Let’s be frank. The NBA Live series has not made a pretty transition from the last generation of consoles to the current generation. However, NBA Live 08, the newest entry into Electronic Arts’ basketball franchise, makes positive steps in competing with the vastly superior (up until now) 2K franchise. While it has a lot of room to grow in terms of both gameplay and in the features it provides, what you will be getting is an extremely solid game of basketball.
One of the biggest problems in the previous entries in the series was the gameplay, which featured a fast-paced, arcade style that had AI defenders that are about as smart as (fill in politician you dislike). You could run the ball up the court and with enough effort, drive and dribble the ball right down the defender’s throat every time, even on the highest difficulty. No more, thankfully. NBA Live 08 is a much more simulation-like experience, slowing the game down and making the AI defense actually put up a fight this time. That’s not to say that the AI is particularly exceptional, though, with transition defense and interior defense being the main offenders. The problem with the interior defense is that you can continually pound it into your big forwards, start backing down the defender, and do a quick post move (which, by the way, look really sweet and are fun to pull off) and you’re almost guaranteed to be slamming it in, kissing it off the glass, or getting fouled every time. (At least early on) Even on the All-Star difficulty, you could literally give the ball to your center or your power forward down low, make a post move, score, and win the game. To the game’s credit, you’ll go through stretches where your big men will not make the same move toward the basket and will throw up a brick now and then, but there is definitely some room for EA to make sure that they adapt their defensive AI to adjust to your strategy by sending double or triple teams if you try and go to the well one too many times.
It’s a shame that the post-defense is so porous, because the shooting feels very smooth. Pulling up for a jumper and getting nothing but net feels extremely skillful, and a heck of a lot of fun. Your shooting is guided by a new “Hot Spot” meter that will show up on the court by hitting the L1 button, showing you where each player is at his best when throwing up the rock. This will definitely help novices learn the strength and weaknesses of their players, and is a great addition to the series. While there are definitely some negatives to the gameplay, looking back at some of the god awful entries into this franchise—the shooting is solid, offense is fun, and it’s a solid game of basketball. What’s not to like about that?
While the gameplay has improved, the lack of features seen when the NBA Live franchise hit current-generation consoles is still in effect. You have your basic pick-up-and-play mode, “Play Now”, and also a “Dynasty Mode” that allows you to play multiple seasons with your favorite NBA teams. These are staples of sports games and are expected to be included—nothing to see there—you know what you’re getting from those two modes. Aside from those modes, players can participate in the FIBA World Championships, the NBA All-Star Weekend and “Scenario Play”. The World Championship mode is nothing more than the same game of basketball, but instead of playing with NBA teams, you play with National Teams (Spain vs. US, for example). That mode might have you yawning, but both All-Star Weekend and Scenario Play are generally good additions, if not a bit shallow. All-Star Weekend allows you to participate in the three-point and slam-dunk contests, and of course, the actual All-Star Game. The problem is that the three-point and slam-dunk contests are easily forgettable, and will be something that you’ll put little more than 15-30 minutes of your time into, if that. Scenario Mode is a little better, but is a lot more dependent on whether or not you’re a huge NBA nut. In this mode, you can set up the opponents, score, quarter and the time left and then start up the game and play through. So, say your team blew it and lost the night before, and you’d like to stick it to the bastards that beat them. Set up the score at the fourth quarter, the last minute—whatever you want to do—and you can make things right.
The offline features might be severely lacking, but for those of you looking to take this bad boy online, EA Sports has finally added in online leagues. Forming and playing in an online league adds so much more to sports games, and it’s a godsend that it’s included in the game. You’ve also got your traditional quick play options, but online leagues are the main attraction here. All this excitement about online leagues would be moot if the game lagged or there weren’t enough players online to make use of the features, but thankfully, neither is an issue. Rounding out the online offering is a solid integration of ESPN, which provides up-to-date text articles, as well as audio and video clips from all worldwide sports of interest.
In terms of the audio and visual presentation, NBA Live 08 shines. Featuring character models that are well polished, look like their real-life counterparts (especially in cut-scenes in between quarters) and animate extremely well, we’re starting to see what this generation of sports games will be offering graphically, at least in terms of fine details on the players. Environments continue to be a weak point, but understandably so, as what you’ll be looking at—the hardwood and who is on it—is the most important thing. While you’re on the court, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will be calling the game, and they do a bang-up job providing insightful analysis that surprisingly does not get old as you play the game.
It’s a good thing that finally EA Sports has started to improve this fledgling franchise, because for many years, the 2K series was the only great basketball game out on the market. Well, no more. What it lacks in features, it makes up for in gameplay and presentation. With a few tweaks to the defensive AI, some added features, and the always needed polish, EA Sports could be sitting on a real gem of a basketball game. With that being said, hardcore and casual basketball fans alike should definitely give this game a shot.
Originally Written By: Art Green