After the sub-standard efforts in EA's previous NBA titles, plenty of people will be glad to hear that NBA Live 08 is a completely different ballgame. In fact so much has changed that some fans of the series might wonder if the original team of developers had anything to do with this latest title.
Immediately the visual differences are obvious. Camera angles have been improved, the dynamics of the gameplay have sped up and there are vast improvements in the graphics department. But after picking up the controller, many will agree that this game still isn't perfect.
After trying various settings I found that the best viewpoint was the new broadcast camera angle that places you on the side of the court at around the height of the hoops. It allows you see the perspective of the court and should hopefully prevent you from trying to slam-dunk the ball from behind the backboard. When you're playing in front of your girlfriend, making your player jump up and smash his wrists and face on the hoop really doesn't look cool. Some people will prefer the end of court camera angles to see their shots better, but as soon as possession changes you’ll find yourself suddenly disorientated as the camera swings around to the opposite end. This switch happens so quickly you’ll start running the wrong way. This also isn’t very cool for your unfortunate audience.
The controls seem to handle better than before. Fancy dribbling with the ball can be achieved by twisting your player with the analogue stick and the right trigger offers a boost of speed to blast past your opponents. Passing is surprisingly easy and once you are within range of the net you can press either X or B to shoot or slam-dunk respectively. The overall effect produces some incredible plays from one end of the court. But after a couple of matches some more glitches began to become apparent.
From first appearances the gameplay looks fast and furious. But in actuality some bugs stop it from being the rollercoaster ride you might expect. You can be sprinting down the court dribbling past your foes and ripping up the paint*. But then you try and pass the ball and you'll notice your player almost come to a complete stop before doing so. Sometimes even the passes drop to a granny-pass as your player simply lobs the ball to the guy next to him. Although your passes are accurate, the fluidity of the game suffers quite considerably. Strangely enough this seems to happen at random and passes can switch from snap-shots to long drawn out retard chucks.
Secondly, these professional basketballers from the NBA seem to miss an awful lot of simple shots. In fact, unless you are completely clear and launch into a slam dunk you never quite know whether you'll score or not, no matter the angle or proximity. EA Sports have tried to counter this by adding a new feature called Hot Spots. By holding down the left shoulder button the area around the 3 point line is highlighted and colour coded into sections. Depending on which player you are controlling, these different areas will indicate where the player is most efficient from. If you position yourself into a favourable zone that suits your specialty you have a greater chance of making the basket and vice-versa. Now, I know that all players have their strengths and weaknesses. But are you telling me that a seasoned NBA player can't make a simple 2 pointer shot at least once out of three goes? I can't help but think that EA Games have taken this Hot Spot idea too far by forcing you to use it in order to score.
The game is frustrating without the ball as well. Jump blocking shots is futile with the Y button and trying to grab the ball off players more often than not results in an instant penalty. Stick with it though as it is a matter of practice and timing. After a while of swearing and throwing Cola cans across the room you will find yourself able to steal or intercept plays from your opponent. There is no question that practice is key for this title, but luckily there is a good array of difficulties to explore. Plus EA Games has provided plenty of online multiplayer modes as well.
The atmosphere in NBA Live 08 is impressive. It's also a great way to annoy the crap out of your flatmates as every foot on the court produces an authentic squeak of rubber on wood. Trust me, it seems to be ten times louder for anyone not playing the game within ear shot. All of the sound effects and music fit the game perfectly though. The soundtrack is your typical hippity-hop and dance mix that people seem to instantly associate with basketball. It includes respected artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mark Ronson, Kid Beyond and even adds a bit of R&B with Joss Stone thrown in for good measure. The voice commentating is some of the best yet and when mixed with the highly detailed player models and animations, the game looks and feels like the real thing on your TV. Shame it just doesn’t quite hit the mark with the playability.
* Yes, I made this phrase up… and no, I’m not entirely sure it means