Reviewing American sports titles is always a difficult proposition when you’re a Brit. Sporting games rely on the player having an understanding or passion for the subject matter, and that is obviously absent when you happen to be a ‘foreigner’ to the game in question. Thankfully a good videogame is a good videogame no matter what leisure activity it might take inspiration from, and that’s why as a child I spent endless hours playing John Madden Football on my Megadrive.
However, there are times when unfamiliarity with the sport can become a hindrance. Reviewing NBA Live 08 is one such time. When I loaded the game up and started playing I was faced with one of the most disappointing titles I’ve yet witnessed on the Wii, but part of me thought it might be my lack of interest in basketball that was causing the problem.
After a prolonged period I realized that the reason I wasn’t connecting with this particular title wasn’t due to the subject matter – it was because it just plain stinks.
First impressions count so we might as well start with the visuals. In short, NBA Live 08 is as rough as a badger’s arse. The graphics are a shambles, lacking any kind of detail or clarity. Player models are devoid of character and look almost Playstation-quality. The arenas in which you play look like they were designed in the space of an evening and the gameplay is plagued by graphical inconsistencies and errors. In short, this doesn’t feel like a professionally produced videogame released by the biggest publisher on the face of the planet.
EA are currently introducing the ‘Family Play’ concept into their sports range and NBA Live 08 also receives the ‘casual-friendly’ treatment. Two control methods are available: basic, which is intended for people who don’t normally play videogames and simplifies control, and advanced which is the ‘proper’ interface setup. As we saw with FIFA 08, this is a really neat idea that allows people of all skill levels to challenge each other and actually have some fun – there’s nothing more disheartening that playing against a friend who knows all the different moves whilst you know nothing – but sadly the execution is a lot less effective here than it was in FIFA.
The key problem is the fact that for once, the motion sensing controls of the Wii feel horribly broken. Even the most basic of gesture commands is difficult to pull off successfully, and one has to wonder how much testing of this setup actually took place. Other EA games get it perfect, so why not NBA Live 08, too?
Amazingly, even the dodgy controls can’t stop this from being one of the most ridiculously easy games to score in. Even when your player is a fair distance from the hoop and under intense pressure from defence, nine times out of ten they will score a basket. Likewise, slam-dunks occur with surprising regularity – I assumed this was supposed to be an accurate representation of the sport, but it ends up looking an awful lot like the OTT classic NBA Jam.
To compound this problem is the complete lack of defensive effectiveness. Now I realize that in the sport of basketball it’s quite hard to steal the ball from an opponent, but in NBA Live 08 it’s so tough it sends the game off-balance; in fact it wouldn’t be unkind to call the gameplay broken. This saps the fun out of the title, as you might imagine.
Considering the wealth of options seen in recent EA sports titles, NBA Live 08 is surprisingly bereft of gameplay modes. You can play a single season and shoot a few hoops with the predictable mini games, but there’s little else to keep you busy. Online play is supported (using EA’s own servers) but you have to ask the question – is it really worth taking your game online when the terrible controls make it so hard to be confident in your own ability? Besides, I can’t imagine many people will be sticking around with this when there are better games to indulge in.
I’m not a massive fan of basketball but as I said in the introduction, I’m willing to give any title a fair crack of the whip if it’s entertaining. Sadly, NBA Live 08 is a complete failure in this regard. Hopefully EA can learn from its mistakes and put a bit more effort into next year’s release, because this feels half-finished and half-hearted. Even if you like shooting hoops, you should avoid this and spend your hard-won doubloons elsewhere.