Last year, the contest wasn't even close, with 2K9 trouncing Live in a blowout that made it easy to choose which game to buy. However, this year EA Sports' Canada-based development team delivered a much more compelling game. At the same time, while 2K10's developer Visual Concepts has definitely made some improvements, including a new My Player mode and the usual upgrades to player models and animations, this year's installment hasn't introduced anything truly eye-opening. The net-net is you have two solid games that are hard to choose between.
Here's the skinny:
NBA Live 10
The good: EA's done a good job making this a smoother, more realistic playing game with virtual players who look like their human counterparts. One strong point is the strategy and play-making elements, which allow you to call a wide array of plays to exploit defensive match-ups or pull off pick-and-rolls. In Season mode, the game features an upgraded version of Dynamic DNA that updates player attributes daily to reflect real-world changes (you obviously need to be connected to the Internet for it to work) and gives you some added incentive to play out the full NBA season.
We also liked the Adidas Live mode (it replaces the Be a Pro mode from last year's game), where you play as one NBA player while your buddies or the computer takes control of the other players in a 5-on-5 game. You can also set up an online league with up to 30 teams.
The bad: AI and ball physics are a little suspect at times, and it sometimes seems too easy to turn the ball over; teammates tend not to do all that much unless you're calling a play or manually controlling them; Adidas Live mode could have more depth to it.
What the critics are saying: The reviews on Metacritic have been generally favorable, with many reviewers noting the game is vastly improved and quite respectable now. While a majority of reviewers felt NBA 2K10 retained the crown, a few said NBA Live 10 was better and more fun to play.
Why you should buy it: You like the more strategic elements of the game (i.e., calling plays), as well the concept of Dynamic DNA and playing a virtual season that's impacted by the real NBA season.
The good: Fast, fluid play with 2K Sport's usual excellent player models and animations, including spectacular slam dunks. New My Player mode allows you to create your own player from the ground up and have him work his way through the Summer leagues and NBA Developmental League until he hits the big show. While online play has some glitches, it works pretty well overall.
The bad: In My Player mode, the grading system is a bit sketchy (you're graded on your effectiveness as teammate, not your scoring prowess); occasionally choppy frame rates impact gameplay slightly; some bugs; and play calling isn't as extensive as compared with what NBA Live 10 offers.
What the critics are saying: Lots of praise for the graphics and gameplay. Several publications noted that "the best got better" and declared that 2K10 was still on top of the digital hoops heap. But the final score was very close partially because 2K10 does have some bugs (a patch is supposed to arrive soon).
Why you should buy it: You want the better-looking, slightly more realistic game, and value the inclusion of the My Player mode.
Conclusion: Personally, I've been more of a fan of the NBA 2K franchise over the years, so my inclination is to give the nod to this year's installment partially because I'm so familiar with the controls and simply like the way the game looks and plays. That said, I was impressed with NBA Live 10, and enjoyed playing it (and I do like the Dynamic DNA concept because I mostly play the Season modes in sports games). As a result, I think NBA Live fans who were disappointed in the decline of the franchise in recent years, will--and should--give it a shot again. All in all, the good news is you can't really go wrong with either game.
As always, feel free to post your own comments, particularly if you've played both games.