Review: NBA 2K10 Draft Combine (Microsoft Xbox 360)

NBA 2K10 Draft Combine
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 08/26/2009

Being upfront and honest, I will have to say NBA 2K10 Draft Combine is one of the oddest titles I’ve had to review in a long time. That being said, however, I mean that in a good way. What appears to be a $5 demo upfront (and still is in many online gamers’ minds) for me unraveled into a satisfying short-burst simulation experience that gave me a taste of what to expect in NBA 2K10 and keeps providing content to me in short chunks with solid b-ball gameplay. In all, this taste of the court won’t be for everyone, but sports fans will be pressed (that’s an unintentional pun … honestly) to find a better sports package on Xbox LIVE and I can easily give you a list of far worse items you can spend 400 Microsoft Points on.

NBA 2K10 Draft Combine really cuts to the chase: You dream of playing in the NBA and as part of the draft, the player will need to play as well as humanely possible to flex your value to the NBA teams. The better you do, the higher your draft stock raises and players will see themselves slated as an early draft pick, meaning these teams really want to hand you a large chunk of money to lure you to their city. It’s really as simple as that and when the mission is accomplished, players can upload their player to the 2K server so if they choose to pick up the full NBA 2K10 game when it releases, that player can be plucked from said server and imported into the upcoming My Player mode. With such a straightforward premise, Draft Combine actually provides a good amount to cycle through, with the menus presented in the trademark 2K Navigation. What seems like a simple demo upfront, turns into a bit more when you add in drills, free shooting, scrimmage practices, a robust character creation, stat boosting, leaderboards, statistical analysis and a good bit more.

While you might assume the gameplay has been dumbed down for a watered-down $5 experience, that isn’t the case – the full gameplay functionality of NBA 2K10 is said to be here and the list of individual controls ranks in at more than 100 pages in the game’s help menu. Layups, leans, fadeaways, bank shots and more are at the player’s control, much like in recent NBA 2K titles, and unless the player studies the full list from the beginning, they will most likely discover a new control mechanic each time they play. What does differ from the standard gameplay, however, is the fact that Draft Combine has the player focus on nothing other than their created character, thus where the simulation aspects roll into this otherwise straight-forward basketball affair.

The main hook of the game stems from the six official combine games the player will participate in – these are the games that count, awarding skill points with performance and determining whether or not your character is fit for the NBA. The title measures your team ability and decision making, however, so the player is forced to play smart if they want to go anywhere in the title, making the game much more interesting than it could have been otherwise. Much like a grade card, players are measured from a scale of A-F (with appropriate plus and minus grades inbetween) and the game grades players in real time. Taking smart shots, dishing out good passes, throwing out assists, making highlight plays and playing well consistently adds to your grade, but playing poor defense against your matchup, fouling and giving away the ball through turnovers docks it down.

Overall, the mechanic handles how it should and reflects being a team player, however, sometimes the player will question the accuracy of the feature and there are times where a few items beyond your control will diminish your grade. For instance, if you dish a pass to a wide open player to improve your position toward the basket, you get a “good pass” boost, but if the CPU teammate bobbles the ball and can’t hold onto it, this mark suddenly turns into a bad pass. The grading is pretty rigid as there will no doubt be times where players feel they have taken a good, wide-open shot without receiving a grade boost for it, but, still, it forces players to play smart and pay attention to everything that is going on during the game.

The default camera also puts a tight focus on your player, meaning action going on at the other side of the court will sometimes occur off the screen. I shouldn’t have to mention that this is bad for the player’s defensive awareness, but players can press down on the d-pad to switch up the camera. It’s a minor annoyance at most, but the remedy is a bit unintuitive to the player trying to keep tabs on the action. Also, it should be noted to players that while it mostly makes sense, your character will not play to the likes of Jordan or James. For the duration of the title, you’ll be in the shoes of a player with an overall rating that barely scratches the 40s and will be placed among players of the same caliber. What this will lead to is a good amount of embarrassingly-missed close-up shots and even layups. It doesn’t help that your teammates will feature a lot of poor AI issues, trying to weave in weird patterns that result in some really infuriating backcourt violations and out of bounds calls and taking some odd liberties that would no doubt kill your teammate grade if you did the same.

Otherwise, even with some frustrating issues, Draft Combine is still a satisfying quick-play basketball title fitting of its $5 price tag. You essentially get the refined gameplay of the 2K series without the flair of the big-time NBA spectacles. All of the shooting, passing and defensive maneuvers are as fluid as they should be and there are a ton of options available to the player while on the court. The game’s stanima indicator is also provides another nice touch that will force players to play smart or else they will start to see their player suffer in stats and speed. The amount of action in the downloadable will no doubt hold players hungry for a new NBA season over until the release of NBA 2K10, but on that same token, players will most likely not come back to this version unless they want to pump another player into the retail release. On the other hand, though, the $5 price tag is much more attractive to a casual fan of the sport or anyone wanting to get into the series at low price, so the appeal sort of works in both ways.

Even in downloadable form, the character models still hold up very well, with some good detail that can be fashioned to ridiculous levels in the character creation mode. Each of the game’s characters also animate very well, even though a few of these animations do seemed canned and fight with the player’s controls a tad. The ball itself also carries itself well with appropriate physics – I can’t say the ball ever bounced in a way I didn’t expect it to and the only weird instances I found were ones where the ball was kicked by one of the characters but this results in a violation so it doesn’t affect the gameplay. You do get a lack of variation outside of the characters, however. All games take place in a single, empty training gym and some of the bystanders look a little ugly due to a lack of polys. It’s not enough to distract players from the game, but if you pay attention, you will be able to nitpick at a handful of graphical nuances.

Unfortunately, the sound in the title doesn’t hold up to the par set by the graphics. The most glaring annoyance is in the paltry three music tracks featured in the title that are repeated ad infinitum. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the tracks themselves, not everyone will agree with the genre and the lack of variety had my girlfriend demanding I turn the music off. Yes, Kenan Bell, I have heard something like this before because I heard it about five minutes ago (that would be a reference to “Like This,” featured in the game’s soundtrack for those that haven’t played Draft Combine). Outside of the music, you won’t find any commentary, crowd ruckus or organ music here, which makes sense, meaning the majority of what players will hear stems from the on-court action: Sneakers squeaking on hardwood, the ball echoing through the gym, the clank of the rim, the swish of the net and the barking and trash talking of the players. Everything sounds like it should and the 2K Insider is a decent HUD companion, but once I blocked out the music, I felt there was no punch to the sound and that some more variation could have went a long way. The sound package is appropriate, but it has a few voids that could be filled to flesh out the experience.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: VERY GOOD
Replayability: DECENT
Originality: ENJOYABLE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: ENJOYABLE
Miscellaneous: GOOD
The Final Rating: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

NBA 2K10 Draft Combine is an interesting experiment that pays off overall. Even though it has a few nagging issues, some frustrating bits and a gratingly-repetitive soundtrack, players are still offered a bite-sized simulation that gives them a fully-functional 2K Sports experience. The ability to import a player into NBA 2K10 is a good hook for players that can’t get enough of the hardwood franchise and the low price tag will fit the bill of the casual sports fan. With drills, free shooting, scrimmages and combine games, there is a surprising amount of variation in the title and the serviceable presentation make for a satisfying quick-play basketball experience. Draft Combine might not blow players away, but it gives players another interesting downloadable approach to tie in with a long-running console franchise.



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