Now that the New Zealand Breakers are out of the NBL playoffs and the Houston Rocketâ€™s Chinese centre Yao Ming is done for the season, it's time for basketballâ€™s next big name, and even bigger body, to take up the challenge and lead their team to the title. In NBA 08 it could be you.
In Sonyâ€™s latest licensed sports simulator you have the choice to either take one of the NBAâ€™s leading franchises through a season, or experience the life of a rookie baller looking to grab a starting spot on his team, and to make his own name on the court.
Of course the first thing any serious gamer from New Zealand will do is to dig through the Phoenix Sunâ€™s roster to find Sean Marks. Thereâ€™s the big fella in all his two points per game glory. Switch him to the starting roster, choose to play the league, an exhibition, or some mini-skill challenges (you know the drill) and itâ€™s time for the tip-off.
Gameplay in NBA 08 is pretty simple. Walk the ball down court and a single tap of the controller will initiate a pass or no-look pass, a jumper or a dunk. Pass the ball around until the defending team loosens up their marking, and hit the Kiwi centre under the basket for a showtime jam. If itâ€™s a good dunk a tab will come up telling you it was good, but if itâ€™s great then slow motion takes over and, for the very special dunks, the camera angle may even switch to an overhead view.
A second gameplay mode in NBA 08 is dubbed The Life. Here you take the part of a rookie on the team of your choice. Your task is to master a series of goals on the way to making the team. The Life is an interesting idea that may not be entirely successful. Story elements in any kind of game need something to grab you, but unfortunately NBA 08 hasnâ€™t really got the room to develop interesting characters or intriguing situations. All The Life leaves us with is cut scenes of a coach yelling at his players to move, or to defend or to look for the open man.
However, on the other side of the cut scenes there is plenty of fun and purpose to the various skill challenges. For a start itâ€™s a great way to build up some stats and abilities leading into those big games. Here you can master the subtleties of shooting. Hold down the â€˜circleâ€™ button and a circular meter will swing round, release the button in the green and youâ€™ll hit nothing but net. Down low, post up a defender with â€˜L1â€™, and throw a shoulder fakie with the right stick, then dunk on him with the â€˜squareâ€™ button.
There is also a good variety of challenges in The Life. Some of the tasks will be familiar to those who caught the recent All Star weekend. Shooting, ball handling and passing are all covered before you get into the one-on-one contests and team scrimmages. Often players are nominated to go to. Scoring is good, winning is also good but dunking with a nominated player, or hitting threes with another, will unlock classic and retro jerseys.
All in all NBA 08 is a pretty solid title. However, it is hard to judge PS2 games in isolation now with next-gen games taking over. It really is starting to feel like a bit of a transition in the industry. PS2 games are starting to feel like they are getting left behind and making comparisons with PS3 games is becoming unavoidable and inevitable. This is especially true when the games are released across all platforms. Last year it may have just been the graphics that were lagging. Now, it seems like there are issues with features (certainly on-line features are relatively limited), and most disappointingly with polish.
In NBA 08, on the PS2, the controller response sometimes feels a bit unresponsive and the animation gets a bit jumpy, especially when switching from ball carrying to dunking. Also, the story mode doesnâ€™t really work other than as a new take on training mode. If it looked absolutely great, perhaps you could overlook it, but unfortunately the graphics are only average. But, then again, all the teams are there, and all the players are pretty well represented. And even if the AI is easy to figure out and get around, dunking over LeBron James (well, dunking on anyone really) has to be good.
Iâ€™ve always got into the big four American sports, and their digital representations. While hockey fights are still a favourite, the football games have got really complicated and baseball seems to have disappeared from these shores altogether. But hoops still has what it takes to make a great game. Timing and technique, stars and spectacular plays and, the best thing about any sport sim, pounding on your friends and reminding them of their beating all the rest of the week.