Live ’08 Looking to Rebound After a Big Time Brick
In the aftermath of last year’s disastrous NBA Live 07, a game that was so bad the PS3 version was cancelled, it seemed high time for EA to reinvent the series that once defined console hoops. So the question remains, can Agent Zero save the day? The short answer no, but what 08 is able to do far exceeds last year’s installment, and shows glimpses of all-star caliber talent for the future.
For this particular review, we are going to try something different. Year after year sports games come out, and for the most part only little things change. Although this is more of a total reboot for a struggling franchise, it is still just a number in a long line of titles. Therefore, I am going to break this down into three categories: the good (areas where the developers really nailed it), the so-so (areas where improvement would make it just that much better), and the bad (areas where the game is severely lacking). Thus without further ado…
Despite the fact that I already stated above that this would not be the version of Live to bring EA back to the basketball top, there are a lot of aspects to the title which worked nicely. The presentation as a whole was fabulous and the announcers are spot on; you really cannot do much better than Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. The intros before the games, the flash of All-Star weekend, replays, the sounds of the crowd, it all feels right. All-Star weekend, gameplay aside, in particular gives off the perfect basketball game vibe. As an added bonus, Ernie Johnson and Greg Anthony take over the mic for the festivities. It is true that a game probably can never truly mimic actually being there, but Live 08 does a great job of trying.
Once you step onto the court the positives continue, but this will also lead into the other categories. As I mentioned, the announcers are great, and graphically this is a very impressive title. The mesh jerseys, player models, faces, and the lights gleaming off the court. Gameplay wise, playing in the post is fluid, and even Chris Kaman is able to execute effortlessly at the appropriate times. Players can also guide their player defensively by moving the right thumbstick in different directions. The addition of the F.I.B.A World Championships is nice to see, although I don’t think anybody will ever play with anybody except the Americans, but you never know.
Here is where the water starts to get a little deeper as the gameplay is more on the level of Rod Strickland rather than Gilbert Arena. We’ll jump off with the A.I., which is not quite as bright as you would hope from a next generation game. They really don’t move without the ball all that often, and there are numerous times just staring at a loose ball firmly entrenched in one place is were you will find them. Passing is also troublesome; they either lob the ball too slow or hurl it directly at the other team. Fast breaks can be quite a headache when you find it either impossible to deliver a good headman pass or for some inexplicable reason the guy throws it back to you. In addition to the passing conundrum, driving seems a little jerky and the Quickstrike Ballhandling brings nothing new to the table. The controls feel stiff a tad too often, and free throw shooting looks robotic. Just remember this is not the negatives; these are just things that with a little more improvement, title contention may not be too far in the future.
Negatives. Despite the better efforts of the presentation, All-Star weekend stinks. The slam-dunk contest is just horrible, not even worth playing. It is more frustrating than anything else, yet the three-point contest slightly makes up for it by being mildly entertaining. A main flaw comes in the ESPN integration, which is still almost nonexistent. When are they going to make the most of that partnership? This may seem like a strange negative, but the Dynasty mode could really be a lot better. After games like Madden and NCAA 08, you just expect more out of EA Sports titles. It is just not nearly as deep as I had hoped. Lastly, and maybe you could lump this in with the problem playing off the dribble, the court just seemed small. It was too hard to get inside. It felt like everyone was right by each other.
Focusing on next year, NBA Live 08 has set up a solid foundation for the developers to progress on. Rabid EA Sports fans will find a lot to like, but may better be served by letting this title dwell in the developmental leagues. It is not quite ready for the big time, but at least it is not the Sam Bowie of video games like Live 07.