Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Let's be honest — it hasn't been too difficult for 2K to dominate basketball gaming lately, especially since they haven't had much competition from EA's NBA Live and Sony's NBA series. NBA 2K8 is definitely the best basketball game that you can purchase this year, but is it the best in the series?
In 2K's storied franchise, there is one thing that Visual Concepts has always done better than everyone else: presentation. It helps that the crowds and sidelines are equally animated along with the game, which allows you to immerse yourself in each game you play. The development team has also introduced a new broadcast camera view that captures the essence of watching an actual basketball game, but if you want another view, there are well over 10 different camera angles from which to choose. Honestly, I've never seen so many camera options in a sports video game until I scanned through all of my choices in NBA 2K8.
Replays are also standout parts of the presentation, as they have multiple angles and, in television fashion, cameras will follow players after a big play, or a big miss, in order to show their reactions; it doesn't get much more real than that, folks. It's the little presentational details, such as hot dog vendors walking up and down aisles and coaches giving you pats on the back after big plays, that prove the 2K team is on top of its game once again.
The sounds of NBA 2K8 also shine throughout each game you play. Commentary by retired NBA veteran-turned-analyst Kenny Smith and live-broadcast commentator Kevin Harlan is executed well, and the sideline commentary of Craig Sager during the "Gatorade Around the Cooler" moments strengthen the presentation and television feel of the game. NBA 2K8 also gains some "street cred" by featuring Robert "Bobbito" Garcia as the host of the newly introduced Dunk Contest. More on that later.
NBA 2K8 continues to be a graphical showcase and is definitely the best-looking game of the series so far. Replicated NBA stars feature the best models and faces to date, and the new Signature Style is another feature that boosts the game's visual appeal. Signature Style basically gives players the motions and movements that might be seen in actual NBA telecasts. This is best exemplified if your team has someone like Allen Iverson, whose signature one-legged fadeaway, gritty drive to the hoop and circus shot layups accurately depict the AI's style of play. It's also great to watch the scintillating signature styles of other superstars, like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
2K has always dominated in gameplay, but this year, it seems like NBA 2K8 was more of a conservative bounce pass than a risky behind-the-back, no-look pass. IsoMotion, a once highly touted feature, has been taken away, along with the lead pass. Instead, ankle-breaking moves are based on real player movement, which is fine but doesn't always work as well as it should, since movements are not as responsive to the controls. The game itself seems to be a little slower than last year, which is good for the overall pace of the game but doesn't help when you really want to push up the tempo.
Passing is not difficult and is done by either using the A button or pulling up passing icons with the right bumper; there is usually a white circle under the player to whom you're preparing to pass. You also have the option to control a player off the ball to get yourself wide open for a shot by pressing the left bumper to set up Offball control. Shooting is still performed with your choice of the Shot Stick or the X button. It's difficult to make layups that should fall, and some players have a tendency of taking off-balance shots when using the Shot Stick, but for the most part, the Shot Stick works pretty well.
Once again, you're able to call plays on the fly and make substitutions with the d-pad, but you can also do some coaching by changing various things, like your team's tempo and fast break tendencies, or check who's getting a hot hand or who's coming up cold. It's still a bit of a chore to manage the pull-up menus while playing a game, but with a little practice, it gets easier.
Defensively, not much has changed, but it remains extremely difficult to drive to the lane because the AI continues to play very intense defense. Sometimes it's so intense that you'll have trouble moving the ball across the half court line, which led to more backcourt violations than I could handle. The defensive play will be appreciated by any basketball fanatic, but when your speedy ball handlers cannot get a ball across the half-court line, there is obviously a problem.
NBA 2K8 is packed with a great amount of online and offline modes. Online, you can participate in tournaments, exhibitions and a season with some friends, but you'll be able to have fun offline as well. The Association is back and full of countless ways to improve and customize your team. You can do everything from assign roles to your players, such as starter, role player and bench warmer, and you build your team by either performing two or three trades. Picking up free agents is different from last year, as you'll actually compete with other teams to pick up the best player, instead of just making the best offer and snatching up that player. The Association is as deep as always, but it doesn't really add much to the existing formula, so if you were expecting something new and revolutionary, you're not going to find it.
You can also play one season if you do not want to build a dynasty in The Association, or you can play around in the new NBA Blacktop section, which includes various streetball pick-up games (21, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, etc.), or you can participate in the new Sprite Dunk Contest or 3pt Shootout. The Dunk Contest is executed well, unlike NBA Live's previous shot at it. The controls are simple: You move toward the basket, perform a gather with the right thumbstick and then trigger an in-air dunk with another movement of the right thumbstick. You then have to push the right trigger when a bar reaches the red area, indicating that you'll perform the dunk correctly.
You can also perform alley-oops, and the variety of dunks is surprising deep since you basically use one button, a trigger and the right analog stick. The use of props, such as cars and construction barriers, will score you more points, and you'll be able to unlock more dunks and props in the single-player challenge. Fortunately, you can also play online so that people all over the world can see your dunking skills. Some of timing mechanics can be a bit off at times, but I'm sure that this is a mode that has much potential to be a key element in future games.
NBA 2K8 is an excellent game and shines again, but the franchise has been strong for years. It's as good as everyone expects it to be, but that's also the problem; the game is great, but it plays it too safe. I appreciate the formula that Visual Concepts has built, but I've been playing the same formula for quite some time. With little additions here and there, NBA 2K8 proves that the 2K series is the basketball game to play, but how much longer will the franchise be able to play it safe before EA rises from the ashes?