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NBA Live 08
Score: 87%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)

Graphics & Sound:
EA's NBA Live series has struggled a bit over the last few years. The series has always looked great and been about as feature-laden as any other top-shelf sports game, but the gameplay has always seemed a bit off. NBA Live 08 is a turning point for the franchise; it still looks great and is packed with features, but the gameplay has finally begun to stack up to the rest of the package.

There's no question that Live 08 looks great. Players are easily recognizable right down to the smallest of details. Features like tattoos and hairstyles are accurate, but the real visual standouts are player faces. Similar to Madden 08, Live 08 uses a new animation system that allows for more fluid movements. As players spin and juke around the court, they do so without any awkward motions or stuttering transitions usually seen in sports games.

Marv Albert and Steve Kerr are back in the booth and do an excellent job of keeping up with the game. While it doesn't quite match the excitement of some soccer videogames, the duo is still entertaining. The calls are usually right on the money.

One of the biggest charges made against Live in the past few iterations was that it began to take more of an arcade-like feel. Play was a little faster than it should be and things never really jived right. NBA Live 08 makes strides to fix these problems.

The first, and most noticeable, improvement to the gameplay is the camera angle. Rather than using the default view that the series has used for years, the game is now presented using a new dynamic broadcast camera. The new view will take old-time players a little time to adapt, but once they do, they'll quickly fall for it. It is much easier to see what is happening on the court, which in turn makes it easier to make decisions.

When it comes to modes, NBA Live 08 isn't much different from last year's game. In addition to Exhibition and Dynasty games, you can also take part in the international FIBA tournament and use teams from around the world. Outside of games, you can also play through the 3-point contest, slam dunk contest and rookie challenge. Online is also on-board and works rather well.

As is usually the case when it comes to sports games, the team you are using will affect the game's difficulty. When it comes to pure mechanics, however, newcomers face a steep learning curve when it comes to learning the mechanics. Although the curve won't be quite as steep, veterans will also have to readjust to the controls' improved feel and responsiveness.

As with last year's game, defense is pretty aggressive. If you don't know what you are doing, you'll have a hard time winning. It isn't impossible, but casual fans may want to adjust the settings a bit. Adding to the aggressive play of the A.I., the officials are also strict when making calls. Of course, this will lead you to believe that the game is cheating - and sometimes it does -- but the A.I. is called for just as many tacky fouls as you are.

Game Mechanics:
The controls have also seen a number of improvements. NBA Live 08 still uses the same familiar control scheme, though everything has been tweaked to make it more gameplay friendly. The layouts haven't changed much, but the response feels a little faster and smoother. As a result the pacing is still fast, though with a much better feel - especially once you get used to the new camera system. Tweaks are really noticeable when using the right analog stick for ballhandling - especially if your player has high rankings in related stats. This system goes hand-in-hand with the new animation system.

During a game, you can press (L1) to bring up a color-coded overlay that shows where a particular player's "hotspot" is. This shows where they are best at shooting from and is useful for helping you plan strategies. You'll generally want to get players in the areas they shoot best from, so you'll find yourself trying to maneuver players more. This also reduces the number of bad shots.

Motion controls don't play a big part in the game other than for free throws. You aren't required to use this method and, other than a few times trying it out, I rarely did.

Last year's "Superstar" system has been removed. Now standout players have special on-court moves that let them get open when the game is on the line. Most of the time these result in those great-looking jump shots that usually end up on Sportscenter's highlight reel. These moves can feel cheap and maybe a little too powerful at times, but in an odd way it makes sense since the resulting shots are usually unbelievable even in a real game.

Just looking at NBA Live 08, it is hard to tell the difference between it and last year's game. The differences are more noticeable when you begin to play the game; it begins with the new camera and continues with the numerous gameplay tweaks and changes. If you're a PS3 owner and a basketball fan, NBA Live 08 is worth a look.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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