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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
 
10/16/2007 01:59:00 PM

NBA Roundup: 2K8 (2K Sports), Live 08 (EA) & 08 (Sony)

By Paul Ullane

Roundball purists will have you believe that basketball at its best is poetry in motion, a seamless blend of cutting players, crisp ball movement, and open jump shots. Unfortunately, hoops video games have struggled to capture the flow of the game and most of the time you wind up playing what feels like a Heat-Knicks wrestling match from the late '90s. (Minus, of course, Jeff Van Gundy in the role of balding ankle bracelet.)

The wave of next-generation consoles was supposed to change all that. High definition graphics, better frame rates, more memory, all of these upgrades should deliver the ultimate basketball experience. But it's not that simple. So far, EA, 2K, and Sony Computer Entertainment have failed to put technology to good use and create a landmark simulation. As we picked through the NBA video game class of '08, it appears this year is no different.

NBA 2K8
What the heck is KG looking at? :: NBA 2K8 :: 2K Sports
Last year's standout title, NBA 2K8, retains its crown as the best hoops game out. Easy to use controls, fluid on-court action, and detailed graphics from the players to the fans keep this title one step ahead of the rest.

The most noticeable improvement this year lies in the game's artificial intelligence. The computerized players respond appropriately to in-game situations. When you're playing against the Spurs, Tim Duncan will patiently wait to draw the double team and then kick it out to one of his open shooters. On the defensive side, if you lean too heavily on one play, the defense will adjust accordingly. You can dominate the first quarter with the Suns' Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire pick and roll, but before you get to half time, the computer will start to lay off and clog the lane until you change up your play calling. Challenging defensive approaches like this are hard to find in sports titles and add an extra element to the game's replayability.

What's more, 2K8 provides the most fluid player movement of the three basketball titles -- and yet it still leaves something to be desired. Don't get us wrong, there's nothing cooler than seeing a player you're controlling head into the lane and flip up a miraculous over the back lay-up while drawing a foul. Unfortunately, it's hard to take too much pride in the highlight when all you did was aim your super star towards the basket and hit the shoot button at the free-throw line. When the computer takes over your offensive players halfway through the play, it adds an element of disconnect between gamer and players and gets annoyingly close to a simulated game.

Another area that flirts with too much automation is 2K8's new Lock-On D function. When you really need to dig deep for a defensive stop, why do all the work? Or any at all? Hold down the L2 button (PS3) and watch all five of your players, including the player you are controlling, get up in their man's jersey for the duration of the shot clock. At least here, while the player you're controlling does bob and weave automatically, you can still control swipes at the ball and attempted blocks.

NBA Live 08
Prepare for clankage! :: NBA Live 08 :: EA Sports
In the case of EA's NBA Live 08, it's less about gameplay and more about simple glitches that have no place in a next-generation video game. For some reason, it continues to be nearly impossible to cut diagonally with the ball. In order for the player you're controlling to dribble laterally, he stops and turns at a right angle -- something you would never see in a real NBA game. This has been plaguing the game for the past two seasons and still hasn't been corrected.

There's also the issue of EA's inferior artificial intelligence. The computer controlled teams will leave you scratching your head. Time and again, if the player you're controlling is not near a rebound in the paint, the rest of the computerized players will simply stare at the ball and let it roll around like a special teams unit trying to down a punt inside the five yard line in football. There are also less obvious lapses in AI such as the computerized team not being able to find the open man out of a double team and back court violations being called when a sideline inbounds pass is thrown into the back court, which is just an incorrect interpretation of the rules. How did this get by everyone in the programming studios?

Live does win points for their new post-up feature, which will satisfy old-school fans who still believe the game begins and ends with the big man. With a couple of simple controls, you can dominate the paint like Charles Barkley dominates the buffet table. Once you jostle for position on the block, hold down the L2 button and quickly flick your right toggle stick in the direction you want to spin. If you pull off the maneuver, expect an open path to the basket and a rim rattling dunk.

The new crossover functionality in Live isn't as successful. Going behind your back or through your legs is as easy as flicking the right toggle stick back and forth, but the functionality is only available when your player is at a standstill at the top of the key. Due to the bulky controller system, the right toggle doesn't register at full speed in the open court during a fast break.

One issue manages to plague both titles. We understand the quality of play in the NBA has suffered over the last decade, but for the love of God, can somebody please make a freakin' layup? You'll be chucking your controller at the screen with the number of missed open opportunities in the lane. Not only do centers miss point blank put-backs in traffic, but super star guards will regularly clank breakaway finger rolls off the back of the rim. The players also take awkward angles to the hole that just aren't realistic -- no one in the league tries to bank shots from straight away, and very few NBA stars will come to a jump stop in the lane and try to bank a jumper off the glass on a fast break.

NBA 08
King James vs. Melo! :: NBA 08 :: Sony
Unlike Madden -- it's his world, we're all just gaming in it - there's no monopoly over the NBA, thus, three different games, including the homegrown NBA 08 from Sony. Simply put, it just doesn't have the depth to keep up with the first two titles. It does, however stray off the beaten path of its counterparts.

Case in point is the game's shooting functionality that feels like a throwback to NBA Jam. An arcade-style shot meter determines whether or not you drain your jumper -- release your shot when it's green, you nail the shot, release it when the meter is red and you're throwing up a brick. In a world of ultra-realistic games, the shot meter provides a funky change of pace.

Also, since 08 is a Sony title, they manage to take best advantage of the Six-Axis controller for the PS3. You can tilt the controller back and forth to dribble between your legs or take a step back jumper. You can also utilize the controller in the paint to lean on your opponent and then spin off of him, a la Shaq in his prime. Both of these functions are the most natural application of the Six-Axis so far and don't interfere with the rest of the game's controls.

Another cool feature in 08 will kick in once the season tips off. Game of the Week will update on a weekly basis so you can download each week's most exciting game from the NBA. It's your job, in a series of challenges, to repeat these highlights to help gather points to unlock jerseys, courts, and arenas.

But it all comes down to basketball, and that's where 2K8 trumps the competition. Strip away the bells and whistles, and it's the game that will keep the hoopheads coming back for more. While the mini-games and side prizes can be cool in Sony's 08, the graphics and player movement still look too much like a PS2 title. Live 08 offers up All-Star weekend and FIBA World Championships on the side, but still suffers from consistent animation glitches, both on the court and in the stands. 2K8 limited the frills and concentrated on the basics, which is why it's regular season action is by far the most realistic, and addictive, in this bunch.
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Comments:

Posted: 11:21 AM, October 17, 2007   by Anonymous
I currently own NBA Live 08 for the PS3 and I have to say that it sucks. The gameplay with the guards and wings is clunky at best. The menu's (especially the draft) are incredibly slow and detract from the game. The only good aspect of the entire game is the post up function but its not enough. I'm going to return it and get 2K8.
Posted: 9:11 PM, October 20, 2007   by braveswin
glad to see you take 2k8 over the other titles in bball. nbalive always has the graphics, but i basically want to step on the disk halfway through the game. i'll have to check out nba '08.
Posted: 2:44 AM, October 21, 2007   by Anonymous
thanks for the advice!!:)
Posted: 11:15 AM, October 21, 2007   by Anonymous
I've played both EA 08 and NBA 2k8 and NBA 2k8 is the better game by 10 miles. Once again EA has put all of it's time and money into Madden 08 and has ignored NBA 08. On the other hand 2k8 has just done a great job in making NBA 2k8 the best basketball game better and hopefully they can get back in the football market soon.

Jay in Cleveland
Posted: 2:45 PM, October 21, 2007   by Anonymous
2k series owns all. 'nuff said!
Posted: 11:41 AM, October 22, 2007   by Anonymous
I'm a LIVE loyalist, so I'd still take that over the others for its depth and realism. I can say that I'm disappointed in the Ai as mentioned; it's always seemed a bit sub-par.

I've had 2K Sports games before (Dreamcast) and liked them, so I'll have to check it out and see if it's really that much better.
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