Over the last few years, 2K Sports has been in complete control in the race for basketball gaming supremacy. The last few entries in the 2K series have been excellent, and couple that with the fact that EA and Sony's option have been less than stellar, and the choice of which game to buy has been an easy one. For fans of the 2K series, you can rest easy-NBA 2K8 is definitely still the best choice for a virtual baller this year. The question is, does it improve on last year's entry, or stay stagnant?
The gameplay is really what has set the series apart from the Live series, and 2K has played it very safe this year, keeping the same basic gameplay from last year, and even taking away a few flashy parts. No longer will you have risky lead passes or ankle-breaking Iso-Motion. Instead, moves will be based on your actual movement, which I suppose is more realistic, but can be frustrating until you really learn how to manipulate the movement. The overall tempo of the game is a bit slower, which makes for a more realistic basketball simulation, but can drag the game out a bit when you're looking to push the ball and run and gun.
Passing is generally the same, as you are able to pass by hitting the pass button and directing the stick, or bringing up the passing icons with the right bumper. This year, you can push a button to get a player open using off-ball control. It's a nice little touch, and can be effective if used correctly. Passing is same old, same old. As far as the shooting, the shot stick is back and as fun as ever. You can manipulate shots around the basket by mastering it, but for the old school players, you can of course still use the shot button to shoot. You can call your team's plays on the fly, and during dead balls you can adjust things like tempo, rebounding tendencies, or even see who's got the hot hand. Defensively, this game is challenging. The AI's defense is tough, real tough-especially on the harder settings. You'll have to score by moving the ball with the pass, as the on-ball defense is tenacious. When you're playing defense, you'll now have the option to hold the left trigger and hound the ball-handler automatically. It's a nice touch, but if you're on a quick dribbler, you'll get beat a lot if you over-use it. Your computer teammates generally do a good job of helping, and it is relatively believable.
The presentation of the 2K series has always been a high point of the games. This year is no exception. The crowds look alive, and the sidelines are great, complete with coaches, benches, and even cheerleaders and dancers that perform on the court during timeouts. There are a ton of camera angles, so you're bound to find one that you like.
Graphically, you'll be amazed at how it looks. The players look fantastic, move smoothly, and react well to each other and to the ball. The replays are the best I've ever seen, giving great perspective to big plays. The details are all there, and you'll feel immersed in the NBA experience. The new signature shots by star players look amazing, and you'll certainly be able to pick them out if you've watched the NBA at all.
Along with the presentation, the sound will impress you as you play. The soundtrack is upbeat and lively, the in-game sounds are believable, and the commentary, including the booth and sideline commentary, is fresh and solid.
The depth of modes and features is what really makes NBA 2K8 a total package. The Association mode is back, and this is where you'll be spending most of your time. You'll assign team roles to players, manage your roster, and try to improve team chemistry. It's pretty much the same as last year's mode, but that's not a bad thing after all. You can also simply play one season if you don't want the multi-year aspect of the Association. There is a new mode called "Blacktop," in which you can basically play street ball games like 1 on 1, 21, and such. There is also a dunk contest and 3-point contest this year, and these add some nice freshness to the experience of the game. Online, you can play exhibitions, tournaments, and even seasons with friends. The online is good, but it's one area where Live 08 takes the cake, with some deeper options for seasons and settings.
NBA 2K8 is a great basketball simulation, and it does a lot of things right. This game sticks with the familiar formula that has made it great the last few years, and that's the best and not so best part of it. I would have liked to see some more innovation, as the game, apart from some minor things, plays very similar to last year's entry. But hey, if it ain't broke, why fix it, right? If you're a fan of basketball games, I definitely recommend picking this one up, as it is the best basketball offering this year.