Sports games are easily the most criticized types of games currently on the market. Year in and year out developers release the same game with a new year after the title and expect gamers to shell out another sixty bucks for what is essentially a roster update. One series that seems to want to break this dastardly trend is 2K Sports NBA series which seems to alter our idea of what a hoops title should be each and every annual outing. NBA 2K8 continues this trend by bringing back the incredibly like-like visuals, spot on control, and deep career modes of the original with just enough added spice to make this a dish you want to keep coming back for every year.
Let’s start with the returning favorites; association mode. This is and has been the deepest hoops simulation currently available and 2K8 pulls no punches in the features department. As the role of the GM you can scout draft picks, schedule practices, and of course negotiate contracts with players together with the inclusion of no-trade clauses. You can also set your starters and bench warmers before each game which does alter gameplay as having the right players on the court will boost team morale. Of course if all of this sounds a bit overbearing you can always opt to sim the portions you don’t want to control and not have to worry about sacrificing too much strategy. However, if you invest the time to learn the ins and outs of this system it can be very rewarding, especially for fans of the sport.
The on-court controls have also been revamped, and at first will feel slower to veterans of the series. The biggest change comes in the dribbling aspect with a focus on foot planting. No longer will you have pre-determined animations for blowing past a defender for the rim, but now you will need to plant your feet and utilize your momentum to perform moves that, in the past, were automatic. As for the rest of the action everything in 2K8 feels so much more realistic thanks to a revamped animation system that focuses on player strengths as opposed to stock animations. Each player has their own personal style just like in real life and will utilize it on the court. Shaq will dominate inside with monster dunks dropping his defender to the ground, while Kobe will dominate entire quarters with his ball-hogging ability.
This new animation system gives the game an overall layer of complexity that forces you to learn the ins and outs of play calling. Thankfully 2K Sports has created a “noob” system that gives inexperienced players the opportunity to learn how it all works. This works as a sort of visual guide (think the driving lines in Forza) and it shows you where to position players and how to pass. These of course can, and should be turned off as you continue to hone your skills on the court.
Another huge factor when playing a sports game is the CPU AI on both offense and defense. It can be a tedious process to balance between cheap and challenging and with NBA 2K8 it is a 50/50 split. On offense the CPU makes outstanding moves on the ball, taking full advantage of player skills and really simulating human intelligence well. On the defensive side of the ball things are a bit different. The computer will not catch on to shot tendencies so if you have been draining threes all game long there really is no reason to stop as the AI will seemingly never catch onto your plan.
Visually 2K8 is a pretty game, and with the addition of individual animation styles the game jumps to a new tier in the eye candy department. Each animation transitions so fluidly into the next that I swear (and I know this comments get thrown around a lot) it could be mistaken as a real game in a quick passing. The player models are nice, but some of the faces are downright atrocious not to mention the equally terrifying coaches. The crowd is animated nicely, even though they look like they were ripped out of the starring role of a PS1 game and the courts feature great lighting and surface trexturing. The frame rate rarely drops, except when watching a replay or, for some peculiar reason, when shooting a free throw.
It’s also worth noting that both the 360 and PS3 versions are near identical including frame rate, so unlike a certain other company’s sports games NBA 2K8 is not superior on either system. The sounds are as equally impressive as the visuals. The crowd noise is excellent with fans booing and cheering when appropriate and the play-by-play calling from Kevin Harlan, Craig Sagar, and Kenny Smith is usually spot on with only a few missed calls and repeated lines from time to time.
The last component, and quite possibly most important to some fans, is the robust online mode. In series tradition 2K has delivered the most feature-filled online experience currently available. There is an online season mode where players can take the fate of the NBA into their own hands, complete with draft. There are also tournaments to compete in and of course the standard ranked and unranked bouts. All of our online sessions ran quite smooth on both Xbox Live and PSN and 2K even keeps a gamer card that tracks stats to better match you with players of your skill level. There is even an option to play the street ball mode online. Xbox 360 owners can have up to eight players while PS3 matches handle up to ten so if you want the complete online package NBA 2K8 delivers it in spades.
NBA 2K8 excels at just about everything with only minimal gripes that could easily be ironed out next year. I know it is a cliché statement to make that with these improvements the game could really take off next year, but it is true. However, fans of the sport, whether casual or hardcore, should really do themselves a favor and pick up this fantastic hoops sim. The animation system is absolutely enthralling to view, the association mode is deeper than Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, and the overall game looks and plays better than any other title in the genre. Don’t wait for next year if you are in the market for a new NBA title when there is plenty here to love right now.