A solid contender for the best basketball simulator out there, 2K8 improves upon last year’s game by adding content and removing fluff, while focusing on creating a smoother gameplay model. But like layups, the results are mostly there but with an occasional miss.
Once you hit the boards you will notice several different features that have been enhanced since the last outing. Player animations have been improved to incorporate signature moves, and a more realistic momentum foot-planting mechanic allows for a dramatic flow of the action. The latter may be point of contention for some casual gamers as the action has slowed down to incorporate this realism, but it ultimately works to make a more true-to-life experience. AI has been tweaked to make it a nice balance for casual gamers and hardcore alike. Offense AI still puts pressure on you to stop while the Defense AI gets watered down. Combined with the momentum changes, you just can’t barrel into the zone, you need to shift around to get into the crease, but beyond just getting in the way, the defense doesn’t do much to try to stop you. Many times you can sit there and do the same play over and over, and the AI won’t learn, or worse, won’t even attempt to intercept, and while this is a good thing for the casual folks, this may leave some hardcore fans bored.
Along the same lines there seemed to be a tendency for missed layups that should have been golden. Even the announcers seemed to mirror my bafflement as I miss undefended hoops, but regardless it sticks out as incongruent to the whole. The new Lock-on-D is another one of those love it or leave it additions to the game. By locking on and using the analog stick to adjust your position you can make it virtually impossible for opponents to get past you. This may be a good thing for people like me who like to win a lot, but for the majority of people it will just feel like a cheat after time.
Beyond the standard pick-up and play functions present, the main drive of the game is the Association mode in which you take complete managerial control of your franchise; it is too bad you have to navigate through the sub-par menu system to access this though. The plotline feature is now gone, but you start by recruiting and paying players and assigning them slots which are generally broken down in to two categories of personality and positions; players can thus be laid-back/starters or showman/star players. Managing the team becomes a feat as you balance personalities and play time to improve morale and work towards winning seasons.
The old street ball feature has been modified into the Blacktop section of the game which includes a brand new dunking contest mini-game. Street ball remains virtually the same as you can take many favorites from past or present and take them up against the CPU or against friends. The dunking contest is a nice bonus as you master the three sections of a dunk to impress the judges and your friends including online partners. Online adds a solid element to the gameplay as you create a profile which captures your playing style and is viewable by others and go head to head against others.
Graphically the game looks sharp, with little deviation between it and its 360 brother, the lighting, coloring and character animations all look smooth and crisp. The already mentioned addition of signature moves provides inspiring visuals as the players pull no-looks, and awesome dunks. Player avatars do a fair job of representing their namesakes, although there is a wide spectrum where certain players look good and others look horrendous (insert your ugly basketball player joke here), while clothing edges still have a tendency to disappear into player bodies. Crowd models are great at filling the ambiance of the court, including accurate swells in sound as the game gets heated. Announcers do an accurate job updating the play-by-play status but don’t really bring much else to the game.
NBA 2K8 is a great experience that moves past the multiple nits it has against it to vie for greatest basketball simulator out there, for casual or hardcore alike.