Replay Value: 8
Last year, when I first played NBA 07 on the PlayStation 3, I could tell that there was a lot of potential in the franchise, despite my low score. Ultimately, NBA 07 lacked some refinement and was nothing more than a tech-demo, as opposed to a full-fledged basketball game. Why a tech-demo? Well, it's bare bone offerings of gameplay modes felt like I was playing NBA Shootout '97 with much prettier visuals. But its gameplay showed promise and I could see that immediately. I knew that if Sony added more bang for the buck, as well as tightened up some gameplay quirks, we'd have a really solid game of hoops. And indeed we do.
NBA 08 sits on an improved foundation put together with NBA 07. The most important thing to know about NBA 08 is that it now features a feature called the Progression System, in which you create an intricately detailed custom baller and puppeteer his career. And when I say 'intricately detailed', I mean it - I haven't seen a create-a-player feature this precise since Oblivion.
How the Progression System works is simple. Whenever you play a game mode, you'll earn credits all pending the quality of your performance. You'll earn credits for scoring points, achieving specific goals, winning a certain way, ball-handling with precision, and dozens of other factors. You'll be able to view a list of goals during gameplay by pressing start. As well as in-game goals, there are also goals to perform within various modes - these goal types tend to reward you better. The points can then be used for your custom player, which will allow you to update his performance as an athlete. In addition, you can also use the points to ulock new jerseys, courts, arenas, and so on. The system actually becomes unusually addictive, as I've found myself playing quick exhibition games just so I can increase my baller's rank.
The next cool little feature found in NBA 08 is the NBA Replay mode, which features Games of the Week. The concept of NBA Replay is simpe, and a good amount of fun; basically, NBA 08 downloads actual situations that occured during an actual NBA game within the 06-07 season (playoffs included), and then leaves it up to you to recreate it. The goal is to follow the objectives you have to complete - sometimes you'll take part in something short, other times it can be a little more involving. You can either go about the objective precisely as planned, or take the road less traveled by going "The Extra Mile". Going The Extra Mile means nothing but precision in how you approach the situation. In other words, don't just hit a three from nearby the marker - hit the three precisely from the marker.
Now, even though NBA 08 has the Progression System, there still isn't a proper career/franchise mode that gives you total control of your team. So some may find that disheartening. But of course the game still has the assortment of other gameplay modes, such as an Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, and Minigames. The Minigames consist of Own the Court, 3-Point Contest, and Skills Challenge. Skills Challenge continues to be weird, requiring a puzzling method of aiming, then passing, a ball through a hollow basket on the floor, picking up another ball of the rack, running around two-dimensional cutouts...it's just weird, let's leave it at that. Own the Court is a game where you have to dominate the most amount of spots on the court by taking shots from the markers on the floor. The player with the most spots complete, after time runs out, wins. And I'm sure you know what the 3-Point Challenge is all about.
When it comes down to gameplay, if you're at all familiar with the NBA shooting mechanic, you know that's a meter-based system that relies very heavily on a variety of factors: timing, player confidence, player fatigue, team confidence, level of pressure from defender, shot difficulty, game difficulty and so on. So don't assume you can just breeze through each match by thinking you'll just master the timing of the shot meter - it won't happen. Because NBA 08 calculates so many variables into the quality of the shot, it directly affects the kind of meter you'll be given. Sometimes you'll get a meter that's all red, which means you're going to shoot a brick. Other times you'll get a meter with a decent patch of dark yellow, yellow, and green - which creates a higher possibility of a complete shot. The mechanic is easily my favorite among any NBA game out there.
As far as A.I. goes, Sony has made some improvements to them, but there are still quirks. If a breakaway occurs, I've frequently been able to complete the run to the basket because one defender felt a little lazy. Furthermore, I'm a little annoyed at finding my centers sitting at the top of the key - stay low! It can also be a bit painful to attempt a drive down the middle, even if you are throwing around crossovers. But what I do like seeing is the yanking of a poorly thrown pass. Throw a pass blindly and it'll surely get robbed. Moreover, throw a pass to a teammate who isn't ready for it and is well guarded, and it'll get intercepted. You'll frequently see the A.I. make leaps in an attempt to steal, as well - and I like seeing that hussle, it reassures me that the A.I. isn't dead.
Lastly, controls are pretty solid. I especially like the implementation of SixAxis controls for lowering and raising a defender's hands. For instance, if the pad is tilted upwards, your defender will have his arms somewhat raised; if it's tilted at neutral pitch, he'll have his hands open closer to his waist; or if the pad is tilted all the way up, his arms will be raised straight up. You can also use the SixAxis to perform a number of manuevers, as well.
Visually, NBA 08 improves over last year's games, but not by much. Last year's 07 already looked pretty decent, sporting some of the cleanest player textures across any NBA game, as well as running at 60 frames per second, rendering 1080p. Player faces were pretty solid overall, albeit not great; then again, to be fair, I don't think the other NBA games fared any better in that respect. My biggest qualm with NBA 07 was that its animations seemed a bit jarring at times - for instance, you'd sometimes see the basketball teleport from one hand to another. Unfortunately that hasn't been cured up for NBA 08, and the game could stand to see a new set of motion captured animation strands.
You'll notice the same exact substitution animation for every player, where the player calls in, and then raises his hand for the attention of the player he's subbing - without fail, every single time. You look at a game like NBA Live 08, compare its animation to NBA 08 and the differences are instantly noticeable - as Live just animates more fluidly and lifelike. Still, despite that, I may go as far as to say that NBA 08 is probably the best looking NBA game, but probably just by a hair. Unlike Live 08, the framerate really does help make the gameplay feel smoother. Furthermore, the crowd detail in NBA 08 is completely 3D - the same cannot be said for NBA Live's hideous looking 2D spectators. Also, the court itself just feels much more accurate, in terms of scale, as opposed to the unusually cramped looking court in Live.
The athletes look pretty solid, for the most part, and don't suffer from a zombie look, either. Player faces will be easily recognizeable in many cases, but as with any sports game, there are weak spots. Player details don't seem to be much improved over last year's, but all in all, they still look pretty good. The jerseys also look nice, and the lighting does a good job of complementing the visuals. For next year's iteration, Sony should really focus on stepping up with the animation, and then they'll really have a great looking game on their hands.
Finally, the sound in NBA 08 doesn't do much to improve over last year's game, either. In fact, it seems like almost nothing has changed. The commentary lacks any real depth, and its primarily play-by-play done by Kevin Calabro, with Mark Jackson doing the color. Now even though Mark Jackson is supposed to be the color commentator, he never really delivers anything worth laughing or even smiling about. NBA Live 08's commentary with Marv Albert and Steve Kerr definitely comes off sounding more realistic, as opposed to NBA 08.
Despite not being technically refined, NBA 08 still delivers a pretty solid basketball experience. While it doesn't have a franchise mode to partake in, its nice gameplay mechanics and the Progression System really do make the lack of a proper management mode a little easier to swallom. Furthermore, the NBA Replay mode will offer a ton of additional value to the game, as will going online against a friend. I'd like to see the animation overhauled for next year's game, and I'd also like to see improved commentary - hopefully Sony is listening. Like I said last year, NBA 07 showed a lot of potential, and NBA 08 is here actually demonstrating some of it. Give NBA 08 a shot, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised.