There's no question that this year's game is better than last year's, but its gameplay is so laden with problems that it's still not worth your time. For starters, there's not a whole lot to do. There's no franchise mode, only a bare-bones single-season mode. You can't manage a salary cap, draft players, sign contracts, manage team finances, or pretty much anything else basketball games have been doing for the last several years.
You can trade players, but the CPU doesn't bother to veto trades, so you can trade the worst player in the league for the best player whenever you want. There are a few minigames to choose from, though they're nothing new. Own the court is a timed head-to-head shooting challenge that's pretty fun; the three-point contest is entertaining against friends for a few rounds; and skills challenge, where you dribble, pass, and shoot on an obstacle course, is rather lame...again.
If you fancy an online game you can go online, but if your experience is anything like ours, you won't be able to find anyone to play unless you get a second copy of the game and trick a friend into playing. Once we did get someone to play against, the game ran fairly smoothly and the lag didn't affect the timing of the shot meter much at all.
NBA 08's only unique gameplay mode is NBA replay. The developer took the best performances from last year's NBA season and added them into the game for you to try to replicate. You don't have to match all of the 57 points that Michael Redd scored on November 11, but you will be given just a few minutes to score eight points, six of which will need to come in the form of three-pointers from specific spots on the floor.
Sony will be updating these challenges with new performances as the real NBA season progresses. These challenges are fun for a while, but after a few weeks they start to all feel the same; so it's hard to imagine finishing the 68 scenarios that shipped with the game and still find yourself wanting more.
You earn credits for playing minigames and from challenges. They can also be earned by accomplishing in-game feats such as dishing an assist with a certain player, getting a double-double, hitting a shot, and more. These credits can be used to unlock new gear or boost a created player's stats. It's an interesting way of getting you to care about leveling up your player, but it's hampered by the game's paltry create-a-player options and the fact that you can score 50 points with your player in his first game even though he's rated a 50.
Repetitive challenges and the lack of a franchise mode are really moot points, though, because the gameplay is so poor you won't care that there aren't many ways to experience it. A few of the problems from last year's version have been fixed, but many remain. It's near impossible to run a fast break for the following reasons: There's no lead pass button; players will stop in their tracks to receive the ball; and defensive players can pick off any pass longer than 15 feet with ease.
You can call plays with the D pad and, this year, even call them for a specific player, but everyone gets so bunched up that most passes in traffic get stolen. Offensive players make little effort to get open, and when they do try, they don't succeed because defensive players are stuck to them like glue. Speaking of defense, how, exactly, are you supposed to guard people when they can a) dribble the ball right through your body, and b) get bailed out on foul calls when you don't even hit a button or come into contact with them?
More Sixaxis controls have been added, and like most every other game out there, they add nothing to the experience. They work OK when you're just trying to perform a spin move, but why anyone would want to tilt the controller to raise or lower their hands on defense when they could just do it with the right stick is a mystery.
But the game does a few things well. The tricolored shot meter that gives you a visual representation of how difficult a shot is as well as the timing required to hit it works as good as ever. It's the game's best feature by far. Low post controls are easy to learn, responsive, and effective, even with defenders magically glued to your hips. Rebounding also works well thanks to icons on the floor that show where the ball is going to land.
This was in the game last year but didn't work very well. This time around you actually feel like you've got some say over who is going to end up with a rebound. The game's pacing is also pretty good. The CPU doesn't waste a lot of time with unproductive passes and is pretty aggressive, so there's very little downtime.
NBA 08's visuals are all over the place. The game does run at a speedy frame rate, even in 1080p. The courts look nice, too. There are nice reflections on the hardwood, and the crowds and arenas are detailed. Player models are generally good--at least if you look at them while they're not moving. Once they get in motion things get ugly. Their heads follow the ball, but their eyes don't; their transitions from one move to the next are awful; and there's an egregious amount of clipping.
That might explain why the presentation is so dull. The only time you'll see a replay is after a dunk, since they look pretty good. The rest of the time it's as if the game is trying to hide its problems from you by not letting you get too close to the action.
Astonishingly enough, last year's game didn't have any commentary other than a PA announcer. NBA 08 fixes this with the addition of Kevin Calabro and Mark Jackson as announcers. They're passable, but they don't have a lot to say and they frequently ignore big plays. This is mostly an issue on unexpected plays, like when a player misses a free throw but a teammate comes flying in for a dunk--Calabro won't even mention the dunk, and will instead talk about the miss. The arenas are pretty quiet; the crowds are subdued and there's not a lot of music during the games.
Sure, the game's better than it was last year, but this series is far from being good. So baby steps--even if they're in the right direction--just won't cut it. The bottom line is NBA 08 is not a good game, and there's no reason to play it.
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