NBA Live 08 Preview
EA recently came out and announced the cover man for their upcoming NBA Live 08 - Washington Wizards star, Gilbert Arenas - and since then, a few more details have come to light regarding the game itself. Past installments have been average at best, but after reviewing College Hoops 2K7, we were reminded that basketball games could actually be both fun and at least semi-realistic. But can EA Canada return the long-time Live franchise to its former glory, or are we in for just another disappointment? Well, according to the latest buzz and several updates revealed by IGN, we now have a better idea of what to expect...and we must say, it sounds like it could work.
You know how Sega has said they need to "reinvent" Sonic? As it turns out, EA wants to "reinvent" Live by reducing the sport of b-ball to its very roots and focusing on the core factors. In other words, the developers have simply broken up the game into the following basic categories: offense, defense, passing, dribbling, and shooting. Now, what they plan to do with these elements is still very much in question, but IGN did get a good look at a Lakers-Pistons game in Live 08, and it seems EA is on the right track. We just have one request- could you please, please not have so many gameplay controls revolve around the analog sticks? Please? It's just not accurate or accessible enough for a basketball simulator, and while College Hoops had the Shot Stick, at least we had the option of using a regular button.
If you're a fan of the sport and you've tried some of the recent hoops video games, you're probably familiar with this bizarre mannequin, plastic-y look the players tend to have. We don't really know what causes this, or what makes developers think it appears realistic, but we're desperately hoping EA can use the considerable power of the PS3 and 360 to present some real-looking athletes. Thankfully, if you take a look at the only two screenshots currently available, it seems like they've managed to avoid that shiny, fake skin, but we'll have to see more before we're suitably impressed. As for the rest of the graphical presentation, they've done a fine job in the past, so we're not too worried. All that's really necessary is they capture the exciting and vibrant atmosphere of an NBA arena, just like they did in College Hoops 2K7.
But one thing is certainly a given: with every passing year, they always add more animations, and Live 08 is going to feature "hundreds" of new animations. This is key to delivering a truly simulated experience, primarily because it's the reactions of the athlete we notice most during gameplay. Therefore, if a player runs into a pick, we expect to see the requisite bodily reaction. For whatever reason, this has proven to be a significant problem, even in the most accomplished basketball games, but EA should be erasing all doubts with this one. And if you factor in some solid sound effects, and they resound with great clarity and realism, than you've got the makings of a memorable hoops title. But hey, nothing works if the control is awful, and the Live games haven't had the most fluid control in the past.
You may recall our request to not put such a large focus on the analog sticks, and at the very least, we know context-sensitive controls are preferable (to us, at least). Yes, we said context-sensitive, so your shot will depend entirely on the situation. Players will respond to pressure defenses when driving the lane, and certain players won't ever have the option to dunk the ball in traffic (small guards like Steve Nash, for example). So while you're maneuvering for the shot, remember to keep your player's strengths and weaknesses in mind; EA is featuring more than 60 signature jump shots in the game, and every shot should appear more realistic than ever. Those players who have more touch on the ball will have a higher arc, but the arc will never be as ridiculous as it was in previous installments. All of this comes together to provide a promising foundation, does it not?
The players will move and respond more accurately, and so will the ball thanks to improved physics. We all remember the early days of b-ball video games where the ball always, always hit the rim, regardless of where you shot it from (NBA Jam, anyone?), and oddly enough, that hasn't changed all that much. Sure, launching a ball from half-court would probably be off-target, but no matter how hard you hit the rim and regardless of the angle, the ball rarely bounced more than a few feet. In Live 08, we'll finally have long rebounds, and more than one player will actually go for it. Any player in the vicinity of a rebound will attempt to snag the ball, and boxing out will be a more frequent phenomenon. It's just another aspect of the gameplay that appears to have been completely revamped, and another aspect that probably needed it.
All in all, we have high hopes for NBA Live 08, especially if everything here is implemented well. The 2K franchise has been better than Live for quite a while now, and we know EA isn't too happy with that...so they're doing something about it. Looks like the competition is heating up!
Lastly, don't forget to check out the Gilbert Arenas On the Cover video.
5/7/2007 Ben Dutka