teammates freeing themselves up for the ball. But what if you want to go deeper?
Tweaking and changing Motion Offenses is another matter entirely. They're not explained particularly well in the tutorial and they take too long to initiate. Thing is, you have to be a coach or player or beat reporter to understand these things, and it's hard to keep them straight in the heat of the game even if you do understand them.
I don't have time, in the sweat-dripping turmoil of the game, to research the vagaries of the Princeton offense, one of the Motion Offenses. (It was originated by coach Cappy Cappon in the 1930s, not that you'd hear or see anything about that in the game).
I'm not an idiot when it comes to basketball. But EA needs to have some kind of in-depth tutorial in this and all of its sports games so that everyone can school themselves in the intricacies of offenses and defenses.
I'm not talking about dumbing down things, as in a Nintendo Wii game. I'm talking about explanations that make us as gamers smarter. You know how when you were in college and you found that professor whose communication skills were so laser-focused that you understood everything better every time you went to class? That's what the game needs.
For NCAA Basketball 10 to keep its gamers coming back year after year, it needs more personality, and not just in the players or announcers. It needs to present basketball, from the rules to the plays, in a thrilling and comprehensible way. And I don't mean explanations outside the game only. I mean having the option to stop and examine what you're doing and what you have done during a high-intensity game. Can EA do it in a way that's not annoying, in a way that still keeps the game "fluid"? The jury's out on that one.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 game provided by the publisher.