GamePro looks at the upcoming NBA titles

Posted June 18th, 2007 at 5:45 pm

In an interesting analysis of the three NBA games that will release this fall, GamePro gives its take on the state of each.

The Dark Horse – NBA 2K8

Let's be honest: Take Two's franchise has consistently received critical acclaim for its substance-driven development philosophy. From the youngest NBA fans to the league's own top-rung players, gamers have ranked 2K's series as their favorite for quite some time. So it's surprising that, while EA and Sony struggle to get the word out about their titles, NBA 2K8 developer Visual Concepts has released no information whatsoever about its game. Nothing. Zero.

Gameplay is a mystery. Feature lists don't exist. In fact, all we have to go on are a small selection of quietly-released screenshots of the engine in action — enough to give us an idea of what the game's going to look like (very pretty, by the way, though no Live 08), but little else.

So we can't help but ask: Can 2K Sports risk being the dark horse and keeping their hand this close to their chest? Visual Concepts hasn't let the gaming community down yet. It wouldn't surprise us if our patience was amply rewarded.

The K.I.S.S. Approach – NBA Live 08 

As Sony struggles to enrich its feature list, EA is throwing away over-the-top doodads in favor of streamlined, realistic gameplay. Everything in NBA Live 08 has been rebuilt for the express purpose of bringing 'the fun' back to the game. The fun, they've finally realized, had been depressingly absent for far too long.

So EA Canada started improving core features. The animation count, for instance, has gone through the roof: Hundreds of fresh animations have been implemented to cover every possible gameplay contingency, from crazy collisions to star players' signature jump shots. The ball physics have been dramatically improved as well, and rebounds (and players' subsequent leaps for possession) are both more common and more realistic. EA has even moved the default camera closer to the sidelines for that authentic, televised feel. And there won't be any distracting minigames or off-court features to take away from core gameplay.

Of course, EA is pretty well-known for delivering superior visuals at the expense of great gameplay, not to mention additional features. To be honest, they may be slipping down that particular slope once again. We can't judge gameplay yet — it's far too early for that — but we sure can examine the game's aesthetic, and damn if it doesn't blow us away.

These are character models unlike anything you've ever seen. Only a couple brief glimpses of the Live 08 engine have been released, but they're enough to make us wonder just how the next-gen systems (even the one with a Cell processor under its belt) can deliver such photo-realism. The game runs smoothly at the benchmark 60 frames per second, and yet player detail is still leagues beyond the competition. Seeing as how this is EA Sports, it may very well be all style and no substance. But given the developers' efforts to the contrary, we're inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Control Freak – NBA '08

Sony's newest dribble-fest is an exercise in self-improvement. Everything in the game is getting a new coat of paint, from the polished floor beneath the players' feet to the basketballs in their hands. Crowds have become denser and more animated, and the ball's physics system has been completely reworked. Over 2,000 animations now drive the players, including a slew of new transitions to help smooth out jerky motion. Some familiar features are even returning with subtle improvements: The multiplayer auto-matches and leaderboards have been upgraded, and the franchise's unique minigames are going online.

When all is said and done, though, NBA '08's competitiveness will probably be tied to its revamped controls. SCE San Diego isn't just adding Sixaxis movement to its input list; the team is fully incorporating the PS3's motion sensor. By shifting the Sixaxis to either side, for instance, you'll be able to rotate the ball back and forth in preparation for more accurate passes, which, in turn, can be changed from bounces to direct throws to arcing lobs by moving the controller appropriately. If you're playing defense, you'll be able to "go high" or "go wide" by pulling the Sixaxis back or pushing it forward, adapting your stance to the motions of the ball carrier.

While NBA 2K hasn't released anything about this year's offering, I'd hardly consider them a "darkhorse". Clearly they are the one to beat. Unlike 2K's All-Pro Football marketing, they are in a position where they're seen as the #1 game already so they can take a different approach. It would be nice to hear from them however, as NBA Live still does quite well sales wise despite that. The opportunity to capitalize on NBA Live slipping is not something they should let pass by because that game will be back sooner rather than later.

Live has potential for this year, but whether it will all come together is a big question mark. I saw the game last month (and will get to play it next week) and while things were looking improved it still has a long way to go to be considered on 2K's level.

And Sony's NBA series is really, well, irrelevant.