It may be hard to believe, but in our long tenure PS3 Fanboy has never reviewed a sports game (and no Go! Sports Ski doesn't count -- we're trying to forget that game even exists). It's not that we dislike sports games per se, we more just tend to be fans of RPGs, FPSes, and action titles in general. Well all that is changing as we boldly explore the depths of sports gaming with our review of NBA 2K8.
NBA 2K8 is the latest iteration in 2K's basketball series and comes out to a crowded market on the PlayStation 3. Unlike EA's monopoly on NFL branded football games, there are three different NBA series and they all hit the PS3 at the same time. Historically speaking, the 2K series has been the best of the bunch -- beating out Sony's NBA series and EA's NBA Live series, so it seemed like a good game for a player who's been out of the basketball loop for as long as I have (we're talking years here).
Featuring six different gameplay modes, there is definitely no lack of content in NBA 2K8. You have a ridiculously deep franchise mode called the Association, you can play full seasons with your favorite team, do a quick game of street ball (called NBA Blacktop), practice your moves on an empty court, or even setup special scenarios (like being down 8 points with 20 second on the clock) to show off your skills. There's a ton of stuff here, and hardcore NBA fans will have enough to keep them busy for months.
In fact, you're going to have to be a hardcore NBA fan to really enjoy NBA 2K8. In one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole game, there is an almost complete and utter lack of documentation or tutorials. The manual is almost criminally barebones, with only a basic breakdown of the different gameplay modes and a listing of the offensive/defensive commands. And the in-game help isn't any better because, well... there isn't any. This making learning the intricacies of the gameplay a massive chore unless you're already well-versed in the subtle skill of 'b-ball' (as the kids call it).
If you're a newbie, you're definitely going to want to spend some time online reading up on explanations for the different aspects of the game. So much of NBA 2K8 isn't explained that just jumping straight in is more frustrating than it's worth. Once you've put in your time learning how to play though, you'll find some pretty satisfying gameplay with a ton of flexibility and options.
In particular, I liked the ability to run two-man plays on the fly and the hot-spot indicators below each player which allowed me to easily and quickly mix up the strategies and maximize the effectiveness of my players. I wasn't as a huge of a fan of the new foot-planting mechanic though. In an effort to make the gameplay more realistic, players need to get planted before launching off a shot -- fair enough, but it makes firing off a quick shot on the run extremely difficult at times. There's nothing more frustrating than stopping dead in the middle of a break away while the defensive swarms over you. Overall though, the game did a great job at mixing realism and playability -- I just hope they tone down the foot planting for next year's offering.
Where NBA 2K8 really shines though is its fantastic graphics and animation. Supporting up to 1080p resolution, great textures, minimal jaggies and a solid framerate -- NBA 2K8 is a pleasure to watch, let alone play. Character models look quite good and it's easy to identify the players on the court with a quick glance, though some faces still look a little odd (like Steve Nash). Of course, Steve Nash is kind of odd looking in real life too -- so it's not a huge deal.
The best aspect of the graphics in NBA 2K8 is the absolutely amazing animations that drip from every aspect of the game. Even simple things like the fabric physics of the clothes are awe inspiring and startlingly realistic, but they are nothing compared to the animations of the players themselves. The way they move around the court and interact with each other gives the characters a great sense of physicality and realism. Major players also have unique sets of animations that make them really stand out when they go in for a dunk or a lay-up. It really looks so good that a brief glance at the screen and you'll think you're watching an actual NBA game. There are the occasional weird animation transition, but I've honestly never seen this quality of animation in any sports game before (though NBA Jam on the Genesis came close).
Overall, I felt that NBA 2K8 was an enjoyable and frustrating experience at the same time. While the graphics and animations are fantastic, and the core gameplay is good -- the need to have a PhD in both basketball and the 2K series was a serious detriment. Hardcore players probably won't have the issues I had, but casual basketball fans should definitely approach the title with caution. The almost complete lack of documentation and in-game help is inexcusable and annoying. It's a shame, but hopefully next year 2K will put a little more time into making the game more accessible to beginners.