Sports franchises in video gaming are a funny thing. Every year, the same games come out, with the current or soon-to-be current year added to the title. Hockey games, soccer games, NFL games and more are churned out on a yearly basis, and the unfortunate flaw that we've all gotten used to over the last few years is that in most cases, the games simply don't improve much over their predeccessors. While an updated roster and a couple of new gameplay tweaks and features might be enough to satisfy the specific fans of each sport, to the untrained eye, it just doesn't seem like enough. Previously, the only serious NBA franchises worth noting were the NBA Live series and the NBA2K series, until last year when Sony came onto the scene with its own exclusive NBA franchise, titled, creatively... the NBA series. NBA 07 had its share of problems, so how does NBA 08 stack up against its competition?
NBA 08 features a variety of game modes, and as you start the game up you'll be given the option to create your own NBA player, which you can modify to look however you want. The amount of customization present here is actually quite good, with the ability to adjust the face in almost any way imaginable. Once you've created your baller, you are taken to the main menu, where you can jump into the meat and potatoes of the experience. One notable part of the gameplay in whatever type of mode you're playing in, is that there are a variety of different challenges that you can complete (with or without your player) that give you experience points, which can then be used to buy new gear or upgrade some of your created players statistics. These challenges can be anything from beating a specific team or performing a certain number of specific shots in one match. It adds another element to every match, making them far more entertaining.
A popular feature from NBA 07 has returned in the form of NBA Replay, where you'll be able to complete a series of specific challenges one at a time based on the most exciting and best performances picked from last year's actual season. There are over 60 scenarios for you to complete, and they are a fun distraction as well as being some serious fan service for NBA nuts. Add in to this fact that Sony will supposedly be updating the mode with more scenarios as time goes on, and the mode certainly does have some replay value, despite being somewhat repetitive if playing several challenges in a row. This is easily the most innovative feature in the game, unlike the rest of the gameplay options which are very 'been there, done that'.
There's the season mode, but it really pales in comparison to the other NBA games on offer. Many of the more complex parts of the basic NBA season aren't included here, so you're just going to have to settle for playing matches and winning tournaments without almost all of the micro-management features that have been around in other NBA games for a while now. You'll be able to trade players at least, but the AI doesn't seem to mind who you trade, so you can constantly get rid of your lesser players for the more skilled ones without much of a problem. This means that often you'll have the absolute best choices of players, creating an ultimate team of sorts, which is rather unbalanced to say the least. There are also some mini-games available to be played that revolve around ball-handling and getting multiple 3-point shots in the net, but these are only entertaining for a brief period of time.
The gameplay is very hit and miss in a number of areas. On one hand, the shot meter which appears above the players heads as they go for a shot is one of the best things to ever be in a basketball game. It gives you much more control over whether the shot goes in or not, and the bar adjusts to be more or less difficult depending on your position on the court and just how good the NBA player is at going for the shot in question. Rebounding is also quite intuitive, as an icon will appear on the court where the ball is going to land, giving you more of an opportunity to really take control of the rebound, rather than waiting to see if you'll get the ball off the backboard or not. Sadly, the positives about the gameplay end here.
While the action in NBA 08 is usually very competitive, there are a number of issues that hamper the experience. It's difficult almost to a stupid degree to pass the ball to another player that is more than a few feet away from you, because it's likely that it will be intercepted. Defense is also very tight, making it sometimes impossible to move away from a defender as they constantly stay on you, making it very awkward. Although this does keep the game competitive most of the time, it's unrealistic and frustrating during long sessions when you are constantly struggling against the defensive line of your AI opponents. When you are the one doing the defending, it's tough because of the repetitive glitch where the attacking player will literally bounce the ball right through you, completely void of any collision detection. Fouls are also very touchy, sometimes being called when you are merely standing in front of a player, not pressing any buttons. There are also some Sixaxis controls added in there for those that are interested, but the added controls really don't do much to elevate the experience and come off as a bit of a novelty.
Considering the game is repeatedly boasting about the fact that it's available in full HD 1080p, it makes sense that the product is fairly easy on the eyes. The game never drops in frame-rate, and the courts and character models all look fairly impressive and move around the court realistically and with fluidity. The game also cuts to a stylish camera angle to get the most out of some of the more impressive dunks, along with automatic replays of exciting shots and blocks, making the experience very entertaining. The clipping issues discussed earlier though are constantly popping up in the game, with players body parts constantly moving through each other and the ball sometimes bouncing through people altogether, which certainly becomes distracting and looks... well... weird.
The audio present in NBA 08 is fairly average, too. The commentary team stands out as annoying, as they will begin repeating catch phrases after only a couple of games and will also miss certain calls completely, focusing on comments about shots missing the ring despite the fact that it was caught on the rebound and dunked straight afterwards anyway. The music and sound effects in the game are pretty much what you'd expect here as well, with the notable exception of the crowd reacting loudly and quietly at all of the right moments. NBA 08 can also be taken online, of course, and there is minimal lag as long as you're up against somebody in the same country as you. There are statistics and leaderboards here, too, and if you and your friends enjoy the gameplay, then there is certainly some online fun to be had with the game.
NBA 08 certainly takes some steps in the right direction, with a couple of gameplay additions that should probably be implemented into all basketball games of this type. Where the game ultimately fails though, is in the fact that several gameplay glitches can cause the game to be on the verge of being unplayable. The often times completely ineffective attack and defense frequently causes frustration, and while it keeps the game fast paced during the multiplayer action, the AI is unforgiving and makes the game tough to enjoy over long sessions. It's not all bad, though. There is certainly some fun to be had with the game, and if you're an NBA fan, then it's likely some of these glitches won't affect you as much as they affected us. Here's hoping the inevitable NBA 09 can make further improvements, as the series is really starting to show some potential.