NBA 08 Updated Hands-On

Sony's NBA series is set to return with some improved play-calling controls, and we've got an updated look.

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Baron Davis is at the top of the key, ball in hand. Davis' Golden State Warriors are down by two and Dallas' Devin Harris is pressing BD hard. With a look, Davis calls for his forward Stephen Jackson to set up a pick. With Jackson in place, Davis moves through the pick and subsequently makes a perfect bounce pass to a streaking Jackson who dunks the ball with style. This ties up the game and keeps the Warriors in contention. As we found out in our most recent look at NBA 08, setting up plays like this looks to be a bit part of the gameplay in Sony's upcoming basketball game for the PlayStation 3.

NBA 08's key control feature will give you some extra control over the plays you call on the floor.
NBA 08's key control feature will give you some extra control over the plays you call on the floor.

The new key control system, as it's known, basically revolves around two-man plays, such as pick and rolls. To call a miniplay, you first hold down the L1 button, then icons appear over your teammates' heads (as they would for icon-based passing). With the L1 button held down, you pick the player you want to focus on by pressing the corresponding button on the PS3 controller. An icon will flash briefly underneath your chosen player, indicating he's ready for action.

Once you've chosen your focus player, you can press the D pad to choose the play you wish to call. For example, to call a pick and roll, you press down on the D pad; for an isolation screen, you press left; to send a player cutting toward the post, you press up; and to switch offensive formation, you press right on the D pad. That last option will let you cycle through three offensive formations: standard, perimeter, and double low. Once a play is called, you don't have control of your secondary player. Instead, the CPU controls his movement based on the play you called. You'll also have play-calling abilities on the defensive side of the ball: right to double-team in the post; left to tighten defense; up to double-team the ball carrier; and down to intentionally foul an opponent.

While calling plays on the fly is nothing new for a basketball game, being able to pinpoint the player you want in on the action is beneficial. Instead of having the computer send your shooting guard in to set a pick or your 300-pound center "streaking" toward the basket, you can choose which player you want in on the play depending on what you're looking to do on the floor. On the other hand, the available plays are limited to the four plays preassigned to the D pad, as there's no way to customize your own plays elsewhere in the game. At the very least, this will need to be expanded in future versions of NBA 08 for players to really latch on to the feature.

Bibby's tats are in full effect.
Bibby's tats are in full effect.

Many of the same Sixaxis-based controls found in last year's NBA 07 return this year as well, including the ability to control special moves, such as spins or jukes, by turning and twisting the Sixaxis in different directions. New additions to the system include crossovers to the left or right, controlled by turning the controller vertically in the appropriate direction. When your player is standing with the ball, but not dribbling, you can move the Sixaxis in any direction, and that player's ball hand will follow your motion. When on defense, you can put your hands up or down when defending by pointing the Sixaxis up or down. This feature can lead to odd moments, especially if (like us) you play with the front of your Sixaxis controller pointing up most the time while your players scurry back and forth across the court with their hands up in the air, even if they aren't guarding anyone.

NBA 08 will include a number of different game modes to keep you busy: exhibition, season, playoffs, minigames, online, and NBA Replay mode, which was introduced in last year's game. In NBA Replay, you'll have a chance to take on challenges pulled straight from the headlines of the real NBA (sorry folks, there's no "cheating ref" challenge). NBA Replay mode is divided into two portions: "The Season" and "Games of the Week." Challenges in "The Season" are pulled from the 2006/07 season, while "Games of the Week" will be weekly downloads of five challenges apiece posted by the Sony development team once the July '08 season begins. According to Sony, the challenges culled from the previous NBA season are brand new, not simply rehashes of the downloadable content available in NBA 07's NBA Replay mode.

All challenges in NBA Replay mode include two types of goals: "meet the challenge" and "extra mile." To move on to the next challenge on the list, you'll have to at least beat the "meet the challenge" goals, and you'll earn extra credit for completing the "extra mile" goals. For example, NBA Replay mode goal pulled from the second week of the 2005/06 season will have you in control of Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Redd on the night Redd scored 57 points to break Kareem Abudl-Jabbar's franchise record against the Jazz. To pass this challenge, you'll need to hit two three-point shots from illuminated spots on the floor (pulled from the actual spots that Redd hit two three-point shots from the actual game), as well as score at least eight total points from Redd in the time allotted for the challenge (in this case, one minute and 38 seconds). The "extra mile" goal for this challenge is to deal one assist from Bucks' forward Charlie Bell to Redd. In other challenges, you might be required to prevent a certain player from getting any assists or limit your opposition to a certain amount of points.

However you play the game, you'll be earning credits for your created ball player in NBA 08. One of the first things you do in NBA 08 is create a player who you can assign to any team either as a starter or a bench warmer (though you'll likely want to pick the latter, as your created player will need some development time before he's ready for the starting job. After creating your player and assigning him to a team, you'll earn credits for practically everything you do in the game, from completing NBA Replay challenges to simply scoring points in an exhibition match. Interestingly, you earn credits even if you quit out of a game early.

As you progress through the game, you'll be able to improve your created player's abilities.
As you progress through the game, you'll be able to improve your created player's abilities.

You can then take those credits and use them to unlock content in the game. This content includes throwback jerseys, retro floors, fantasy arenas, and intro presentations. More importantly, you can use credits to buy attribute points for your created character. Attributes you can improve include everything from outside and inside shot to rebounding. They also include ball handling, jump ability, and dunking ability, among others. Your created player's starting attributes will differ depending on his position, and certain attributes will be capped depending on his role on a team, so you won't see a center with a higher speed rating than a point guard. It's no secret that the basketball video game landscape is getting increasingly competitive these days. With its close competitors seemingly upping their games this year, it remains to be seen if Sony's NBA 08 will be able to keep up with the competition. We'll find out when the game is released in early October. In the meantime, stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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