NBA Live 08 Xbox 360

NBA Live for the misinformed is EA’s long standing basketball series; the latest edition (NBA Live 08 for those misanthropes emerging from underneath their rocks to feed) has a difficult task ahead of it. After last year’s poorly received and imaginatively titled NBA Live 07 (Metacritic score 59) EA Canada have come out swinging with a vastly improved iteration of the series that may be able to reclaim those lost fans who migrated to Live’s rival NBA2K.

Live 08 gives off mixed signals when playing, it runs quite smoothly with hardly any noticeable framerate dips, and the controls and decent animations keep matches running relatively fluid giving the actual play time more of a casual feel. However outside of actual game time you are overwhelmed by menus and it’s quite jarring to say the least. The much touted hotspot feature is hardly anything to shout home about either, it’s essentially a way of showing you where each player is most likely to make a shot, while useful it’s hardly worth all the hype laced on the back of the box.

The game starts off with a high level of presentation that bleeds into every pore of the game’s surface. Menu’s where you can simply shoot a few hoops while listening to the well suited soundtrack or taking part in the quiz themed loading screens ensure that your never left twiddling your thumbs or looking elsewhere. Which is great as it prevents loading screens from being notoriously jarring and ruining your chance for a “quick play”.

Graphically the game is real easy on the eyes, the players all bear a good resemblance to their real life counterparts and no longer look excessively sweaty (as was prevalent in earlier basketball games of the current generation). Everything else from the court to crowd has been given just as much graphical attention which really enhances your enjoyment of the game. Even the court floor looks good enough to eat a four course meal off. In terms of animations the player movement is overall quite fluid with a few jerky moments where players spin 180 on the spot, these are usually off camera and caught during replays so it’s a bit of a double edged sword.

The controls are simple to pick up and are very responsive keeping the action quick and the matches tight however you can feel rather detached from the whole experience because tasks such as passing, shooting and sprinting are all dictated by the mere press of a button, there isn’t much involved in timing your presses or the force in which they are pressed, the outcome of a successful pass or shot is dictated by the currently selected player’s stats which doesn’t seem to really fit the nature of a sports game.

Players connected to Live have plenty of options available to them ranging from quick matches to leagues; these will run over a similar amount of time to its offline counterpart and adds a welcome level of depth to the online sports genre. Online play runs relatively smoothly with occasional lag dips.

My main gripe with the game is that there is no tutorial section to guide in less experienced players or non basketball aficionados. Now I realise most non basketball fans aren’t likely to buy the game due to lack of interest in its subject matter but what of those who have only begun to take an interest or have always watched it but never played a game of it. It’s this inaccessibility that really let’s the game down; sure you can pick up most of what you’re supposed to do from a few quick plays but it takes so much unnecessary trial and error to even know about certain play mechanics.

As previously mentioned the soundtrack is well suited to the game and features a wide range of artists from various genres including the likes of The Hives, Timbaland and my personal favourites LCD Sound system. Generally I usually look down upon audio in games that has just been taken from bands all over the shop but this is a great example of it being done right. EA’s bottomless bank account has clearly been put to use securing these and they all suit the game perfectly, the only gripe is that there could stand to be just a few more tracks as it can get slightly repetitive.

The commentary while initially very impressive can (as usual) get rather annoying. Eventually it gets turned off and ignored, I’m beginning to wonder why commentary isn’t taken more seriously in games as it’s always a major complaint that never seems to get addressed.

Overall NBA Live 08 is a step in the right direction for EA to reclaim their lost crown. Hardcore fans will appreciate the changes made from last years rendition but for new players it’s about as accessible as a bank on Sunday.

The first step, towards the true path to the way of the baller.

6.7 out of 10