We’re playing bas-ket-baaaaall!
One of the rivalries that I look forward to each year is the one between NBA Live and NBA 2K. While I was formerly a rabid fan of the former series in its heyday, I’ve loved the 2K series since their debut on the Dreamcast. Each year it seems like a back and forth battle between the two basketball series, with some years going to NBA Live’s dunkfest and other years tipping in favor of 2K’s more simulation styled gameplay. This year, NBA 2K made a lot of changes in the name of progress and while some of them worked, a few of them seemed to push the series in the wrong direction, although NBA 2K8 still comes out on top of its rivalry.
As always, the first thing you notice when the game starts are the visuals. Overall, the graphics in NBA 2K8 have improved, as the players’ moves seem more fluid, especially the passing game. 2K has also gotten rid of their trademark sweaty characters for skin textures that look a little less realistic, but approximate most of the players well. There are exceptions, with some characters that look far less accurate than their counterparts from 2K7, such as legends Larry Bird and Julius Erving. Also, the character portraits for the players without photos all look a little weird. However, the tradeoff in sweat and physiognomic accuracy seems worth it when you notice how much more fluid the gameplay and animations are, especially on drives and fast breaks and with the incredible passes that some of the players are able to pull off. However, the weird cloth glitch from 2K7 does return, occasionally making the shorts and legs of some of the players completely see-through.
One new addition to the gameplay is an ability to lock on defensively. It is an unstated understanding in most basketball games that a human controlled defense is usually at a disadvantage. Steal attempts are tempered by foul calls, and it is much easier for a person playing offense to blow past a human controlled defensive player. NBA 2K8 addresses this issue with a new feature that allows you to lock on to the player with the ball. When locked on correctly, your defensive player follows the ballhandler, moving like a normal defender would. Of course it is still possible to blow by defenders depending on each players’ individual ability, as better defensive players have the advantage with lock on and quick dribblers are harder to defend than big slow centers with enough finesse.
Another new addition is the set of bars by the players’ feet that look like cell phone reception bars. These bars fill up and show where each player is most comfortable taking shots. If your player has four bars from the three point line, he’s more likely to sink the tre. Conversely, if he doesn’t have any, it isn’t a good idea to shoot with him. The bars also change colors to show hot streaks or cold streaks. The bars are a decent addition, but there are instances where the bar is filled before the player crosses the half-court line, which appears to be a glitch. While the bars do help with getting familiar with individual players, most gamers will probably ignore them for the most part, as a full bar does not guarantee a shot.
The game has also apparently widened the area that the player can start the dunk or lay-up animation from, making it easier to drive to the basketball without shaking your defender. Your preferences will decide whether this is a good or bad thing, but it is nearly negated by the high occurrences of missed lay-ups and dunks and blocked shots in the game. You do have the option to adjust this with the in-game sliders, but the default settings have most of the athletes, including the superstars, missing a ridiculous amount of lay-up, dunks, and in the post shots.
2K Sports has done a great job with the game presentation this time around. The way the game is presented feels a lot smoother and more professional. For better or worse, they’ve taken the emphasis off of the halftime show, completely throwing out Kenny’s Halftime report where clips were shown of a few players and the announcer making comments on their performance. Instead, a clip of the player of the game is available at the game’s end. Another nice addition is the ability to view the post-game summary, player of the game, and hot spots after or even if you skip the post-game commentary. There is even an option to watch individual plays after the close of the game as well as watching a clip of each player’s highlights.