I live in an NBA town. I used to have season tickets for the local team. I’ve followed the NBA since the mid 1980s. And I have no doubt that NBA 2K8 captures the energy and presentation of a real-life NBA game better than any video game before it. From the animations to the commentary to the new camera angles, NBA 2K8 is about as close as you’ll get to a real NBA game without being there. It’s unfortunate, then, that the actual gameplay isn’t as flawless as the presentation itself.
At its core, NBA 2K8 is a basketball simulator, complete with injuries, playbooks, GM options and on-the-fly play calling. In years past, that’s “all” the game has offered, alienating a few fans in the process. Visual Concepts has added a variety of elements to NBA 2K8 to help capture some of those more-casual gamers, most notably a Dunk Contest and Lock-On D feature that enables more-aggressive defense without worrying about getting juked. These are both great additions, but amid those tweaks Visual Concepts somehow overlooked the bread-and-butter of any basketball game: actually having players make their shots.
Like any sport, basketball is about scoring points, and NBA professionals by and large do it well. In NBA 2K8, however, players can miss wide-open jumpers, brick layups and suffer through shooting performances that would leave an AAU coach crying and rocking in the corner. Meanwhile, the AI has the uncanny ability to hit shots from darn near anywhere, and even the opposing bench will do so with frustrating regularity, even when your defensive effort appears to be flawless.
Some of this is due to a momentum/morale element, which lets players and teams get “in a zone” after a few good plays, leaving the other team to brick shots and perform far below their capabilities. In some respects this makes sense, but the frequency with which the AI goes on an offensive streak is far too high to make the game consistently enjoyable.
The irony of this shortcoming is that Visual Concepts actually added a Lock-On D feature to help more-casual players play better defense. Using this system, gamers can hold down the left trigger and watch as their on-court player covers the opposing team more closely than a veil over Dennis Rodman’s tie-dyed hair. As long as you move your player in the same general direction of the offensive player, you’ll not fall victim to him blowing past you. Rely solely on the trigger and fail to move, however, and it’s “penetration city” every time.
The AI defense doesn’t seem to benefit from this same Lock-On D feature, but that doesn’t really matter, considering the penchant for the player-controlled offense to miss shots entirely. Fortunately, when the well-presented but unrealistic-scoring Season wears you down, you can head to the Blacktop, where you’ll find the Dunk Competition, Three-Point Shootout and streetball games, where the flavor is more casual and the scoring a bit easier.
The Dunk Contest is the highlight of the Blacktop, as players can determine the style of approach, dunk and throw-down by moving the thumbstick a la the Flickit Controls in Skate. The complex dunk controls take some getting used to, but once you stumble through a few rounds you’ll be throwing it down like a pro. Ironically, scoring is even an issue in this mode, however, as the computer gives ludicrously high scores for simple AI dunks while doling out inexplicably low scores for full windmills by the player-controlled character. Chalk that one up to “artificial parity.”
Still, the most artificial element of NBA 2K8 is by far its forced creation of “realistic” shot percentages. In addition to the aforementioned inability to score on easy buckets, your teammates show no initiative to get open unless you call a formal play, which actually only works about two-thirds of the time. Several times I had to call the same play multiple times before it registered with my team, and by the time the play came together, the shot clock was so low that the player had to toss up a desperation shot. Or was that a normal one…? Hard to tell. The funniest part (in a sadistic sense) is that the in-game announcers even comment on the offense’s inability to make a shot. Note to Visual Concepts: when your own in-game announcers mock the offensive AI, there’s a problem.
Truth be told, though, even in spite of these offensive shortcomings, NBA 2K8 is a fun game to play and, at least in presentation, mimics a real-life NBA game to perfection. The scoring seems nerfed, which undermines a lot of the good things Visual Concepts has done in NBA 2K8, yet the game still manages to impress and entertain. With a bit more user-friendly attention next year, NBA 2K9 could be the one basketball game to rule them all.
- Score: 8.6
- The presentation and feel of the game is near-perfect, but the actual gameplay, particularly on offense, comes up short and frustrating. Lock-On D is a nice feature as well, but it can be a crutch.
— Jonas Allen