2K Sports paid a visit to
Washington D.C. and I got a chance to play an 85% complete version of the
NBA 2k8. Let me start by saying that this version is much better than the
demo version we are all currently playing. The player faces are greatly improved
from the demo and I thought Lebron looked way more realistic in this version.
Two of the biggest game play features in this year’s game, off ball control and the play diagrams, look fantastic. One of my biggest issues with most basketball games is that you can’t decide who will set a screen on a pick and roll. In most games, it’s either the center or the power forward. In NBA 2k8, you can decide which one of your four teammates sets a pick or works to get open. When I first heard about this feature I thought it sounded a bit complicated and wasn’t going to be user friendly but after playing the game I think it’s a great feature that adds a new level of enjoyment.
The on-court play diagrams are also a great addition. I think most people are like me in that they want to call plays but they hate having to memorize all the steps it takes to run a play correctly; especially with the large number of plays that are in the game. The on-court play diagrams make it extremely easy to run a play and will allow you to play exactly like your team would in real life. I played with the Wizards and they ran several plays exactly like their real world counterparts. Some would end with Jamison taking a shot from the elbow while others had Arenas running a pick and roll. What’s great is that the AI adjusts if you run a play too often. I ran the pick and pop a few times too many and the Warriors started double teaming Arenas once it looked like I was setting up that play. Even with the double team, I was able to make adjustments swing the ball around and get open shots with Butler and Stevenson.
Everybody who complained about the commentary can stop now. There is plenty of new commentary, including player and team specific commentary in this year’s version. In the game, I played I heard Kenny Smith and Kevin Harlan talk specifically about Arenas, Davis, Stephen Jackson and Biedrins. One thing I preferred about the competition’s game was that the announcers would talk not only about the stars but about some of the role players. I’m glad to see that the NBA2K team listened to the fans and improved on this feature. When I heard that NBA 2k7 hired Harlan as its play by play announcer, I was excited. That was until I played the game and realized how subdued he sounded in the game. The good news is that Harlan is his real life self in 2k8. He gets excited at the right moments and it adds to the presentation.
I only got to the chance to see one arena but the changes to this arena shows that the 2k8 development team didn’t slack off in this aspect of the game. In the OS review, I made a small complaint about the Verizon Center. There was a big space between the stands behind the basket and the rest of the arena and that space doesn’t exist in real life. The arena was perfect except for that mistake and the 2k team could have easily left the arena the same and 99.9% (everybody but me and RubenDouglas) wouldn’t have even noticed. What surprised me is that the 2k team fixed this mistake and now the Verizon Center is really perfect. 2K PR Guru Anthony Chau confirmed that all 30 arenas are authentic.
One issue that I asked Anthony about was changes to the art in the game. Since the game usually comes out in September and the NBA season starts in November, there are times when teams will make changes to their court, jerseys or arenas after the game has shipped. For example, the Houston Rockets are going to debut a new court in a few weeks but it’s not in the game because it will be shown after the game is released. I asked Anthony if it was possible for the development team to release a patch that adds new courts and changes to the arena after the game is released. He said he thinks it’s possible but the reason an artwork patch is rarely done is that it’s more difficult to add artwork via a patch than it is to change code. Also he stated that it’s also depends on resources and the size of a development team whether an art patch is feasible.
Here are a few quick thoughts I had while playing the game:
- No custom soundtracks this year. He confirmed that it’s possible but that he wasn’t sure if this feature was that popular. He stated that very few people complained when they took it out after NBA2k5. If people demand that they put the feature back in, 2k will consider adding it to future versions.
- Slam Dunk Contest looks like it will be fun. One issue I had with the competition’s version was that some of the dunks were cartoonish and too fast. 2K8’s version is more realistic and there are more options including the use of props.
- Player spacing seemed better than in the demo but I think some people may think it still needs improvement. I’ve always thought that the spacing was fine but I know many disagree.
- I asked Anthony about how the public perceived the game. In previous years, the NBA2k series has always been seen as the underdog but after a year when it outsold the competition and was unanimously hailed as the better game, its seems that this has changed. Many people are giving credit to the competition for its improved game and stating that the 2k series feels like “more of the same” or “stale.” He stated that it all comes down to what’s the better game. He stated that he still sees NBA2k as an underdog and acknowledged that many people are brand loyal and automatically purchase Live. He also said that he was concerned that some people would purchase Live because of the improvements and that the sales race would be closer. He continued by saying that he’s played the retail version of Live 08 and its clear that NBA 2k8 is still the better game and that most gamers and real NBA players play that game.
- He told me an interesting story of how the US National Team rented out a theater in Las Vegas during the Tournament of Americas and played nothing but NBA2k7 and how many of the players are trying to get an early copy of 2K8.
- Finally we discussed foot planting. Anthony wanted to make it clear that he didn’t think that foot planting technology was as important of a feature that some people make it. He stated that the team had to make a choice when it came to foot planting AI and sliding. Either have a game that has zero sliding but very stiff and robotic animations or on with fluid animations with a little bit of sliding. The 2k team chose the latter. He ended by saying that the team will continue to try to minimize sliding in future versions but not at the expense of limiting animations. From what I saw there is still sliding in the game especially when you are using the defensive assist feature but it’s not as bad as past versions of the game.
Clay Shaver Demo Impressions
After spending some time
with the NBA 2K8 demo this week, I can’t help but be impressed with the
small sample we got of this title. While the demo only allows for two four
minutes quarters with no play-by-play, fatigue, play calling or significant
feature set available, it left me spellbound by the little things that have made
this series great and look to take this year’s version to the next level. With
NBA Live set to make a big push this season to reclaim the basketball
crown, the team at 2K and VC has pulled out all the stops to truly replicate the
Let’s take a look at our “Keys to the Game” from the NBA 2K8 demo which is currently available on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Signature Style -- Being an NBA and, specifically, a Detroit Pistons fan, I’ve seen a lot of the Spurs and Cavaliers in the past two seasons – the two playable teams in the demo. It was mind blowing how many of the little things were there when playing with or against these teams. Sure the jumpers and free throw routines looked great, but you saw the real playing styles in every aspect of the game. Ginobli and Parker both drove the lane and finished with multiple moves that I’ve seen a hundred times. I saw Parker’s little duck and tuck drive and Manu coming in from the wing and throwing up that reverse while looking back for it over his shoulder. I watched them feed it to Duncan in the post only to see Timmy wait to draw the double before dumping it off to a curling Mr. Longoria for the lay-in. Heck, I even watched LeBron chew on his finger nails during a Spurs free throw.
- Smarter AI – This was something that the fans needed to see and, if the demo is any indication, we’re in for an improvement. Not only does the AI seem to finally really feed their Superstars, specifically guys like Duncan who can kill you on the block, but, even at the default skill level available in the demo, the AI will exploit people who make bad defensive choices. Basketball is a 5-on-5 game. If you run around looking for steals and double teaming all day, you’re gonna leave someone open and, unlike in other games and previous versions of the 2K series, the game is going to find them. Not only that, they’re going to make the right play. Unguarded players cut to the basket and move without the ball better than I’ve ever seen.
- Presentation – The last year has been less than impressive for sports gamers in the area of presentation. While some games have improved, others have taken a huge step back. While the demo doesn’t tell the full story, what they did show was already impressive. The post basket and dead ball animations and cutscenes flow pretty seamlessly with the action and I saw at least four different replay styles. There’s even a slick new substitution animation that some might miss in the demo due to the short quarters available.
- “She has a good personality” – The dev team boasts on their website about “A Whole New Look - Every NBA player has been completely redone to improve likenesses and overall graphical quality.” Well, based on the demo, I think they actually took a step backwards in the player models. Now the final retail build may be slightly cleaner, but I thought the new models looked too washed up, zombie like and, in many cases, way too skinny. On the flipside, it moves better than it ever has before and it’s loaded with new animations for the little things. Try running into the crowd or take a full speed block attempt while running towards the backboard. The resulting animations will show why they are the best in the business and won’t be damaged by a small step back in graphics.
- The Association – This may be the most important battle that NBA 2K8 has to fight and we’ve only seen limited information up to this point. While their site is promoting improvements and new features, this Franchise Mode has left a lot to be desired year after year and could play a vital role in the battle for basketball supremacy.
If the demo is any indication, NBA 2K8 should be yet another step forward for this series. The attention to detail and dedication to a realistic NBA look and feel should keep ballers locked in for another great game.