NBA '08 Review (PS3)
My basketball gaming days date all the way back to Double Dribble on my Nintendo Entertainment System--you know, back when we played games because they were fun. I didn't care much for realism back then, either. Fast forward to today, and it's clear most developers strive for a perfect mix of arcade and simulation in any sports title. Very few titles accomplish that.
There's one title within the basketball genre that's widely considered the best sports franchise amongst its peers, and that's the NBA2K series. It's the benchmark to which all basketball titles are compared and has been for years now. Sony Computer Entertainment America's (SCEA) NBA 08 is trying to make some noise on the PS3 and appears to be up to the daunting task. Will it come out of nowhere and be a contender like the Utah Jazz? Or will it be satisfied with mediocrity and disappoint like the Philadelphia 76ers? Let's find out.
What's most important in any sports game, and I'm sure most would agree with me, is how closely the gameplay mimics its real life counterpart. Unfortunately, NBA 08 falls short of its competition in this area. Issues that plagued last year's game, such as clock management issues, rear their ugly heads once again in this iteration. Trailing in a close game with the clock winding down, the CPU AI fails to run a hurry-up offense, nor do they foul opposing players to force them to the line. To add to that, you'll find an abundance of turnovers, and this creates a frustrating game-playing experience. Furthermore, it felt like the CPU's only means of scoring was to attack the basket. Rarely did I see them work the ball around and opt for a jumper. Instead, most of their points came by way of layup or dunk.
On the other side of the ball, I found it near impossible to drive to the basket. Granted, I want a challenge from the defensive AI, but I'm stressing the words "near impossible" here. Sure, there's a good number of gameplay sliders that will probably rectify some of these issues, but it's disappointing that some major tweaks are needed out of the box.
As for controls, NBA 08 features a shot meter that's executed rather nicely. It's pretty simple, too. If you release the shot when your meter is in the green, you'll likely nail the shot. In the yellow, you have a chance if it catches the rim right. In the red? You'll be building houses with those bricks. The meter was very responsive; unfortunately, the same can't be said for the player control. It's very difficult to pull off crossovers, despite being able to use the right analog stick or Sixxaxis. This is a contributing factor as to why I found it near impossible to drive to the hoop with any success.
NBA 08 is a mixed bag in the graphics department. The character models are quite impressive; however, the overall look takes a major hit once the game is put in motion. It's not the framerate that disappoints me, it's the animations. I'm not sure if it's a lack of transitional animations, but the players move awkwardly. The game does feature a TNT presentation, which is a very nice touch, but the bland commentary and lifeless crowds overshadow it. It feels like one step forward, but two steps backwards with the presentation.
I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record with the negatives, but as I mentioned in my opening statement, it's hard to talk about a new basketball game without comparing it to the NBA2K series. We want plenty of options in any game, whether it is sliders, controls, or game modes. Give them to us. NBA 08 fails to deliver with game modes. There's no true franchise mode, leaving us only with a season mode if we wanted to dive into an 82-game season. In next-gen gaming, and with a $60 investment, the franchise mode has become a staple for all sports games. There’s no excuse for omitting it. With that said, I found the trade AI to be a major letdown. One of the major headlines in the real-life NBA this year is where Kobe Bryant will end up. Word to the Philadelphia 76ers, apparently NBA 08 thinks Samuel Dalembert traded straight up for Kobe Bryant is legit. Get it done. Aside from the season mode, NBA 08 also features a playoff mode, and the NBA Replay mode which is now called Games of the Week. Finally, something I love about this game. This mode lets you reenact specific scenarios or achievements in real-life NBA games. The game ships with 68 from last year's NBA season, and SCEA promises to deliver 5 more for download each week throughout this upcoming season. This is a wonderful feature, and something that will create a new challenge for games each and every week.
NBA 08 also features your standard online mode, with your standard online options. By standard I mean single players games and leaderboards. That's it. You are able to upload your Game of the Week scores to the leaderboards, but there are no online leagues. Online play, for the most part, was pretty smooth. There was some occasional lag, but nothing that rendered the game unplayable, and it didn't last long.
In all, NBA 08 isn't a terrible game, nor is it a good one. I know I've probably come off just a tad negative, but when you're comparing it to such a great game in NBA2K8, the issues with NBA 08 become magnified. With two other options available on the Playstation 3, it's hard to recommend NBA 08 as anything other than a rental. It's lacking in gameplay options, and the issues with the actual gameplay are just too frustrating to ignore. In the end, it appears it's going to be a long year on the bench for NBA 08.