NBA Live 08
My last basketball experience being Mario Hoops, I had something of a re-adjustment to make whilst playing NBA Live 08. EA's game is certainly a long way from the NBA Jam style action of Nintendo's diminutive handheld basketball game. As has been found with other EA franchises on the PS3, last year's release was essentially one to get them rolling on the new hardware. Sure, it provided some impressive visuals and a significant step up from the PS2 game, but in terms of gameplay nothing significantly changed.
A year later and we find EA are more willing to push the boat out in other areas of their development. Off the back of last year's consolidation we now find a degree of innovation applied to this year's game. This is most obvious in the gameplay which has obviously received a complete make over. The lower camera angle is probably the first sign that things have significantly changed. It gives the action more of a tele-visual feel and brings you closer to the players.
The controls still pick up where we left off last year, but the feel is totally different. Gone are the slack and unresponsive players, this year's models now respond with delight to each and every button push. Before very long, I found myself pulling off a variety of basketball moves, although not always able to name what just happened I am reliably informed it largely consisted of passes, crossovers, hop-steps, dunks and shots. Whatever you call it, the game certainly recreates that fluid action that makes basketball such a fine spectator sport.
08 is an interesting year, as the weapon icons system arrives in Madden, similar superstar icons are gone in NBA Live. You now have to rely on the graphical fidelity to pick out your star players. Each of the big names have their signature moves which if executed correctly inevitably lead to a basket. Players are also distinguished by their preferred shooting zone, identified by hold L1, and whilst this is a little gimmicky it certainly makes you think a little more about how you progress a play.
The majority of last year's game modes make a return in 08, as EA continues its policy of evolution for its major franchises. This year we find a new FIBA tournament, and dunk competitions added to the roster. While nice to have some new additions really won't make a huge difference to many players and appear to be present to give you a reason to by the game rather than for their actual worth to the package as a whole.
As was said last year, the variety of games on offer range from some quick throw down multiplayer to more involved tournament competitions. There is certainly something here to suit most tastes. Those of us who have a little less time on our hands can pick up the game for a quick 30 minute session. But should you find yourself with a whole evening to play, order a pizza and beers, get some friends over and you'll find more than enough entertainment for a long night in.
NBA Live 08 again shows EA responding to the pressure from the competition. Their online offering has been boosted somewhat to bring it closer to that offered by their closest rival, 2K. We had a pretty good experience going online with the PS3, and although we didn't have the 360 version to hand for a direct comparison, it seemed to all intents and purposes as good as we would expect from Microsoft's machine, which is actually pretty impressive for the PS3.
Talking of the 360 obviously brings us to comparisons between the two next generation versions. There really seems to be very little to choose between the two. We have heard it said that the 360 is slightly jaggier but runs a little smoother. To our relatively untrained eye, we found the PS3 offering up a visual experience that more than satisfied. There was the occasional stutter when the action really heated up, or during an over zealous camera pan between points, but this in no way effected our enjoyment of the game. In fact, coming fresh to NBA Live 08 we were impressed at the depth and detail in the game's visuals. It delivers not just in terms of high definition, but the content and finesse of presentation is top notch too.
The action is nicely rounded off with some pretty impressive commentary. Maybe it is due to the tighter play style of basketball, but to our ears this was much better than audio commentary found in EA's other sports brands. The banter is both well paced and varied. We pretty much left it on for the duration of our playtime, something unheard of in the Play.tm offices.
On the downside, we did at times find the player modelling a little janky. This applies both in terms of their movements and their artificial intelligence. At times our offensive moves really lost their momentum because of our player's occasional inability to pass on the move. We seemed to hit the player animation at the wrong point now and again and pay with losing possession. Apart from a few other frustrating moments when players either insist on trying lay-ups from behind the backboard, or seem to miss the easiest of free shots, the game delivered a believable and engaging experience.
On paper, this game doesn't have all that much more to offer over last year's rendition. To play it is to experience a whole different level of gameplay, however. Time and money has been spent wisely this year. Investment has been made on the aspects that really matter: control and gameplay. The resulting game is one that will stay with you for some time after you have finished playing. If you are willing to accept what is on offer as a very competent work in progress then NBA Live 08 has a lot to offer. If you are looking for a more honed and polished product then maybe you should wait another year.