EA's John Madden Football franchise is the leader in sports videogames. The leader in the Basketball genre is another story to say the least. EA has its hands full competing with 2K Sports' NBA 2K8 and Sony's NBA '08.
There is much competition between basketball games this year as the genre faces an influx of various entries from leading companies. Luckily, it’s the best looking entry from EA by far, though not as perfect as its competitors.
First off, this is a really good-looking game. From the reflections on the polished hardwood court to the smoothly animated players, NBA Live 08 is a pleasure. One thing that was amazing was the excellently modeled polygonal spectators. Finally, it seems like sports titles are coming close to forming crowds that aren't a complete embarrassment to the rest of the game's visual fidelity. The player faces are also highly accomplished as well.
The PlayStation 3 version of the game doesn't look quite as good as the Xbox 360 version, with some jaggy lines around the court and a loss of overall quality compared to the version on Microsoft’s console. Some of that is due to the Xbox 360 version upscaling the resolution to 1080p on our high-definition set. Despite that, frame rate hitches are still more than apparent.
The game play is far less annoying as previous iterations brought back arcade style, but still doesn't qualify as a proper imitation. It's still very easy to drive to the hoop, although some game mechanics have been added to encourage players to take it in down low. You can back down defenders and then pull off ball fakes, spins, hooks, and all other sorts of moves. The AI would often double team us down low, making the big guy on our team dribble like crazy to send the ball to someone; otherwise it’d be an easy steal. The only situations in which we found it wiser to dish it to our center instead of driving to the hoop was when we wanted to draw a foul from the defender matched up on him. It’s really amazing knowing you can easily juke the opponent.
On the defensive side of the ball, Live attempts to address the difficulty players have with sticking to their assignment by taking the challenge entirely out of the equation. By pressing a shoulder button, your selected player will stick to his offensive counterpart. This puts the control of your player's movement into the hands of the AI, allowing you to focus on blocking shots or stealing the ball. So while using this defensive assist feature you can still press the steal button to try and swat away the ball, block shots, and use the right analog stick to assume a wider defensive stance, or to raise your arms to contest a shot. It's a great system, the only difficulty with it coming into play when the computer automatically shifts your control from the closest player to the ball handler, which becomes confusing. You can choose to lock your control to a single player, which helps for a particular goal you have in mind, like stealing the ball with the point guard or using your center to try and block shots.
There's an ample selection of different modes to play through, but the most important features of the game are the immense Dynasty mode and the online support. The Dynasty mode allows for lots of different micromanagement options, like scouting draft classes, conditioning your players, and working trades. We'd have liked a way to manually override trades, perhaps to simulate moves made during the real NBA season, but we can live without it.
Multiplayer is well implemented across the board. You can play cooperatively on a single console, and you can even challenge players online with your buddies. Playing online is an cinch, and we had a great time hopping into matches and competing with the early adopters. Leagues had a bit of problems, but they worked out the functionality in the end.
The game has more issues, unfortunately. One issue that we encountered occurred when we passed the ball across the half court line. The camera stayed fixed to the wrong side of the court, and as the pass apparently missed its mark, we were stuck with having to call a time out in order to get the game working again.
Tweaking the game sliders works well in some cases and not so well in others. Just as an experiment, we tried lowering the entire computer shooting ability sliders down to zero. Not only did the computer continue to nail three point shots, but also their mid-range game was still effective.
It's also very annoying to work under the basket, since players tend to want to go behind the backboard or to toss the ball straight up into the rim. The move schemes are annoying. It's one thing if this is some scrub off the bench, but if there's one thing Dwayne Wade can do, it’s shoot close to the basket. It's simply laughable how often some of the top players will miss easy buckets from close range. This is especially infuriating when playing online, even if it is affecting both human opponents.
The Sprite Slam Dunk competition could have really used some more fine-tuning. It's incredibly frustrating to line up what appears to be a decent alley-oop only to have your player misses snatching the ball out of the air entirely due to a split-second lapse in your timing. This isn’t even accuracy, but more like complicating the game for the sole reason of complicating it. And on the other end of the spectrum, we were able to execute a perfect 50-point dunk, with LeBron's arm going through the rim and fireworks everywhere, only we have no idea how exactly it happened. The random feel of the event, coupled with its frustrating learning curve, makes it hard to really embrace this aspect of the game.
The three-point shot competition is similarly lackluster. We've played this mode before, in exactly the same way, and it's hard to suppress a yawn when you realize that the outcome is entirely dependent on some random workings behind the scenes. We've learned how to time our release at the peak of our jump already, so when we miss, it's usually due to the difficulty setting.
Free throws have been a much-maligned part of the series since it went for the stick-flicking shooting control. It's too difficult to make free throws with even the better shooters in the league. On the other hand, you can bypass the free throw shooting system entirely and just press the Circle button to toss in your foul shots. While this is a bad way out, it’s better compared to the original system.
NBA Live 08 is an improvement for the series, but still lacks in enough areas to keep it out of the perfect All-Star game. With improved defensive play, a fixed free-throw system and perhaps more original ideas, we can expect bigger and better things from the future iterations of NBA Live.
-The Final Word-
NBA Live 08 is undoubtedly an improvement for the series, but still lacks the necessary enhancements to call this one a winner. Though fans of basketball might enjoy the great graphics, the gameplay calls for something more.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|