The NBA Live series from EASports has had its share or ups and downs. I remember playing Live religiously back in the days of the Sega
Genesis, but it seemed that once 3D console hardware came about and new engines had to be written, EA's premier NBA series lost a little ground on the
competition. Towards the latter years of the Xbox and PS2's reign atop the cutting edge gaming world, EA's Live series finally got what was
coming to it with a total arse bruising by 2KSports
and their [img]nbalive08_xb360_6[/img]NBA 2K series which was
basically superior in every way. The arrival of the Xbox 360 and PS3 gave EA a real chance to get back into the hunt for 'best NBA title' but, unfortunately,
NBA Live 06 and then 07 on the 'next-gen' hardware were uninspiring efforts at best. Not content being #2 in just about every NBA fan's
eyes, EASports have finally put their butts into action with NBA Live 08, and while EA's journey to retake NBA gaming is far from over, finally some
for 2K is here.
There was a time in the Live series on the Xbox 360 where the selection of game modes was thin at best, but EA have gradually added more or
less everything back from the previous generation and the result is a fully featured mode offering in 08. You have the usual 'Play Now' mode for speedy
exhibition play as well as an assortment of other modes to suit just about any need you could want including the almost fully featured All
Star Weekend with four of the more significant events,
and three modes new to the series - the 'Quick Play' mode which allows you to create a custom roster from NBA players for a one time game,
'Scenario Play' which allows you to define a series of options such as score and time left to create a particular scenario, and the 'FIBA World
Championship', which is a 8-team tournament designed for International team play but can be set for NBA teams as well. Naturally, you also have online play
via Xbox Live on offer, which allows for quick and league games.
Of course the game wouldn't be complete without the 'Dynasty Mode', which as any fan of the series will know allows you to assume the role of a coach as
you make your way through the vigorous day to day life that is managing an NBA team. This is a much evolved offering that features a lot of content and
activity, ranging from hiring staff to scout [img]nbalive08_xb360_8[/img]and train players, to managing the roster, defining play time priorities, dealing with player contracts, and even
off the court team activities for building morale
and team chemistry. There is so much going on in this mode that quite frankly the user interface sometimes struggles to keep up with odd button placements
and confusing designs, but this is a small price to pay for what definitely is quite a detailed mode that should keep most enthusiast NBA gamers busy
for quite a few 82 game seasons providing there aren't any hidden surprise dynasty killing bugs like with franchise mode in Madden 08 - everything
seemed ok at our end simulating a few seasons in though
(which by the way takes aaaagggggessss unless you turn "Simulation Intervention" off in the settings) so this doesn't seem to be the case
Even though the modes on offer are finally quite detailed and plentiful, they were never going to make Live 08 a great game, only prevent it from
instantly being a bust. With the 2K series so proficient in its gameplay, the real test for Live 08 was going to be the gameplay as well,
and the results are mixed. When it comes to the actual new addition to the gameplay this year, the list isn't exactly overwhelming but some key additions
have been made, the first of which is the "Hot
Spots" system. Based on real life statistics (or so they say), each player in this game from Dirk to Dwayne has a unique 'hot and cold' chart which
breaks down the shooting area on [img]nbalive08_xb360_3[/img]the
court into 14 zones. When a player is particularly hot from a zone it will be red, while blue is for cold, and no colour is neither hot or cold.
This chart can be brought up in-game by using the left bumper and while it may be a tad unrealistic to have a colour chart dominate the court during play, in
players know where they prefer to shoot and this feature allows you to do this. You can even scout an upcoming opponent based on where their stars prefer to
Everything else new and improved to the gameplay basically revolves around the fundamentals - the animations, the AI, the physics etc - which is a good
thing too because this is an area that the series really needed to address. The improvements will be very evident from the start for anyone who has
played a Live game recently because while Live games have been quite close to unplayable lately, Live 08 is a whole different story. I
think the first thing I noticed was the CPU AI, which
seems much improved this year. They formulate plays in real time based on opportunities much better and they generally just play much harder. You really have
to be weary of individual players as well, particularly when it comes to defenders good at stealing and big guys great at grabbing offensive boards, as they
will kill you with no hesitation if you let them. NBA Live 08 is probably the first NBA game I've played in a long time where the default stock
standard settings were enough to provide quite a
considerable challenge, and that's before even touching the game's bevy of included gameplay sliders.
The animation system is also clearly superior this year. The game flows in a much more 'free' manner, where possessions unfold with
less of a 'script' feel compared to versions past. You are rewarded for finding creases when driving to the bucket and spreading the ball around to find the
open man and, for the more advanced players, executing plays from the team based playbooks adds another dimension to the possibilities, particularly on
offense. The strongest part of Live 08 definitely seems to be the
post play, where big guys turn their back to the hoop and power or position their way in for the score. It is here where you can execute a lot of effective
moves including signature shots for some star players, although there are some of these designed for the mid to long range jumpers as well, such as cover boy
It isn't all roses though, the game still has its shortcomings. While the gameplay is much improved, the flow and feel can sometimes come off as
lacking and rough, and there are noticeable gameplay weaknesses, like in the rebounding game which is awkward and unrealistic at times often creating
situations where balls drop to the floor
before being collected in despite a heavy presence around the hoop. When you sit back and look at the game in action, you don't really get that same sense of
as you do from the 2K series, from how players react and move to how the occasional cases of poor model clipping and odd physics can disrupt the
realism, as well as the seemingly high number of recycled animations that wear thin quickly. This is stuff that will take EA time to refine and master
but I guess that's not much of a consolation prize for 08 itself. It's definitely not a case of the game becoming unplayable, it's more a case of noticeable
issues still being present at times - the gameplay
comes off more as a well made original Xbox title than a 360 game pushing the boundaries of current hardware. On top of this, the perfect opportunity to make
up for what really is still a [img]nbalive08_xb360_11[/img]work in progress game engine was missed by not exploring much in the way of presentation. The commentary is quite good and does
add to the realism but otherwise there isn't much here that immerses you in the game - NBA Live 08 is very business like, with a "sit down, play,
game over" sort of mentality that EA
really need to work on across their entire range and not just Live.
If there is one thing that EASports don't need much improvement in, it is their skill with game graphics and this rings true for NBA Live 08. I'm
not so sure I'd go as far saying this is the best looking basketball game out there, but it is at worst a neck and neck race. The players are particularly
well done and clearly reflect their real life counterparts when it comes to hair styles and tattoos as well as mostly very accurate facial textures. Outside
of the players, the court and surrounding detail
is also quite high in detail wrapping up what definitely is a very attractive package visually.
Is it too little too late for EA and NBA Live? While the series has been struggling to maintain a positive image over these past few years, 2K's
NBA 2K series has been excelling, defining the authenticity and quality we now come to expect from sports videogames and winning over NBA fans in the
process. The good news is fans who perhaps saw potential in the Live series before can now rejoice as this game is finally ready to be mentioned in
the same sentence as the 2K series, but
it is definitely not the clear cut favorite and there is still work to be done for sure. For the first time in a while though NBA gaming fans should
definitely take time to try the two and make their own decision because Live is a different feeling and flowing game that I'm sure will appeal to
more gamers this year than it has for a long time - I just doubt this appeal can outmatch 2K's, who have had a few years head start when it comes
to impressing gamers with quality gameplay. If you
were to take 2K out of the equation NBA Live 08 would be a worthy top flight NBA game however so the quality is definitely finally here, and I
expect 09 and beyond to close the gap even further. It took a while, but the Live series is making serious ground, just don't be shocked if you find
2KSports' NBA 2K8 to be your favorite again for another season.
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