NBA '08 Review (PS2)

For the past two seasons, I have given the NBA series from Sony a lot of rope for its PS2 release. In our reviews for both NBA 06 and NBA 07, I passed cautiously optimistic praise on both titles for their innovative use of their The Life mode, despite releasing inferior basketball games to the competition. While they certainly weren’t given reviews that they did not deserve, I found myself giving them more leeway on the on-the-court action since the off-the-court mode was outside the box. With the release of NBA 08, which features The Life – Volume 3, I’m coming into it with some expectations. I want to see improvements in every aspect of the game. I knew story packaged with the same old same old is not enough for today’s gamer. The clock is running down. The shot is in the air. Can NBA 08 come through in the clutch?

The story in The Life this season centers on the old school coach trying to take his team to one more shot at the brass ring. You fill the sneakers of a hot shot Point Guard who is tasked with leading “Coach T’s” team back to the NBA finals and a little hardware. Along the way, the cutscenes and tasks take you through a pretty effectively laid out drama of on and off the court action. Playing out like more of a Soap Opera than a reality show, the over the top acting and script really plays well in a “cheeky” sort of way. I couldn’t help but smile on more than a few occasions.

Unfortunately, the mode itself has not really gained any teeth in the last three years. It’s basically a different chapter of the same book. I think the thing about this mode that allowed me to really stand behind it was Sony’s history of thinking outside the box and continually improving on their trend-setting modes. It’s hard to argue that their baseball title’s unique and groundbreaking Career Mode (that later became Road to the Show) is one of the best in sports gaming today and got there by taking a concept that was not necessarily new, but by making it their own and continuously improving on it season after season. While I still give the folks at Sony San Diego credit for bringing this style of single player mode to sports gaming, once they got it here, they stopped trying to do much with it.

While still fun overall, I could see past the lack of improvements to The Life if they seemed to be dedicating their resources to the gameplay or the other available modes of play. Sadly, I think we’re left with a lot more of the same in this department too.

The gameplay is largely unchanged from last year. NBA 08 utilizes the colored rings or halos to symbolize the proper timing/technique of your shooting. The shot meter works well and is the only thing that really feels unique about the gameplay. The post game and any attempts to slash to the basket do not have nearly the same flow and sense of realism that you would expect. In fact, I found driving to the tin nearly impossible in many situations for even the best players in the game. However, defensively, the AI didn’t seem to have the same issues I did as it was much more difficult to defend the slashers without fouling.

This leads to yet another issue that I found with NBA 08; that’s the drastic imbalance in how fouls were and were not called in the game. The AI seemed to be able to play a nearly flawless game on almost every level. Very rarely did they ever make a mistake that would leave them caught out of position and in need of a foul. Offensive fouls on the AI were also about as easy to spot as Bigfoot.

While gameplay saw very few changes, the modes of play really saw none at all. Totally outside the norm in today’s sports gaming world, NBA 08 is still completely without a Franchise mode of any kind. Yes, there is still a season mode that features some advanced features like trading; though even the few little extras that are there are flawed. Trading, for example, is completely off the wall in terms of simplicity of putting through very lopsided deals. Online modes of play are there as well, however, they feel just as stripped down and basic as the single player available outside of The Life.

Having been exposed to all three version of NBA 08 this season, I can tell you without question, that the PS2 version is the weakest of the group. While the other two versions introduced new features and/or enhanced existing ones; the PS2 version seemed satisfied to just continue with what has been done the past two seasons. While you certainly can have fun with NBA 08, it’s hard to recommend it as a purchase.

I really like this series and still believe that it’s among the top two or three sports franchises in terms of raw potential. I don’t know if this is the final effort on the PS2 and we’ll see The Life jump to PS3 for Volume 4, but, if it is, it’s a rather disappointing swan song.

NBA '08 Score
out of 10