NBA Live 08 PS2 Review

EA Sports is in a difficult position – do they leave out fans of the last generation of console and concentrate on the shiny new graphics of the Xbox 360 and PS3? Or do they try and continue their “pure” basketball franchise with a new game to wipe out memories of last year’s lacklustre attempt?

The usual slick EA presentation is in place, from the menus to the TV-style presentation of the game. Play Now jumps straight into a single game, with options to alter the difficulty level and the time per quarter. Game Modes offers the real meat of the game, from the long-term challenges of Dynasty Mode to the new FIBA World Championship. In the World Championship, a game is simulated up to a point, and then the player can intervene and take control. Dynasty Scenarios are a new addition, letting the player step in at a key moment in a classic game to tip the balance. Players can also practice as an individual player, or go 1 on 1.

Out on the court, the over-the-top Superstar moves of last year have been removed and replaced by “Hot Spots” (red areas on the court where a player will excel, or conversely blue areas where the player will do badly). Defence Assist is also new, allowing a defender to try and draw the foul or reach in for a steal. Intensity and Momentum meters increase at key moments and do seem to have a tangible effect on the opposition. At high Intensity your players are more likely to steal, and the team with the Momentum in its favour (after going on a good scoring run, or blocking out the opposition) will start to dominate.

Like so many recent EA games, the right analogue stick plays an important part. Moving the right stick in various patterns creates the sort of showy dribbles and fakes that characterise the top players. At the free throw line, a smooth down and up movement of the right stick will complete the shot, although the free throws can be simulated (based on the shooting player’s real stats) by tapping Circle. Players are controlled with the left analogue stick, leaving the d-pad free to choose plays on offence and defence. A double-tap of the d-pad brings up the passing icons over the heads of your team-mates to allow more intricate playmaking.

Dynasty Mode covers a daunting 25 years, one day at a time through the slightly cumbersome calendar interface. While the idea of having virtual e-mails help you keep track of who’s available to hire and other important events is good, it soon becomes too much information. Luckily there are times when you do not need to make a decision. Then you can simply move to the next important date (usually a game) and let the machine simulate the intervening days. Playing through a full season including the drafting of new players, the playoffs and the All-Star Game will take a fair chunk of time. Then comes the tough task of maintaining a team at the top for several years. For a shorter burst of play, the NBA All-Star Weekend gives you two different competitions; the Slam-Dunk Competition (which will require a lot of practice to master the different moves), and the 3-Point Shoot-out (a classic mode from earlier NBA Live games, and worth playing). Then you can play the All-Star game itself, or the Rookie Challenge.

While the animation and detail of the players is solid, there are some disappointments. Pop-up plagues cutscenes like the time-out, and the transition when the ball changes hands can be a bit distracting until the player is used to it. Commentary tries hard but phrases soon start to recur, and the EA Trax are a mixed bunch (and seemingly fewer in number than many recent EA games). The pointless NBA Store returns, allowing you to trade in points earned from completing tasks (such as winning by twenty points, or scoring 10 points in a quarter) for an endless number of branded trainers and a few tattoo designs to spice up newly created players. It would have been much better to unlock more teams or modes with the points, which take a long while to accumulate.

This is a straightforward game to pick up, but mastering the defensive plays and the advanced controls is the key to winning games and seasons. While extras like the 3-point showdown are nice, the main game requires a good knowledge of the sport to make the most of it. Ultimately it does feel like a soul-less update to the franchise, a sin that EA has been guilty of in the past.