NBA Live 10

What truly makes " NBA Live 10" stand out is the return of player and team DNA, and the inclusion of the Dynamic Season mode. (Photo courtesy of EA Sports)

What's Hot: The best edition of "NBA Live" in a decade; Improved across the board

What's Not: A few gameplay blemishes remain; Franchise mode still not up to snuff

Crispy Gamer Says: Buy

It's safe to say that "NBA Live 10" is by far the best version of this long-running series.

EA Sports' basketball franchise has been a virtual punching bag for a long time now -- lagging far behind the "NBA 2K" series from 2K Sports. But despite the franchise's checkered history, "NBA Live 10" is a certifiably stellar basketball game. It's not perfect by any stretch, and has some gameplay and statistical gaffes that are sure to annoy hardcore players. But it is highly recommended, as long as accurate franchise play isn't a requirement.

While technically better than last year, the stats generated by Live's franchise mode are still somewhat bonkers. Somehow, I just don't see Richard Hamilton shooting 700 three-pointers in 2009. Everyone fires three-pointers in Live's sim engine -- about double what they should (even Shaq shot 16 of them) -- and about half the normal number of free throws. This throws the stats terribly off-kilter.

The artificial-intelligence trades are also suspect. Kobe traded to the Spurs? LeBron shipped off to the Clippers? Don't be surprised to see mammoth-sized NBA stars traded on a whim. It happens far too often in this game. Franchise mode isn't technically broken, but it's far from being a realistic portrayal of NBA basketball.

That said, the game has made enormous strides in every other department. It starts with the gameplay, which flows exceptionally well. The controls are relatively easy to grasp (an issue I have with "NBA 2K"), yet you still feel like you are controlling a player on the court.

Basketball is a difficult game to gauge, as far as realism is concerned, because there's nothing stopping you from shooting down the floor with Paul Pierce. The game won't prohibit you from playing it like a pick-up game at the local rec center. But you can usually tell how well crafted a game is by how the AI responds to what you're doing.

"NBA Live 10" passes this test with flying colors. I play as the Celtics. In most NBA games, Kevin Garnett is an unstoppable monster; rarely will the AI try and man up to Garnett, or prevent him from receiving a lob pass in the post. In the world of videogames he's a 50-points-a-night scoring machine. Not so in "NBA Live 10" -- the AI will try to move him out of the post, block the entry pass, quickly double-team him as he gets the ball, and prevent him from backing a player down to within two feet from the rim. Garnett is still a great player, but he's not an auto-basket, either.

This is indicative of how the AI plays in general. I have seen it try and take away my best player when playing defense, run plays to get its scorer open on offense, and generally behave like a basketball team should. As a result, the game is a blast to play both online and off.

I do have some quibbles with the gameplay. Blocked shots are too common, even after slider tweaks; and also look somewhat ridiculous, as if shot out of a cannon. The AI players sometimes play well above their skill set (Greg Oden putting it on the floor twice and shooting a spinning reverse layup -- um, no). And the AI remains weak in knowing when to sub players who are in foul trouble. This is all stuff that needs to be fixed -- and hopefully this year, in a patch.

What truly makes "NBA Live 10" stand out is the return of player and team DNA, and the inclusion of the Dynamic Season mode. This mode allows you to basically replay the 2009 NBA campaign as it happens, so that your season falls in line with the real season, in real time. You don't have to keep up with the season game-by-game. You can instead download the data from EA, and the players will behave exactly as they should. If LeBron goes nuts in the real-life opener against Boston, well, he will in Live 10. This is a fantastic feature, and the reason I am recommending a Buy rather than a Try. If I get 82 great games of "NBA Live 10" from the Dynamic Season mode, I will have easily gotten my money's worth, despite the stale franchise mode.

Rarely is it necessary to discuss the atmosphere and overall aesthetics in a sports game. Most look great and have weak sound; done and done. However, "NBA Live 10" has without question the best crowd and game atmosphere of any basketball videogame, ever. During the season, the crowd is normally subdued until the fourth quarter, when they start to get into it. It's altogether different in the Playoffs or the Finals, as the crowd tries to will its team to win.

You can feel it. It's so rare that a videogame crowd actually gets you pumped to play -- but hearing the crowd's booming "BEAT L.A.!" chant, as Boston against the Lakers, was thrilling and unexpected. Along these lines, the players know what's at stake, too. The bench players go crazy and start high-fiving each other after key baskets. It sucks you into the game like no other hoops game before it.

"NBA Live 10" is by no means the ultimate NBA simulation. If you go into it expecting that, you will be disappointed. However, it is a monumental step for this franchise, and plays a surprisingly solid game of hoops. Toss in the crowd atmosphere and the Dynamic Season mode, and you are left with a game that no NBA fan should miss. For the first time in years, the NBA Live series has a solid foundation on which to build for future editions.

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.