That Old College Try…
College basketball is quite a different animal than its older, more dynamic NBA sibling. There are a lot of subtle differences in the rules and the setup, but the atmosphere is completely different. A lot of sports developers are inclined to simply take their NBA engine and slap a coat of NCAA paint over it and call it college basketball, but fans of the sport can instantly sense the difference. Fortunately, 2K Sports has put together an impressive package with College Hoops 2K8, a game which captures the feel of college basketball, making it one of the best bets for college hoops aficionados.
There are a number of new features to this year’s iteration of College Hoops. The first and most celebrated addition is the inclusion of a sixth man meter, which measures the crowd’s enthusiasm. By performing well in the game, you can boost the meter, causing the fans in the stands to go wild. This has an effect on your team, boosting their confidence and allowing them to play better than their norm, and it also adversely affects the opponent, distracting them and causing them to play less effectively. However, if the opposing team forces turnovers or scores consistently, they can negate the effects of your boost. While this inclusion does help you get excited with the crowd, as it is a morale booster to see the crowd hyped up after an explosive dunk, it is a little limited in that the crowd never seems negative at all towards the home team. While most crowds are biased for their team, it would have been more realistic for them to occasionally boo a bad play, since the focus is now on the crowd reaction. Also, some of the things that boost or deplete the meter seem a little arbitrary, while they sometimes scream during free throws and calm down during some made shots.
Another addition is the inclusion of the Lock-On Defense, which debuted in the NBA 2K8 games earlier this year. This feature takes into account the advantage that offensive players have in video games and attempts to compensate by giving the defensive player the chance to lock onto the ballhandler. Instead of trying to match the footwork of an offensive player, you can lock onto the player with the ball, allowing your defender to keep pace with him momentarily. While locked on, you can attempt to steak, block shots, or simply hold the defender. This addition is a smart inclusion, making defense a little more enjoyable and palatable.
The Range Meter is another feature from 2K8 that made its way into College Hoops. It is a meter by the player’s name (or number, depending on your settings) that looks like a cell phone signal bar. It fills and depletes depending on the player’s location, indicating how well that player shoots from that spot. It is a decent addition, but it can be misleading. Some gamers may be encouraged to shoot when they see a full bar, but the meter never guarantees a bucket. It should instead be used as a guide or a suggestion, although I have found that I generally tend to ignore it altogether, as I’m sure most other b-ball veterans will probably do.
Maximum Passing is another new feature that gives the player better control of ball rotation. This feature allows you to choose a specific type of pass to perform, including bounce, lead, lobs, and chest passes. Performing the pass is as simple as pressing a shoulder button and a face button. This inclusion works well too, giving the player more control over the flow of the game. While most basketball games choose the pass for you, Maximum Passing takes a step to immerse the player in the basketball experience further, since the type of pass used is more important than most games let on.
There are some issues with things like an obscene amount of missed lay-ups, rare dunks, and an inordinate number of steals, but the 2K games always come with game sliders that allow you to adjust the frequency (or infrequency) of said occurrences. On the default settings, I found that my center, no matter what team, could and regularly would miss wide open lay-ups, sometimes shattering my fast break intentions. However, a quick trip to the game sliders menu did rectify this, so it isn’t a major complaint.
Coaching Adjustments is a new feature that adds that college atmosphere to the game. During halftime, a menu in the form of a notepad, complete with scribbled menu options appears, allowing you to adjust your defensive matchups and pressure and make adjustments to the game plan. The cool addition, however, is the notes that have been written about the current game, which will suggest taking players out, crashing the boards, double teaming opponents…anything that the virtual coach deems fit. Most of the suggestions seem like sound advice too, which gives players with low coaching acumen some good advice during the halftime break.
Other new features round out what makes College Hoops 2K8 such a great game. The Play Designer lets the strategically minded craft and implement plays of their own. Create A Chant lets you design your own college chant for use in the game. Tutorial, something all sports games need but most lack, teaches you how play the game effectively, including use of the Isomotion moves and Post moves. It does, however, ridiculously include sections teaching how to shoot and rebound, which are hopefully superfluous for anyone playing the game. The All-American Challenge lets you run assorted drills, either alone, against another person, or against a computer opponent. There isn’t much of a benefit to this mode outside of its use in Legacy mode, however, where it boosts your player’s stats.
Speaking of the Legacy Mode, this is where a lot of gamers may spend most of their time. The Legacy Mode places you in the shoes of a coach aspiring for greatness. You start out at a small school with the ultimate goal being offered a position at a large, prestigious school with a fantastic team that you organize and coach. You’ll be able to recruit new players from the new Amateur Basketball League feature, which lets you track and choose from 1500 high school players. This mode can be rewarding, especially for those with an inner coach that second guesses every move of professional coaches, but it can be daunting, especially since it is largely menu driven and lacks adequate training to ease any new players into their role.
Visuals are great in the game, with character models that animate well. They aren’t as realistic looking or as dynamic as their NBA counterparts, but they still convey that college freshness and vitality. The sounds are well done too, with great commentary, realistic crowd cheers, and a great soundtrack.
Of course, players can hop online and challenge others in single matches, leagues, and tournaments. College Hoops has also included 2K Share, which, like recent games such as Halo 3, allows you to upload your files, including things such as created chants, plays, and legacy files for others to download.
College Hoops 2K8 is a great college basketball game, both for dedicated fans of the game and for casual b-ball lovers. The new additions to the game, even the flawed ones, are a step in the right direction, bringing the game closer and closer to the definitive college basketball experience. Fans of the NCAA could definitely do worse than to give College Hoops 2K8 that old college try.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Great visuals and character models. 4.2 Control
Controls are well implemented, especially once Isomotion is mastered. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great soundtrack, crowd reaction, and commentary. 4.0 Play Value
A great college basketball game, both for dedicated fans of the game and for casual b-ball lovers. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.