For a long while, the NBA 2Kseries has offered the best available simulation of the popular American sport,especially when compared to EA’s NBA Live series. NBA 2K7 was an excellent example, with an addictive mixture of realistic gameplay and good visuals.Unfortunately this update has take one step forward an one step back, which results in a worthwhile game that is enshrouded in broken promises.

The gameplay is a mixed affair in 2K8, which is a real shame after it felt so right in 2K7. On offense,most of the changes that have been made are positive. Firstly Isomotion (i.e.using the right stick for crossovers and spins) has been dropped, in favour of a more organic system. The game now requires players to have their feet planted in a good position before they can attempt a move, rather than whacking off thirteen crossovers in a row. This adds a realism to guard play and although some players will find it harder to drive to the basket, the system becomes intuitive to use after a short while. Post play has also improved, with a wider variety of post moves to help you dominate down on the block, from cheeky air hooks or drop steps into monster jams.

Unfortunately the game still doesn’t interpret defensive pressure correctly, leading to some unsatisfactory bugs. For a start Chris Paul is not going to miss a one on one layup every other time, the game makes the mistake of just having the presence of a defending player enough to put the player off their shot. This might be true for a three-point shooter with a hand in his face, but a player standing in their path wouldn’t worry top-class guards. In contrast to this the defense (as you would expect) will sag off of a center or power forward when they have the ball outside the arc. In NBA 2K8 this means the player is open, and can probably score a third of the time, which is frankly ridiculous. What’s worse is that the defense doesn’t even adjust to this, so it can be exploited for the whole game.

Whoever invented the idea of Lockon-D at Visual Concepts should be dragged out into the street and shot.This single feature in 2K8 essentially takes what is a solid sports sim, and throws it back into the arcade arena. Simply by holding down the left trigger and moving the stick in a similar direction to the attacked results in your defender tracking the player perfectly. While this might be true for a skilled guard with quick feet, it’s possible to do it with any player. Imagine Yao Ming keeping Allen Iverson in the half court for eight seconds. No one else can either,except for whoever programmed the feature into the game. Post defense is actually okay on the other hand, mainly due to the fact that the Lockon-D isn’t applicable–with the offense generally having the advantage.

Fortunately the Association mode, which was the best part of 2K7 has actually been improved. The big new feature in this update is an overhaul of the player morale and team chemistry system. Players have a variety of personality archetypes, from those that justs it back and take the rough with the smooth, players that lead the team from the front and then the players that kick up a fuss unless their every need is catered for. In your role as a general manager, it’s up to you to manage your team so you not only win, but also maintain the team chemistry to ensure consistency throughout the season. A major part of this is the player roles system. At the beginning of the season you have to assign certain roles, such as star player or prospect (read: bench warmer). This gives the player an idea of what to expect in terms of their court time and scoring opportunities, but you’ll conversely end up in trouble if you end up having to regularly bench a star.

You’ll also want to keep a successful team one that is selected with consistency. As a team play together successfully, they form an affinity towards each other that results in them working better together and giving the team an overall boost. Obviously losing,bringing in new players, changing starters and long-term injury will affect this to various degrees but keeping your chemistry high is essential to success.

One shock was that the awesome 24/7 mode has been axed, in favour of the dubiously named Blacktop Mode. This is essentially a pick up and play selection of game types, designed for those that don’t understand basketball that well. The most interesting of these is the dunk contest, which runs in a similar format to the one at the NBA all-star weekend. Four players compete to pull off the most stylish throwdown, which is essentially achieved by twirling the right stick a few times and timing a button press. As easy as this sounds, the learning curve is rather steep, if rewarding and the online contest mode will waste hours of your time.

On the visual side of the game, little seems to have been improved. Even though the players exhibit improved cloth effects and sweat as they get fatigued, many of them don’t have a great likeness to their real-life counterpart. It looks like most of the players have been created using the custom player tool, resulting in some very generic face. This is disappointing when games like FIFA at least get the starters of main teams spot on. The courts look good though, and the crowd is starting to look decent. Coaches and bench players are now fully rendered, and the off-court traffic such as the coaches and mascots are now solid entities–meaning that you can’t just run through them. The game also runs incredibly smoothly with no noticeable drops in frame rate, even with the traditional problem of a ‘sinker’ (when the ball rolls around the rim like a ball on a roulette wheel). The presentation in 2K8 is also very slick, with a real feeling of watching a television broadcast as a complete opposite to the failed atmosphere of Madden 08. Menus are also clean and intuitive, especially the Association Sim Central which makes things so much simple than any other similar game mode in competing titles.

As you’d expect the commentary is mediocre. This isn’t to beat down on the voice talent, which is of a high standard, but the script pool is limited and the commentary markers are sloppy. So often you’ll dread the same snippet of wisdom from Kenny Smith, that occurs every time a reaching foul is called, or a player misses a wide-open shot—it just becomes grating. The court atmosphere is better however,with plenty of squeaking, satisfying swishes and the thunk of the dunk all mixed in with the roar of the crowd. The crowd is now far more intelligent,with home teams being cheered on or booed and all hell breaking loose in a tight fourth quarter, with the pinnacle being when the crowd shout “THREE!” as their team put up the potential game-winning prayer.

Overall NBA 2K8 is a solid basketball sim, and most fans and gamers alike will enjoy it thoroughly. It’s just that the game should have been so much more, and the gameplay far more enjoyable if Lock-on D hadn’t had existed. Hopefully it won’t in 2K9

Originally Written By: Ali Owen

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