NBA Live 08 Updated Hands-On

We investigate the three features that look to change how you play the NBA Live series.

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For the past few years, the NBA Live series has been a franchise in search of itself. As series developers have struggled with different methods of capturing the intensity and creativity of NBA players in a virtual setting, the results have been games that are uneven at best, and at worst, no fun at all. Now, for the third version of the series to appear on the Xbox 360 (and the first on the PlayStation 3), the producers have focused on the fundamentals of basketball to try to improve the basic gameplay. That said, NBA Live 08 is still going to have its own special features that set it apart from last season. Here, we're going to take a look at four gameplay features that are aimed to make NBA Live 08 the best game yet in the series: quick-strike ballhandling, own the paint, signature moves and hot spots.

Kobe will move like the real thing in NBA Live 08, but will he demand a trade every other week?
Kobe will move like the real thing in NBA Live 08, but will he demand a trade every other week?

Quick-strike ballhandling is essentially an improved way for players to both move the ball and move with the ball. From a ballhandling standpoint, your player's dribbling is controlled by the right stick; moving the stick left to right will cause your player to dribble the ball between his left and right hands, for example. Thanks to EA's improved branching animations, you combine the new ballhandling with the ability to move out of any animation far quicker than before, and you've got the opportunity to truly explode from any spot on the floor. The result is players that are more responsive than before, and more options than ever for getting to the hoop.

Working with former Nuggets great Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA Live development team at EA Canada has opened up post play as one of the most exciting parts of the game, thanks to the new own the paint system. As producers put it, every matchup in the paint in NBA Live 08 should be like a chess match, where one-on-one matchups are won and lost on every possession, all determined by the creativity and drive of the players. Using the analog sticks (which drive the quick-strike ballhandling moves), players enter a cat-and-mouse game of moves and countermoves--producers estimate there are approximately 100 different moves possible in the post. Fake shots and spins will play a big part of the action in the own the paint system--you can fake a spin with the B button during a one-on-one matchup. At one point, we watched as LeBron James went up for a fake shot, his defender bit hard, and King James dribbled around him and headed straight for the hoop. This kind of explosive speed off the line wasn't possible in older versions of NBA Live. All of these moves--whether in the paint or outside the three-point line--are contextually driven, so you won't see players going for layups if they're fifteen feet from the basket. Instead, it's the right move at the right moment.

As producers told us, everyone is going to find their favorite post moves in NBA Live 08, and the team behind the game is working to make sure that if you go to the well once too often with your favorite move you'll get stuffed, either by your real-life opponent, or the improved defensive artificial intelligence in the game. For one thing, the collision detection is better than it's ever been in Live 08, with bodies bumping as you look to own the lanes. There's also a defensive help button you can use to help keep your player locked on his assignment (or switch to the next player as the ball is moved down the court). It takes away some of the challenge of trying to beat someone with pure skill, but at the same time, it doesn't mean you still can't get your ankles broken by an Allen Iverson or Kobe Bryant.

Speaking of Kobe, thanks to a host of new signature moves, Mr. I-Want-A-Trade is going to play more like his supremely skilled self than ever before. Kobe's signature fadeaway shot will be in the game, as will Tony Parker's teardrop shot, along with a host of other shots and moves modeled directly after their NBA counterparts.

Quickstrike moves and new animation will help you dominate the paint, much like Mr. O'Neal.
Quickstrike moves and new animation will help you dominate the paint, much like Mr. O'Neal.

When players like Parker and Bryant get hot, you'll want to utilize them as much as possible from their favorite spots on the court. To do so, you can use the new hot spot feature. By pressing the left shoulder button, a color-coded overlay appears on the floor, showing where your currently controlled player is finding success, and where he's stinking up the place. Red zones indicate hot spots, while yellow and blue areas indicate areas to stay away from when you're looking to put the ball up. Producers said that for individual exhibition games, hot spot data will be based on real-life player tendencies--in NBA Live 08's franchise mode, that hot spot information will be tracked dynamically and will adjust over the course of a season.

Though EA has been focusing on discussing its gameplay improvements for NBA Live 08 in the past few weeks, there's still plenty to learn about the game before its release later this year, including details on its franchise and online modes. We'll be bringing you more on the game in the coming weeks, including a look at what EA will be showing at E3.

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