College Hoops 2K8 Hands-On

The sixth man is on fire in our look at 2K Sports' upcoming hoops game.


Rupp Arena's got it. Cameron Indoor Arena's got it. The Carrier Dome's got it. Heck, even Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum's got it. What's "it," you ask? Well, when basketball season arrives, "it" refers to the sixth man, also known as the advantage a basketball team can gain from the electricity of a fired-up home crowd when the baskets are falling and the good guys can do no wrong. In 2K Sports' upcoming College Hoops 2K8, that "sixth man" will be a big part of the college basketball gameplay experience, as we discovered today during our first hands-on session with the game.

The sixth-man feature in 2K8 is represented as a meter that's shown at the bottom of the screen during a game. By default, the meter is green and will be filled depending on which team you're using (a big program like Duke, for example, will start with about half of its meter filled when playing at Cameron Indoor Arena). Performing successful plays such as scoring baskets or stopping the opposing team will fill the meter up, whereas playing as if your players' shoes are filled with lead and their fingers are coated with motor oil will decrease the meter. If you fire up the crowd enough, the sixth-man meter will fill up completely and turn red, at which point your team will be feeding off the intensity of the crowd and earn temporary confidence as well as energy boosts in the process.

The crowd is your best friend in College Hoops 2K8. The new sixth-man feature can give you a boost when your fans are fired up.
The crowd is your best friend in College Hoops 2K8. The new sixth-man feature can give you a boost when your fans are fired up.

The boost to players' default energy will replenish some of the energy points they've lost over the course of the game. Once the sixth-man bonus runs out--and the meter does deplete gradually--your players' confidence attribute will return to normal and their energy level will return to a slightly higher level than where it was when you first earned the bonus. Along with the obvious visual of the sixth-man meter filling up as you play, the audio clues are unmistakable--to our ears, the crowds in 2K8 sound more alive and variable than ever. When you've got your "sixth man" working for you in the game, you'll know it. Of course, sixth-man bonuses are available only when you're playing at home (or at a neutral site).

Naturally, the college basketball game comes after 2K's NBA series, and one of the nice things about that is the team behind the college game can take the best features from 2K and tweak or improve them for the college game. Remember the hot spots feature in 2K8--a cell-phone signal-like meter that indicates the favorable spots on the floor for your players to shoot from? That's been tweaked a bit in College Hoops 2K8 to simply indicate a player's proficiency at shooting from a certain range, no matter where he is on the floor.

Another example: the visual play-calling system that diagrams the plays on the floor to assist you with how to run particular plays. In College Hoops 2K8, it's got an official name this time around--play vision--and works very similarly to the NBA series. Plays still unfold one step at a time--start the player here, move to there, now pass the ball, set up the screen, and so on--but it's an invaluable tool for learning some of the specific plays in the game. A practice mode will let you take all of these plays into the gym and run them over and over to your heart's content, against multiple types of defense (or no defense at all). You can also switch to the defensive team on the fly and try different defensive looks against the different types of offensive plays in the game. It's a good thing, too, because there will be approximately 80 plays to practice on both sides of the ball.

Passing has been changed up in College Hoops 2K8. Now, in addition to the default passing system, you can select which kinds of passes you want to make by pressing the left bumper (on the Xbox 360) and a face button. You hit X for chest pass, A for bounce pass, Y for lob, and B for leading pass, which is really only effective when your target player is in motion. Getting used to these new passes will take some time, but certain moves are sure to be deadly weapons when used properly, such as the ability to bounce the ball underneath a tight defender, or to toss it over the hands of an outstretched opponent. Isomotion controls will also be controlled with the face buttons: B for crossover, Y for spin, and the shoulder buttons for hesitation moves.

Pass your way out of trouble with 2K8's upgraded pass controls.
Pass your way out of trouble with 2K8's upgraded pass controls.

Say that you're getting owned by your archrival for the first half. You can't get your fast break together, you're getting punished on the offensive boards, and your opponent is draining threes on you all day long. You head into halftime in 2K8 and need to make some adjustments, right? This year, at halftime, you'll be presented with a laundry list of things you've done right (and wrong) during the first half. Most, if not all of the entries on the list can be addressed with game-plan slider adjustments. For example, if you're not getting enough offensive rebounds, you pump up the crash-boards slider; you can move up the defensive-pressure slider to get some hands in your opponent's face at the 3-point line; and you can pump up the fast-break slider to generate more chances on the break. Each time the computer decides that you've addressed a concern, it will check it off the adjustments list. Of course, you can game-plan all you want, but the execution will still be all up to you.

The presentation in 2K8 has gotten some overhauls as well. First, big-time venues such as Kentucky's Rupp Arena have been built from the ground up with improvements to signage and more accurate placement of student sections. The game includes a bunch of new player animations, particularly on the defensive side, and new camera angles during stoppages in play add some nice variety to the game. Verne Lundquist and Bill Rafferty are the booth team, just like last year (Verne continues to be awesome; Bill continues to be...excitable), and the new sideline reporter for 2K8 is CBS' Tracy Wolfson. The team will be calling all the games you play, whether with big-time teams or even smaller programs such as the three new additions to the massive team roster in 2K8: Florida Gulf Coast, Cal-State Bakersfield, and South Carolina Upstate (Spartans holler!).

The new All American Training Challenge feature includes 14 hoops-related drills you can compete in. Drills include the basics--such as running suicides or making your way through an obstacle course while pulling off specialized dribble moves such as crossovers and spins--to more complicated challenges, such as the passing drill, which tests your ability to make the correct pass to a guarded teammate using the game's new passing controls. The better your pass (based on the position of your teammate and his defender) the more points you'll earn in the process. Depending on your performance, you can earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal for each drill. If you earn a gold medal, you'll unlock an additional drill where you take on a real-life player at that drill, such as facing off with J.J. Redick in a free-throw contest or beating Glen Davis in a rebounding match. Beat the pros and you'll earn an achievement. In addition, the feature will track your score for all drills and save it to your game profile.

Newly built mascots make their way into the game, which is great. But what does this guy have to do with a Cyclone?
Newly built mascots make their way into the game, which is great. But what does this guy have to do with a Cyclone?

One of the underrated features in 2K8 has to be the new 2K Share function. Here, you can create custom rosters, game-settings files, playbooks, legacy files, and even custom chants you've created with the built-in chant creator--then you save them and share them with your friends. We'll be counting down the hours until someone gets that first full NCAA roster online, which we can then use to get all the real player names in the game. You'll be able to search for files by gamertag and even rate files so that the best files will be readily available to everyone.

In all, with an increased focus on strategy and better passing controls, it looks to be another fine season of College Hoops 2K8 ahead for fans of the series. Check back next week for a look at the game's updated legacy mode, as well as more in the weeks leading up to its November release.

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