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College Hoops 2K8 (PlayStation 3) artwork

College Hoops 2K8 (PlayStation 3) review

"In College Hoops 2K7, the computer AI melted against the press, throwing careless, telegraphed passes. In the half-court set, it was possible to stalk the passing lanes at the top of the key without paying much of a price defensively. The massive amount of turnovers delivered easy walkovers on even the most difficult settings. Now that 2K8 has rolled around, the CPU finally learned how to protect the ball. It'll confidently dribble across the timeline, and any man left open can..."

In College Hoops 2K7, the computer AI melted against the press, throwing careless, telegraphed passes. In the half-court set, it was possible to stalk the passing lanes at the top of the key without paying much of a price defensively. The massive amount of turnovers delivered easy walkovers on even the most difficult settings. Now that 2K8 has rolled around, the CPU finally learned how to protect the ball. It'll confidently dribble across the timeline, and any man left open can drain a jumper or drive strong to the hoop. You'll actually have to play some disciplined defense to shut down the opposition.

Or at least, learn new exploits. 2K8 shares a tool called Lock-On D with NBA 2K8. This puts your man in a hyper-defensive posture, ready to spring at any moment. It also allows gangly seven-foot centers to match the footwork of mercurial point guards, even guide them out of bounds for easy turnovers. You will generate more possessions than you probably deserve.

But you still have to put points on the board, and 2K8 has blocked shortcuts on the offensive end. Previously, the post game could serve as the beginning and end of your repertoire. It was much too simple to feed a big man down low, then have him freelance and push the defender around for an easy dunk or hook shot. Championship could be won without hitting a jumper the entire season. Operating on the block is remains relatively effective here, but forwards and centers show a glaring lack of agility. Try anything fancy and they'll dribble off their own foot, or even stumble helplessly to the ground.

Only adept ballhandlers can consistently pull off stutter-steps or crossovers. These premium moves have been upgraded to take momentum into account; the hand dribbling the ball will actually determine which way a player will turn on a spin move. Passing has been refined as well. Through a combination of button presses, you can lob over outstretched arms, lead a man towards the rim, or deliver a crisp bounce pass. However, the ball will ricochet off an opponent's legs and feet as well as it did off his arms and back. Your execution and decision making have to be that much sharper to deal with the extra options and complex control scheme.

Here's another aspect that requires consideration: play calling. Without your direction, guys tend to stand around. That wasn't a problem when it was so easy to create a shot 1-on-1, but now you need actual teamwork. Naturally, there are reams of tried-and-true schemes built in, but you can also utilize the Play Designer to draw up a customized offense. It's a meticulous process, but it's an attractive option to all the armchair coaches out there. Plus, you can share your stuff with 2K Sports' online community, or at least borrow someone else's hard work.

There are plenty of other activities to manage off the court, assuming you're playing through the legacy mode. 2K8 still offers two career paths: one where you start at any school, and another where you must select from a list of putrid programs, hopping from job to job up the totem pole of prestige. Part of your duties involve coaching up your current roster. In addition to setting training regimens, 2K8 lets you put a couple of players per week through a drill. These focus on a singular aspect: spotting up for short or long-range jumpers, free throws, passing off screens, or a dribbling through a slalom course. Performing well enough increases that ability a marginal amount, but it definitely snowballs over time. It's a tangible way to build a player up throughout his career.

Recruiting is the other, more time-consuming responsibility. There are around 1,500 players in the talent pool, starting with high school freshman. Wooing blue-chippers requires constant attention: phone calls, emails, home and official visits, watching tape. Balancing priorities is tough – gauging your interest versus the chances of signing a monster – but it lets you dream about each top prospect's potential impact on your team. Except now, you can do more than imagine. 2K8 introduces the Amateur Basketball League; it parallels the real-life AAU. Every recruit belongs to a team in this summer league, and you can manually play through one game on every day of the 20-day season. It gives you extended insight into a youngster's real abilities, so you won't be surprised when he finally steps onto your campus. Plus, it's a ton of bonus basketball.

Steering recruits away from rival schools is part of the process, but you won't have to compete against any other elite coaches. The deal that delivered likenesses of iconic floor generals to 2K7 expired, so we're back to generic Coach KU and Coach UK. But school spirit is still conveyed through screaming fans and recognizable venues. 2K8 rolls out the '6th Man Advantage,' where the home crowd impacts the flow of the game. Fill up a little meter, and a wall of cheers rain down from the stands. It boosts the confidence of your crew while crushing that of the other team. You'll be on fire while the opponent falls into disarray. Most arenas are faithfully recreated – at least as much as you can tell – but even if the cozy court of your little alma mater is only approximately captured, the team names and logos emblazoned on the hardwood make you feel at home.

If championship banners happen to hang from the rafters of a venue, then Bill Raftery may even drop some knowledge about that institution's storied history. Bill teams up with Verne Lundquist to provide solid running commentary of the on-court events. Meanwhile, the sideline reporter, Tracy Wolfson, will cover the effects of your coaching adjustments (these are areas you can focus on during halftime for improved performance down the stretch). However, Raftery's boisterous personality is once again reigned in a bit too much. Really, it should have its own adjustable slider right next to game speed and difficulty. I want to hear “Onions!” every time the ball goes through the basket.

Meanwhile, the less animated pair of Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg cover the entire landscape of NCAA basketball from the studio. Seriously, their lips move, but both their bodies remain virtually stationary. Prior to the season, they detail the Top 25 and the All-American lists. Every Saturday, they'll recap the pivotal games of the week, coupled with highlights and canned analysis. And of course, the end of the year brings the Selection Sunday special. If your squad winds up on the list of bubble teams, prepare for pins and needles as they drag out the announcement of every last match-up. It's a 20-minute show.

Thanks to 2K8's move towards a more credible basketball simulation, you might actually have to sweat out a bid. Last year's game devolved into perfecting a couple of skills, then repeating them over and over; the bulk of its advanced features weren't even necessary. Now, you have to develop into a ballhandler, passer, defender, and coach, and this year's version gives you plenty of options to pull it off. If your success in 2K7 stemmed entirely from CPU miscues, then get ready for a jarring wake-up call from College Hoops 2K8.

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Community review by woodhouse (January 24, 2009)

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