There isn't any other basketball franchise as long running as EA's own NBA Live series. Live's history dates back to 1989, as EA's Lakers vs. Celtics was the building block of things to come. Bulls vs. Lakers, and Bulls vs. Blazers would then follow, with NBA Showdown 94 capping an end to the pre-Live era. NBA Live 95 would mark the first entry for the series, and 13 iterations later, here we are. The competition for NBA videogame supremacy is bitter, very bitter. Where as up until recently it was a match between EA and 2K Sports (as it has been for the past 7 years), Sony is finally stepping up big with their NBA franchise, as well. So among NBA 08 and NBA 2K8, how does NBA Live 08 stack up?
Very well. You see, all three NBA games this year are good, but still pretty flawed. But before I get into the flaws, what does Live 08 have going for it? Well, for starters, the game's presentation is absolutely insane. It's without a doubt the best presented basketball game ever made. Playing the game really feels as if you're watching a televised broadcast – that is not to say that the gameplay is utterly fantastic. Instead, it's the touches EA has placed on the game itself, such as incredible commentary and great animations. Now, I know that it's all technical stuff, but the fact of the matter is that it all comes together to make for a very enjoyable experience – something that NBA 08 was sorely missing.
Furthermore, control over your players feels very fluid and precise. I feel like the athletes are more responsive to my inputs, as opposed to the other two NBA games. And while the controls are really nice, and superbly precise, I do think that it would've been in EA's best interests to implement a shooting mechanic of some sort; where as NBA 08 has the shot-meter, NBA Live basically leaves you guessing. On one hand, I can understand the point of not having a visual shooting-mechanic, seeing as how this is a sim, but on the other hand, it does add depth to strategy. Additionally, players in Live 08 seem to have trouble deciding between making a dunk and a lay-up – which will often result in a very ugly layup, so perhaps we should make the dunk a modifier to the lay-up button?
Live 08's A.I. is pretty smart, thankfully, and they interact with each other very well. I've yet to scream at my TV due to an error caused by my teams. Furthermore, despite the difficulty, challenge will still come your way. So you won't have an opponent A.I. that just hands you the game. On the Rookie setting, you'll be able to maintain a good lead the whole way, but things get much closer once you bring that difficulty marker up to Starter and onward. You won't often see painfully blatant mistakes done by the A.I., no matter if it's your opposition or teammates – especially on the harder difficulties. Foul calling is also well done, but some may find it a little frequent. Overall, Live 08 is definitely very enjoyable to play. Its gameplay, largely thanks to its controls, may actually be the smoothest across all three NBA titles.
Moving on to content, Live 08 is crammed with all the modes you'd expect out of an EA Sports game. You have the choice of jumping into a quick game, or you can actually get your money's worth with the Dynasty Mode. The Dynasty Mode is, of course, the core of the NBA Live franchise now, as it gives you an enormous amount of control over your team and their career. Besides embarking in a season, you'll also partake in your draft choices, team management, training camp, team chemistry, staff hiring, and more.
The NBA All-Star Weekend mode allows you to create your own personal weekend session. You can participate in the Rookie Challenge, 3-Point Shootout, Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, and the All-Star Game itself. When you want to take your game across the world, NBA Live 08 features the FIBA license, and so there's a FIBA World Championship mode. In the FIBA mode you can enter an eight-team championship with Argentina, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, China, Spain, or the USA. You can also choose to enter an NBA team into the grid.
The Quick Pick Play mode is a mode that allows you to pit two custom NBA teams against one another. So feel free to mix-up your favorite players, put them all on one team, and pit them against another mixed-up team. I remember doing that all the time back in NBA Live 97 on the PC – fun stuff. Scenario Play is exactly what it sounds like, you can either play and attempt to re-enact a pre-made scenario, or create your own. And lastly, when you're getting tired of playing against the A.I. take your game online and have seven buddies join you. A total of eight players can hop online and go at it, meanwhile four can play together offline.
Despite the solid Dynasty Mode, I still would've liked to see a standard Season and Playoffs mode in Live 08. I personally think that those two modes should be featured as a standard in every sports game. After all, sometimes you just want to get down to business and wreck the boards.
As nice as NBA Live 08's gameplay is, its visuals can stand to see some improvement. The game's graphics aren't bad, not by any stretch of the word, but there are certain things that may bug you. For starters, even though the stadiums are gigantic and filled to the brim with spectators, it actually deters from the game's visual appeal. Why? Because the spectators are horrendously ugly, paper-thin sprites that make looking at the game's replays a pain. If NBA 08 can have a stadium with 3D spectators, so should Live.
Moreover, there is a framerate issue that occurs occasionally after a replay ends and the game switches back to the gameplay – and I can't say that it's not noticeable, because it really is. Thankfully, the framerate doesn't stutter for long – a second or two, at most. Lastly, there's also the issue of aliasing, as you'll notice some edges along the screen are jaggy. Players will display jags too when the camera pans out for some distance.
But, the overall is that NBA Live 08 is still a good looking basketball game. It has some really nice athletic models, splendid texture work for the skin, and very recognizable facial details per athlete. I especially love how slick the animations are, as they make the game feel much more alive than the other NBA games do – adding a good dose to the realism factor of the presentation. While the game has a number of visuals quirks, the bottom-line is that they aren't nearly major enough for me to call this a bad-looking game. It's just barely below the clarity of NBA 08, but it's certainly miles ahead of NBA 2K8. And for the inquisitive minds, the highest resolution here is 720p, with a framerate of 30.
Like I mentioned earlier on, the great presentation in Live 08 is partly fueled by how amazing its commentary is. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr deliver the most authentic and eerily realistic commentary a basketball game has ever seen. Not only is it absolutely precise in its timing, but its executed so convincingly that you'd swear EA has somehow fit an A.I. code that mimics both Albert and Kerr in real-time. I've played more than a dozen games in Live 08 so far, and I'm still hearing new lines delivered with each game, it's just that great. And the banter between both Albert and Kerr doesn't feel very forced, but in fact as if they really are reporting on your game. And to top it all off, not only does Marv Albert's voice flare up during tension, but the crowd is loud, and only gets louder with your performance. EA really did a great job with the audio in Live 08.
There's no doubt about it that 2007 is a fantastic year for basketball game fans. All three NBA games deliver some really great fun. NBA Live 08 delivers arguably the most convincing looking and playing game of hoops. It may not be super rich in its mechanics, but that doesn't change the fact that the game just plays well and is the most fluid basketball game to control. Additionally, its presentation is unparalleled, with incredible commentary, which may sway a lot of gamers towards Live, as opposed to NBA 08 or NBA 2K8. But it does have some problems with its visuals, and being limited to only the Dynasty Mode may be a sting to some. Still, I highly recommend playing NBA Live 08.