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NBA Live 08


Thanks to the magic of video games, now basketball players can play all year, moving right from the outdoor courts to the comfort of their living rooms during the Fall and Winter months. What's that you say? There's indoor courts, where people can play basketball and get exercise all Winter long? Well, those people can have the courts to themselves - why play your pals on the court when you can play against them online without even having to hang out with them?

"NBA Live '08" is - as you can likely tell from the '08 - the latest in EA's line of NBA titles. The series continues to offer a lot of the same core elements - um, basketball is basketball, after all - but fans will notice some considerable changes, as well. The biggest change is the game's presentation, as graphics - while not perfect - do impress, especially the courtside and replay scenes, where facial details and movements impress. The detail to the arenas themselves is a bit mixed; fans in the stands look okay (and the rows further back are essentially darkened out, but scoreboards look terrific and floorboards look shiny and reflective.

On the court, players also look crisper and more life-like, although there are some movements that still look a tiny bit stiff on occasion. The main broadcast camera angle follows the action quite clearly, although players can choose some additional camera options, as well. Frame rate is just fine, but load times could use some work. While we do get some quiz questions (some pretty hard ones, at times) during the load time waiting for the game, they still start to feel tedious. Shorter load times also come up while waiting to return to the main menu. Overall, this season's presentation is a noticable improvement and, hopefully, next year's title will continue to iron out some minor issues that remain.

Marv Albert and former player Steve Kerr share the announcer duties and do a fine job covering the on-screen action. As one might expect, the announcements do get a little repetitive after a while, but I didn't find that to be the case here quite as much. Also, the dialogue doesn't sound scripted (according to the NBA Live '08 website, it is not.) There were a few minor issues, such as an incorrect recap of a quarter and some instances where the commentary seemed to awkwardly try to catch up, but overall, the commentary was certainly above-average. The background sound (in Dolby Digital 5.1) is also quite detailed, with realistic crowd noise and crisp, clear sound effects (such as the buzzer.) According to the game's website, the game's sound team traveled to actual NBA games to record audio, and all the "non-speech" audio is from real games at Cleveland, Seattle, San Antonio and Golden State.

There are, however, some issues in other aspects of the game, such as the new ability to have AI defense in the midst of a game you're playing. Essentially, holding down the left trigger while on defense results in the computer taking over for you. While this actually does work rather well, it makes defense a less exciting. However, it is kind of nice to have a hand free during defense, which allows for grabbing a quick snack or drink (all the snacks and drinks your friends would go through if you invited them over to play multiplayer instead of playing them via Live) while your players do the work. Overall though, this option may come in handy for some, but not for others and purists may question whether it was necessary at all. Players can take full control of the defense, as well.

Some other flaws present themselves, as well, such as the fact that the game seemed a little overly sensitive when it came to fouls (and along the same lines, hopefully the free throw control will be changed next year, as the control method for free throws is awkward.) Additionally, I felt as if a few too many shots were bouncing off the rim. While I don't think that making every shot should be a given by any means, there were times when the game seemed a little unforgiving and frustrating as a fair amount of what appeared to be easy shots were a no go. AI defense was a little too easy, and AI teammates could have more hustle, as they're sometimes seen standing around.

The game does offer "hot spots" that show where players have the best chance of making a shot and the worst chance (bringing up this feature shows a color-coded map on the court - blue being the least likely spots, yellows are "maybes" and reds are hot spots - I've spotted players who are all blues), but while this may be realistic for each player, it takes some of the spontaneity out of the game and I didn't feel as if using the "hot spots" always made enough of a difference. While the "hot spots" feature could be implimented better (and graphically, it's about the least slick thing about the game), other new features - "Go-To Moves" (fadeways, turnaround jumpers and other star moves) and "Own the Paint Moves" (pump fakes, drop-steps, and spins) do add some flair.

Gameplay options include some familiar choices and a few new ones. Dynasty mode allows the player to essentially oversee an entire NBA squad for a year. You have to hire staff, head to training camp and playing against scheduled opponents throughout the year. There's even "Off-Day Events" for the team that are an opportunity to improve your team's chemistry. Dynasty offers a solid amount of depth and detail, and players will likely enjoy the ability to have control over so many aspects of their team. New this time around is the ability to respond to events that happen if you choose to simulate games to speed the season up. There's also the new "Scenario Play" option, which puts the player into the middle of various tense scenarios, such as trying to make a last second shot to win the game.

Also new this time around is a neat International play option, the FIBA (International Basketball Federation, which would mean it should be IBF, but oh well) World Championship. Another new mode is "Quick Pick" play, which is a lot of fun as it allows you to quickly select a "dream team" of 10 players of your choice. NBA All-star Weekend allows the player to play in the All-Star game, as well as compete in the contests that come with it (such as the 3-point shootout and the Slam Dunk contest.)

Last, but in certainly no way least is gameplay over XBOX Live, which includes Versus (play solo or with up to 3 guests), Quick Match (match up with a user similar in level) and Custom Match (search for ranked/unranked sessions other users have created). Two new options are: Online Leagues (players can join up to 10 online leagues and a commissioner can be appointed to oversee league activities and send a newsletter to other players in the league.) "Quick Pick" play also finds its way to Live, as well. Players can view career stats, leaderboards, news, trade offers and make adujstments in the "My NBA Live Online" area.

Final Thoughts: "NBA Live '08" offers fast, sleek-looking gameplay, as graphics are impressive in almost all regards. A wealth of modes (both online and offline) ensure that players will find a lot of depth and replay value. However, some issues are seen with gameplay, including too many easy shots being missed and AI that could be a little more "on the ball". Overall, the game plays well and I had fun with it, although there are areas where there is room for improvement. The game falls short of a "Highly Recommended", but does earn a recommendation.