Developers are often criticized for seemingly doing as little as possible from one year to the next with their sports games. That is not the case with NBA 2K8. It's superior to last year's game in almost every way; there's loads of new content and the gameplay is better than ever. Issues, such as missed shots close to the basket and atrocious documentation, hurt the overall package. But this is still a game that's sure to please both casual and hardcore hoops fans.
The signature style moves are well implemented and add a lot to the game.
There's no shortage of ways to stay busy in 2K8. The series has had a street ball component to it for a number of years and it's back again. It's called NBA Blacktop here, but it has been revamped and improved upon in a number of ways. You can participate in a three-point shootout or play street ball using real NBA players. The goofy story from last year is gone--you just play ball. The big addition to the mode is the dunk contest. Up to four players can choose from current stars and legends, such as Clyde Drexler, Dr. J, or Dominique Wilkins, for a three-round dunk contest that takes place in the streets of Las Vegas.
There are three parts to each dunk: the gather, in-air style, and the finish. A gather is how you start the dunk. You can bounce the ball to yourself, hop off of one foot, toss the ball in the air, and more depending on what direction you move or rotate the right analog stick. In-air style is determined the same way. Here, you can pump fake, spin, windmill, spread your legs Ã la the Jordan logo, and a host of other actions. To finish the dunk, you press R2 or the right trigger in the highlighted area of the meter. The closer you are to the center, the better your finish. You can also place props, such as ball racks and benches, to add a bit of flair to your dunks. It takes a little bit of practice and the game does a poor job of letting you know what you need to do (though it does tell you what you did wrong after the fact), but once you've spent some time experimenting, you can pull off some amazing-looking dunks. Because the judges are all over the place with their scoring, this mode is best played against friends offline or online when you can trash-talk your opponent and argue over scores. Losing to computer-controlled opponents on a weak dunk is no fun at all.
NBA Blacktop is nice, but it's more of a bonus--the association is the bread and butter of the series. It's still the deepest basketball sim out there, but not a whole lot has changed and it's starting to feel a bit stale. The menus have been redone, but they are still a chore to navigate. A lot of the tasks aren't much fun either, like scheduling practices and scouting future draft picks. The way you negotiate contacts is more realistic than ever and you now have the ability to include no-trade clauses. Hooray! Now you can be saddled with a bunch of horrible contracts--just like Isiah Thomas! You'll also need to assign roles (starter, star, sixth man) to your players in an effort to keep their morale up--unlike Isiah. All of these options may make it seem like going through a season of the association is a lot of work, but the effect they have on your team is minimal. It's possible to use the default roles, never schedule any practices, and scout very little yet still do just fine. But you get what you put into the mode. If you really immerse yourself in the life of an NBA GM and coach, there's a lot to enjoy here. Should you want to only worry about the rigors of a single season, you can do that in the aptly named season mode.
Once again, the NBA 2K series sets the standard for online play. There's something for everyone to enjoy here. Hardcore fans can participate in an entire season, complete with online draft. You can create tournaments, as well as play ranked and unranked matches. The game never really bothers to explain how to do it, but if you go to the online lobby page and scroll down, you'll find that you can participate in all of the NBA Blacktop modes too. Up to eight players can play together on the Xbox 360 and up to 10 players can team up on the PlayStation 3. All of your stats and progress are tracked on your player card, making it easy for you to scout prospective opponents. 2K8 takes a proactive approach to getting player feedback, not only asking you if you want to give Xbox Live feedback on a player after a game, but also giving you its own series of questions to help ensure people know what kind of player they're going up against in the future. None of this would mean a thing if the game didn't run well. Outside of free throws being a little more difficult and the referee sometimes not wanting to put the ball in play, our online experience was quite good.
It isn't perfect, but the new dunk contest is lots of fun.
2K8 boasts some impressive options, but how the game plays is most impressive. The signature jump shots in last year's game were nice, but this year, Visual Concepts has raised the bar with signature style animations. There are countless new layups, dribble moves, passes, and dunks. These new animations complement the already great-looking jump shots. You'll be amazed at how realistically the game plays and moves. The CPU does a great job of taking advantage of all these signature moves by making the players play just as they would in real life. Even though we were on the wrong end of the beating, we were dazzled as Steve Nash threw no-look passes, squeezed bounce passes through tiny openings, and drove the lane with reckless abandon. Other players are just as lethal in the game as they are in real life. Shaq's an absolute terror near the basket, throwing down vicious dunks over anyone who stands between him and the hoop; Kobe will take over a game, owning entire quarters at a time; while LeBron will beat you with his passing and scoring. It's one of those things you've got to see in action to truly appreciate how everything comes together.