NBA 08 - PS2 - Preview
Every year there’s a time when gamers wish they could grow a third hand. It's not for some new-gen, futuristic gaming mechanism, or even to one-up their friends who, all things likely, are nothing more than two-handed competition. They wish to grow an extra hand in order to maximize The Life, an exclusive story mode featured in Sony's NBA series for PlayStation 2. If you've played either of the first two volumes, then you know why a third hand is needed: to grab popcorn while the other two handle the Dual-Shock 2.
The Life Vol. 3 is promoted as the final installment in the series, but you can bet there is a similar mode in development that'll be ready to take its place next season. For now, The Life will conclude with the end of an era: Coach T is retiring. Like any leader about to say goodbye, he wants to go out with a bang. That means winning as many games as possible, most importantly the last one to ensure he has a permanent place in basketball history.
Gamers or Moviegoers?
NBA 08 comes with season and online modes, just as the last two games did. But unless you're solely looking for a calendar run or a competition with friends, The Life is where you'll spend most of your time. It's the one mode that sets this series apart from the other b-ball offerings, NBA Live and NBA 2K, and is the only mode where you will initially spend more time reclining than playing. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Think back to the early days of in-game cinematics. When Final Fantasy hit the PSone, cinematics – CG or real-time – were all gamers wanted.
In this case you aren't playing an RPG but it almost comes across as one. Before hitting the court for an actual game, players will face off against their own teammates during inter-squad scrimmages. Before that they'll take on challenges that range from location-specific shooting to an obstacle course-style shooting, passing, and running game.
You'll hear excellent rock beats during the inter-squad games, which is a great and much-needed addition to a sports genre that was once dominated by rap music. The developers could have added the new soundtrack and ended there, but they took it one step further. Rather than pumping it through the speakers as normal, the music is slightly muffled and hallow, which makes it sound like it's being played in a basketball arena. It's a small but worthy adjustment that adds realism to the sound, an area most sports games don't seem to care about anymore (outside of adding new commentary, which is frequently overlooked).
The mini-game lineup appears to be following the exact same path as the last two games. Their placement has been altered but the contents are no different. Two-on-two battles challenge you to be the first to score 11 points. Normal shots are worth just one point; three-pointers are only worth two points. Score and you get to keep the ball, giving skilled (or lucky) players a devious advantage. Steal or snatch a rebound and you'll have to clear the ball by running outside the three-point boundary. Balls that aren't cleared will result in either no points or a point awarded to your opponent.
Scoring from the post must have been a popular mini-game, because it's back and shows up in The Life Vol. 3 more than once. It's a rather simple challenge where you have to get in the post by holding L1 and follow up with a shot. Score six points to win; score extra and you may complete the auxiliary challenge – a must if you want to fully finish the game. The main challenges must be completed to pass. Lose a couple times and the game will ask if you'd like to switch to "easy mode" for that particular challenge. It's tempting, especially when the 50-second Slalom Run (obstacle course) is getting you down. But give in now and you'll hate yourself in the morning.
Players will be challenged in other ways, including two different shooting games that are based on the location of the shot. The first mini-game gives you 10 balls (each placed on different pillars all over the court) and highlights each ball to show the order in which you need to score. The second has circles dispersed on the court, each of which contains a different number. That number is the amount of points you'll earn by scoring from that location. One point is awarded for the shots closest to the net; four points are awarded for the shots that are the furthest from it. When you score the circle changes color to show that you own that area. But ownership is not permanent. Opponents can steal your ownership – as well as your points – by scoring from your areas. You can do the same, making this an easier mini-game to overcome.
As you can probably tell, NBA 08 doesn’t stray from the course laid out by its predecessors. But with an engaging story, cool audio and what could be the best soundtrack ever given to a basketball game, this version should find many happy homes when it’s released next month.