Plugged In

REVIEW: “NBA 2K8″

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The NBA season tips off this week, but the latest edition in 2K Sports’ pro hoops series is already in mid-season form. NBA 2K8 builds on what I considered to be last year’s sports game of the year, NBA 2K, with more signature shot styles and animations, a deeper franchise mode and beefed-up AI.

2K and developer Visual Concepts raised the bar for basketball games with the introduction of Signature Style in NBA 2K7. For this season, they’ve really worked hard to make sure each player not only looks like their real-life counterpart, but plays like them, as well. This is especially evident in the post, where guys like Tim Duncan and Shaq will eat your lunch all day long. I can’t stress enough how much I love the idea and implementation of Signature Style. It really keep the game fresh over the course of the season.

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Another new feature that’s immediately obvious is the inclusion of play diagrams. During a game, you’ll see on-screen indicators telling you how a specific play should be run. This can be turned off in the pause menu, but I found myself leaving it on. I need all the help I can get. Other gameplay improvements include hot zones for shooters, a lock-on button for defense and revamped off-the-ball controls.

The Association mode returns with the introduction of player personalities and the ability to assign roles. No longer can you just throw together five guys and expect to win. Now, team chemistry is a factor and it has a tangible effect on what happens on the floor. If you’ve got a bunch of disgruntled players, they’re not going to give their best effort during games. Not only will their ratings take a hit, but they’ll actually loaf up the court and not get back on defense. Finding the right mix of personalities and keeping players happy by using them in their expected roles is key to success in 2K8. Another addition to the Association mode is the ability to play or watch any game during your season. This has been a sorely missed feature and I’m thrilled to have it back (major props to 2K!)

The 24/7 mode of years past has been replaced by the NBA Blacktop mode, a series of slam-dunk contests, 3-point shootouts and pick-up games against the NBA’s best. I hardly touched 24/7 and I really don’t care for NBA Blacktop. The 3-point shootout is incredibly easy and the dunk contest is impossibly hard. The pick-up games lack the fun of EA’s NBA Street series.

If you’re an NBA fan, pick up 2K8 now. The NBA Live franchise has gotten better, but NBA 2K8 remains king of the hardwood.

Rating: 8.8/10
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Sugg. retail price: $59.99
Rating: E for everyone