IGN Review of NBA Live 08
It isn't crystal clear whether it's the intricacy and subtle nuances of NBA basketball that makes it so difficult to emulate in a videogame, or if it's simply a lack of development skill on the majority of the teams that have produced these games (NBA 2K7 on consoles not withstanding), but regardless of the reason behind it there's really no doubting that basketball titles simply do not look like their real life counterpart when put in motion. Last year's NBA Live 07 was a sterling example of what's wrong with round ball on home consoles. Though the screens looked solid, as soon as the players started competing in real time things went awry. The artificial intelligence was an abomination, the animations were seriously lacking any kind of realism or fluidity for that matter, and the overall feel of the action was just plain bad.
Now NBA Live 08 on PSP has arrived, hoping to right the wrongs that last year's game forced on players. Gone are the Superstar moves and X-Factor abilities that bludgeoned last year's game into something different - and much worse - than a true basketball experience. Though this year's game does lack a few of the trimmings that its console counterparts bring to the table, that doesn't stop it from being a solid round ball experience.
On the gameplay side of things NBA Live 08 moves and looks very well for a PSP game. Animations are fairly fluid, and it beats out the next-gen alternative in terms of its shot mechanic by forcing players to time their release rather than simply holding down the shot button. However, because of the lack of a second analog stick, all of your fancy dribbles and jukes come from a tap to the square button. It is less intuitive than swiveling a right analog stick, but it works fairly well in its own right.
The bulk of the gameplay will feel very familiar for fans of the series. Dunks are still way too common, even on higher difficulty levels. Shaq dominates the paint like nobody's business, but so does every other star in the league. I once had Ray Allen score 23 of 27 points in the first half, and half of those were driving into the lane and slamming one home against The Daddy. While this could happen every once in a blue moon, seeing the frail outside shooter punish The Diesel down low was more than a little disheartening.
The biggest change to this year's gameplay dynamic is The Crown, a kind of tracking system that hands out accomplishments for completing certain tasks. These range from scoring ten threes as a team to stealing the ball - something that proves more difficult than it should be - a handful of times in a game. As you get more and more achievements your overall level in the game will increase; this is displayed graphically by rhinestones being affixed in your crown. The best aspect of The Crown is that it doesn't just track your accomplishments through standard gameplay, but instead it follows your progress through all of the game's modes. That means that everything from All-Star Weekend to Dynasty Mode has its own set of achievements to conquer and certainly gives players something to work towards.
As you continue to build up your crown you'll unlock unique challenges. Basically this puts you in a real world situation, like when Vince Carter dropped 37 points in December of 2006, railing off nine three-pointers along the away, and challenges you to at least match that outcome. A certain amount of time will be put on the clock, you'll have to score a certain amount with a player, and if you do, then you'll be rewarded with some retro jerseys and other little goodies.
EA Sports has also included a handy dandy stat tracker in this year's game, something that basketball junkies will likely appreciate. Essentially it tracks everything you do on the court, creates an average for your profile, and then tells you how those averages change after each game that you play. It might not be the most advanced feature in the world, but it's still cool to see how your game develops and changes over time.
As solid an overall experience as this year's NBA Live can be on the court, there are still plenty of nuances that hold it back. Passing, for instance, is far too inaccurate. There's no real rhyme or reason for why your players pass the direction that they do sometimes, but it can be totally maddening and can kill any hopes of a fast break that you may have.
Another failure for NBA Live 08 is the absence of a practice mode, which really hurts your chances at ever competing in the slam dunk contest unless you already have a complete understanding of the mechanics. Then there's the old school free throw system which still has you lining up two swaying lines to fit into a center box. I remember when that system felt realistic, but that was back in 1996 in NBA Shootout.
The aesthetics of the game are respectable with realistic looking player models as far as PSP visuals go. The crowd looks a little spooky sometimes, but at least the camera swing on change of possessions is back in this version, replacing the white screen that pops up on the PS2. Aurally the game is what you'd expect with a decent soundtrack and commentary that barely passes for mediocre.
Following in the tradition of offering games outside of standard basketball, NBA Live 08 has two mini-games that forces players to tilt their PSP on a 90-degree angle and hit the directional pad in a style that closely resembles that of the color-coded Simon. It might be seen as superfluous content by some, but since accomplishments are tied in to the mini-games, they should be played and enjoyed by most.
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