A most anticipated arrival on the sporting scene surfaced on Tuesday, Oct. 2. NBA 2K8 and NBA Live 2008 both made their retail debut on the starting day of NBA practices. Since the inception of 2K series (in both football and basketball), I have been all over it, at the exclusion of the EA Sports of the world. I have buddies who still consume EA Sports games, so I still get the chance to play those games to keep my bias system somewhat in tact. What I find when I play EA Sports games these days (Madden 2005 was the best Madden game to come out in the last 3 years...possibly ever), I find that the laziness, negligence, and progression factor is more palpable with these games each year. Madden 2006 regressed because the creators took away the defensive AI that made '05, and '07 is only slightly better than '06. It has gotten to the point where the only reason I purchase Madden every year is because of two reasons:
1) The updated player rankings and the new rookies coming in. There's unique fascination in seeing fresh meat make their interest into virtual competition before the actual season starts. Plus, seeing some middling or decent NFL player have a career year the previous NFL season translate into starkly increased ratings on Madden is always a sight to behold (see Frank Gore and Mike Furrey).
2) Unassailable habit. The same reason people buy drawers, why black youth buy Jordans, why Bobby Cox feels the need to get the hee-ho from the men in blue. This can't be stopped.
With that said, I don't own NBA Live, and haven't since 2001. As I mentioned earlier, I play it from time to time, coming away underwhelmed everytime because it doens't capture the experience that a basketball purist like myself clamors. So I go with the game that does.
NBA 2K8 does that and then more. Play with or against Baron Davis, and you get a point guard who drives to the hole with his shoulder down and goes up HARD (Devin Harris and Jason Terry know all about that). Play with or against Nash, and you get a skinny white guy who uses screens overwhelmingly to weave into the whole to find an open man. Dallas, you get Dirk's one-handed pose after a shot and a aversion to driving - and going up strong - to the hole.
To score, you cannot simply just drive to the hole with a ball-handling beast like Allen Iverson and be successful. You have to actually call plays and exploit mismatches. I was playing with Golden State against Phoenix, and I realized I had Barbosa guarding Stephen Jackson for large stretches. I didn't realize until the third quarter to start going at him.
I had 13 points that quarter with Jackson.
The AI is smart too. They realized that Baron Davis was killing Nash off the dribble, so they decided to collapse the lane when he drove. This forced me to pass it out to open shooters. With GS shooters, I was able to stay close with this strategy (this has has given me a deeper appreciation for how important penetrating point guards are for shooters). I focused more on gameplay than game modes, so I didn't stake out the dunk contest and three-point modes. I did play the street modes, where the game offers 1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3, 4 on 4, and 5 on 5. I found this mildly entertaining, mostly because of the ease of which I could score. So I trekked back to the Quick Game mode.
Gamespot gave the game 8.5, while IGN gave it a 7.9. This is utterly preposterous. Anybody who plays this latest version will not come away disappointed. Sure there are some issues. For one there's that annoying double-team quirk, when the player being double-teamed doesn't have a chance to escape it before being forced to give up his dribble. I counteracted this problem by recognizing the double team early and passing, or just blowing by. So I didn't find this to be too much a nuisance, but it is one nonetheless.
Another is the ticky-tack foul calls in the paint. Perhaps this is because I haven't mastered the timing of blocking a shot, or because the refs have been touched with the Tim Donaghy bug, or because of the idiotic mechanism implanted into the game's foul calls (I really loathe bad calls). But this is another irritation that can be overlooked, because the game is otherwise so flawless.
So do yourself a favor. Don't debate with anybody the merits and demerits of Live vs. 2K. Don't ask anybody. Just buy 2K8.
Thank me later.