There is no doubt that EA Sports puts the emphasis on their Madden NFL franchise, which is the true bread winner of the bunch. In fact you very rarely see other advertisements for EA Sports titles if they don’t relate to football, whether college or professional. Obviously this has a lot to do with America’s pure love for the game of football, and because football sells. The sport that probably falls next after football in terms of sales for EA Sports would be their NBA Live franchise, which coincidentally has just released their latest title NBA Live 08 for the Xbox 360 - and guess what, we have our full review.
Much like in our hockey reviews earlier in September, EA Sports has been in a tight rivalry of sorts with 2K Sports for the top basketball title in the market. Of course the battle has had its ups and downs for both 2K’s and EA’s basketball franchise, and with the new consoles the war is even more heated. I personally believe thus far neither side has created that "next generation" basketball game, but can EA change that with NBA Live 08?
One of the biggest problems many fans of NBA Live have had in the past is the game’s unremarkable ability to combine simulation and arcade style in one game. Each year it feels as though the franchise leans one way or the other and never seems to be able to decide which is its permanent direction for the game. The last few years have tended to be a bit more arcade like, very offensive heavy, where in 08 we are back to much more of a simulation hybrid. The game still has some high flying offense, but at the same time doesn’t make it over the top by incorporating some new defensive mechanics into the mix.
One of the new defensive mechanics I am talking about can be used by hitting the shoulder button. The action is pretty simple; your player will do everything he can to guard his assignment. However this new addition does add some glaring effects; first off if the ball is moved you’re automatically taken to the person with the ball, and secondly trying to maneuver around screens while using the button is impossible and your player will do very little to avoid the screen. In general it is a simple mechanic that works, but not nearly to perfection.
The game itself is still jam packed with modes. You have the typical exhibition modes and dynasty modes along with the All-Star weekend, which includes the three point shoot out and the slam dunk contest. Starting with the dynasty mode, which is very deep in NBA Live 08, there are even more micromanaging tasks to be had which focus a lot on coaching your squad and scouting for the future. The game also includes an interesting simulation feature so if you want to go through a season you can stop in the middle of a game and jump in. Nothing new here, but still a nice feature if you want to do some later forth quarter comebacks.
In terms of modes worth discussing, online mode has had its fair share of upgrades this year, including leagues for up to 32 players, something that definitely helps the experience, especially for those who just can’t get enough basketball. The online play in general is pretty solid, it has very little hiccups or lag issues, and if you do get into a good league (I’m still looking for one) I would imagine the experience could be tremendous.
It’s not all smooth sailing for NBA Live 08, as there are some glaring issues with the game though. For example, the three point shootout on Superstar difficulty is a joke; the difficulty makes you miss shots, literally for no reason. Secondly some of the achievements the game has are not only ridiculous they can be down right frustrating. In general though, NBA Live 08 is a really solid NBA title, it has improved in almost every area of the game over last year’s game and if it continues to strive toward more of a simulation game rather than arcade, I think it can only continue to improve.
Some are probably scratching their heads, how can you give NBA Live 08 a seven in graphics? Well the game looks downright gorgeous when standing still - the arena’s are jam packed with detail, the players are full of detail and life like characteristics. But when the game gets moving it’s not the same experience. Much of the animation feels a bit sloppy and sometimes things just don’t flow all that well together. Also things like rebounding and even close to the basket shots can leave for less than desirable outcomes. The game has a beautiful feel to it, but it’s not something that will just overwhelm you once the game is in motion.
As much as I was disappointed with the animation in the game, I have to say the game itself was a blast to play. I want to make one thing clear - I don’t necessarily mind that EA wants to make this game a bit mix of both simulation and arcade, but I just wish they would pick to go one way or the other. NBA Live 08 has a great deal of depth, especially in the Dynasty and Online areas of the game, we can just hope the mechanics will smooth themselves out in the near future.
NBA Live 08 is just a much better all around game of basketball than last year’s experience, and yet it’s still not perfect. There are some AI issues, especially in the area of rebounding, the game also still has some weird tendencies that make for a bit of a head scratching. But what it all comes down to is NBA Live 08’s ability to make for an extremely enjoyable game of basketball. Whether online or offline, you’re going to really have a lot of fun playing NBA Live 08.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.