Reviewed: February 28, 2008
Released: October 2, 2007
Last year was a bad, bad year for the NBA Live series. EA’s flagship NBA offering had already been faltering for some time, but 2007 certainly marked the lowest point for the series. NBA Live 07 shipped so riddled with major bugs and glitches, that it drove a large conglomerate of fans to create an internet campaign de force against the gaming powerhouse.
Utilizing high-profile media sites like YouTube and Myspace, fans broadcasted gameplay videos illustrating the game’s many oddities. Flamewars quickly consumed the gaming forums across the board, eventually culminating in an open letter of petition to EA demanding a complete overhaul of the NBA Live franchise.
The dissension was heard by EA, and the result is the greatly improved NBA Live 08. While still not quite out of the shadow of its 2K competition, NBA Live makes great strides to fix the wrongs from last season, and make the game more accessible to the general audience.
As mentioned, NBA Live 08 makes significant gameplay strides over the 2007 release, fixing many of the glitches and guffaws that plagued nearly every aspect of the game. We could go on and on about 07’s magically warping balls, hovering passes, and inconsistent shooting glitches – that somehow funneled half-court lobs through the net while blocking easy lay-ups and high-post jumpers – but it is much simpler to say that Live 07 was virtually unplayable. Thankfully, we don’t have to address 90% of these issues with NBA Live 08, and we can assure you that the game is infinitely more enjoyable.
For Live 08, EA is driving an initiative they are calling “Go-To Basketball” that is composed of four new gameplay elements that are meant to up the realism on the courts. Funny thing is, for gamers that have kept up with EA’s hoops games, they will notice that these “new” Go-To gameplay gimmicks are really just the incorporation of elements previously introduced in the NCAA March Madness series.
For starters – much like this year’s March Madness title, NBA Live 08 bumps up the low post play in a major way. Affectionately termed “Own the Paint”, NBA Live 08 allows big centers and power forwards like Rasheed Wallace and Shaq to do more than just block shots, grab rebounds and slam home dunks, and has them realistically backing down defenders, pulling off fake move, and rounding out for short jumpers and signature shots.
But it gets better. Upon impact with most objects you can grab on using the D-pad. In the case of exploding crates (or mimes) you can then carry these objects in mid-flight and release them toward other targets. In the case of large scenery objects (like a bowling ball or giant manhole cover) you can grab on and have them carry you using their momentum to launch you in an entirely new direction.
That’s not to say that they big guys don’t still get a bit wonky at times with air-balled ringers, missed dunks and some truly over-the-top alley-oops – but the fact that Own the Paint drives the game deeper into the key really adds to the intensity.
SThe second “Go-To” element is a hybrid of NCAA’s Trick Stick and NBA Live’s former “Freestyle Dribbling” – this time called “Quick Strike Ball Handling”. Yes, this is very similar to the analog stick antics that EA has been working on for the past three or four years – however, further inspection shows that the Quick Strike system allows for animation chaining for crossovers and dribbling moves rather than calling up predetermined animations. While the Quick Strike Ball handling definitely looks cool in action, the combos are a bit harder to consistently nail than in its previous iterations and as so can be a bit of a distraction.
The third “Go-To” element is the “Go-To Moves” that star players can pull off during gameplay. While this too existed in previous versions of the game – as called “Signature Shots” – Go-To Moves goes beyond simple jump shots, covering things like signature fades offensive dribble moves. Much like the Quick Strike Ball Handling, Go-To Moves represents only a slight improvement over the Signature Shots, and most gamers (like myself) will hardly notice the difference.
The final “Go-To” element is the Hot Spots system, which allows gamers to call up a color-coded grid for each ball handler showing optimum and less-than-favorable shooting positions around the court. While Hot Spots by no means ensures a sure-bucket, it does help gamers develop play strategies once a team’s layout has been fully released.
On the defensive end of the game, NBA Live 08 features a modified version NCAA march Madness’ Lockdown Stick, called Lock-On Defense – allowing the gamer to lock a defender onto an opponent’s ball handler, and then box out the ball handler with gentle taps of the right analog stick. Granted, the Lockdown mechanic has been dumbed-down significantly from NCAA’s kickass cat-and-mouse gameplay (you can literally hold down the L2 trigger and the CPU goes into full autopilot) – but it still beats out the jittery jump-and-reach defense we have become accustomed to in past NBA Live titles. The stick is a bit touchy at times – often calling up unwanted defensive charge stances with too much stick movement – but it never really ruins the gameplay.
NBA Live features the standard Quickplay and Dynasty modes that have traditionally come with the game, and adds a few new modes to make things fresh.
The first of these new modes is the FIBA World Championships, which is basically the Olympics medal tournaments featuring the USA and other international teams. While EA is quite proud of having penned the FIBA license this year, the relative lack of challenge and/or interest in the league (except for maybe the few weeks surrounding the this year’s Olympics) I am not so sure the FIBA World Championship play is going to draw much attention from rabid NBA fans.
The second mode addition is Quick Pick Play, which is a lot like throwing a pickup game where gamers get to select from the entire NBA roster. With a few quick clicks players can make their own all-star teams and pit them up against the CPU or a friend’s pickup team. For the obvious reasons, Quick Pick Play is definitely going to attract a lot more attention than the FIBA Championships – and its only downfall is the fact that the play is for one game only.
Finally, NBA Live 08 adds in a new Scenario mode, in which gamers set up specific game parameters (X, period, X minutes left, down by X points, etc.) and then play out the remainder of the game. While the Scenario mode can definitely have its moments, it by no means matches the excitement of the highly detailed predetermined scenarios from Sony’s own first-party NBA franchise, especially NBA ’08.
NBA Live 08 looks sweet on the PS3. With full support for 720p widescreen, the game keeps a fairly steady framerate throughout most of the gameplay; stuttering here or there depending on the camera view being employed.
Most of framerate trouble seemed to be with the baseline view (2K fans will know this as the “2K” view) and only immediately following scoring events. It seems that somewhere between rotating the camera 180º, animating the players running down-court, playing the crowd cheers and commentary, and overlaying the onscreen stats, the PS3 cannot keep up and framerate drops to a veritable crawl. As it only affects the few seconds after the throw-in, it is not a catastrophic issue – but it is a bit distracting.
NBA Live 08 features incredible visual detail – not only are the player animations some of the best seen in the series so far, but everything from the courts to the crowds look absolutely fantastic and feature a number of unique touches that make them seem alive. For instance, whereas previous versions of the series featured paper-doll like chains of crowd members that moved in absolute unison, NBA Live delivers a more realistic appearance of individually animated fans.
Other nice touches come in the form of the court reflections that mirror the above court scoreboards, and cool little in-game animations showing players wiping off the soles of their shoes. It is these small details that really add to the realistic presentation and give the game a feeling of authenticity.
NBA Live takes out all the stops in the sound department with excellent play by play by industry icon Marv Albert and color commentary by Steve Kerr, as well as special All Star Game coverage by Ernie Johnson Jr. and Greg Anthony. The announcers keep pace with the proceedings, and the dialog is varied enough to minimize repetition.
The atmospheric sounds are well done; with all the requisite squeaks, squawks, and crowd noise of an authentic NBA game. There are a few moments when the crowd swells do not completely mirror the onscreen action, but never so much to ruin the atmosphere.
The EA Trax soundtrack is stuffed full of hip-hop and R&B acts like Timbaland, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Kevin Michael and Wyclef Jean, and KRS-One – but also features tracks from by electronic hipsters Datarock and LCD Soundsystem, as well as a few all-out rock songs. While not the best of the EA Trax offerings (see: FIFA 08), the songs do match well with the subject matter.
Between the Play Now, Dynasty, FIBA Championships, Quick Pick, and Scenario modes, NBA Live offers a lot of basketball bang for the buck(et). Add to that a servicable online mode via the EA Sports servers – featuring all-new online leagues and tournaments refined from last year’s confusing online mess – and you have one of the best NBA Live games since its glory days back in 2007.
NBA Live 08 has come a long way from the catastrophe of 2007. NBA Live 08 looks and plays great, and does a fantastic job restoring faith in the series that once rule the virtual courts.