January 08, 2008
In the contest for consumer dollars, sports games are one of the most competitive genres around. With only minor differences separating the games that represent any particular sport, virtually anyone will buy only one title each year. All three of the prominent pro basketball franchises (NBA 08, NBA 2K8 and NBA Live 08) have a working formula for an immersive game of hoops, so determining which game really has the edge mostly comes down to examining the quality of the controls, game modes and most importantly graphics and presentation that each contender offers.
NBA 08's main draw is undeniably its appearance. Nearly everything, from the shiny court to the realistic character models, looks smooth and polished. Player hair and facial expressions react to situations perfectly, as you would expect from their real-life counterparts. The game runs at an impressive 60 frames per second, meaning slowdown never hampers your experience.
Likewise, the game sounds great. Dribbling the ball on the court sounds exactly as it would if performed in real life. The crowd reacts perfectly to the situation at hand; there's no random and repetitive cheering here. Adding to the atmosphere are the commentators, Kevin Calabro and Mark Jackson, who call the game perfectly. If a few more random jokes were made, the commentators would sound as if they were taken straight from a televised game. There's also a surprisingly great soundtrack, featuring some of my favorite bands such as Datarock, The Bravery and LCD Soundsystem. I wasn't expecting to get Electronica and Indie Rock in a Basketball game, and for it to be in perfect balance with great Hip-Hop tracks like Timbaland's “The Way I Are”, but that's what happened. The only problem with the soundtrack is that it's not played frequently enough. It would have been nice to hear tunes during replays and at other opportune times.
One of NBA 08's coolest features is the ability to create your own character. I've never witnessed a create-a-character function as deep as this one. You're literally able to sculpt every facial feature, from the bump in your nose, to the fullness of your lips. Even a rush job enabled me to create a character that looked strikingly similar to myself. If you felt compelled to do so, there is a high chance that you could create a character that looks nearly identical to yourself. Once that character has been created, you can then assign him to a team of your choice.
The most unique feature of NBA 07, NBA Replay, here makes a triumphant return that's sure to score again with fans. The challenges of NBA Replay imitate real plays in games, such as making shots from the same spot they were made in real life. After playing, you can upload your scores to leaderboards. Two new challenges will be posted online every week during the course of the NBA season and playoffs.
Controls for basic actions in NBA 08 are naturally simple; single buttons are mapped to passing, shooting, and dunking. However, with the massive button combinations needed, there's a slight learning curve for pulling off advanced moves. Without a tutorial to help master these fancy maneuvers, it can take dozens upon dozens of hours to master them. While these traditional controls are solid, the mediocre motion controls carry over many issues that were present in NBA 07. Free6 control offers you a way to perform crossovers, jukes and spins, but the Sixaxis sensors don't always cooperate and that sometimes results in your intended move failing to occur.
That's not to say the Sixaxis controls are always a bad thing. For instance, when on defense, tilting the Sixaxis controller forward or backwards raises or lowers your hands, letting your fingers concentrate with staying with the defender. When on offense, moving the controller from side to side dribbles the ball between your players legs. These Sixaxis moves may seem trivial, but they can truly be an important help in many occasions while playing the game.
NBA 08 is a solid basketball game featuring attractive visuals, a great soundtrack and the very entertaining NBA Replay mode. Basketball fans will especially find many of the modes very appealing. There is a lot of fun to be had here, but if you are only in the market for one basketball game, the superior controls of NBA 2K8 could make it the better choice. Still, NBA 08 is a good game that, without the control problems, could have been the best basketball game this year. Hopefully, all needed improvements will be made, and next years entry will be a contender for best NBA game.
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