Although the NBA Live series is winding down a long and successful run on the PlayStation 2, it's also in what should be its prime years on the PSP. Despite this difference, the two games are extremely similar. They have the same strengths: solid gameplay and a respectable list of features. Yet they also have the same weaknesses: Both seem to have peaked and offer very little in the way of new content.
Hopefully, you enjoyed last year's game modes because other than the FIBA tournament, which nobody really cares about, there's nothing new here. Dynasty mode, three-point shootout, slam-dunk contest, online play--they're all back and virtually untouched. You can intervene in simulated games and swing the odds in your favor by actually playing the game, which is great for people who don't have the time to play all the games in dynasty mode but also don't want to leave their won-loss record to chance. The PSP has two minigames, both of which were in the game last year: a head-to-head shooting contest called 2 ball and a DDR-style dribbling game known as handles. It also has a worthless feature called the crown, which is kind of like an achievement tracking system. But what's the point of earning accolades for achievements if you can't show them off online? The PS2 has a one-on-one mode that's not a whole heck of a lot of fun.
It's more of the same on the court. EA has scrapped the superstar concept, which simplifies and, thus, improves the gameplay experience. The game does differentiate stars from scrubs by giving the stars a "go to" move like a turnaround jumper, fadeaway, or sidestep, but these moves have little impact and you have little control over when they actually happen. By combining the dunk and layup buttons, which is step back to the controls scheme from 06, the PS2 version actually controls better this time around. The right analog stick is still used to perform dribble moves and, as always, it works great. The PSP makes do with the limited amount of buttons and single analog stick just fine, though using the triangle button to back down defenders is a hit or miss prospect. Half of the time it doesn't seem to work, no matter how many times you press and hold the button.
Last year's game bumped up the challenge by setting the default difficulty to all-star. That must have been too hard for people because it's back down to starter, which means games on the default setting are higher scoring this time around. There are plenty of dunks and good defense--no matter how hard you try--is near impossible. The artificial intelligence will routinely give star players (and often the point guard, even if he's not all that great) the ball and repeatedly drive to the hole. Switching defenses with the D pad doesn't slow down the onslaught, and it's extremely difficult to stay in front of the ball handlers--they're just too fast. Even if you do manage to play good D, you'll probably end up getting scored on because shooting percentages are extremely high--we're talking over 70 percent in some games. If you like scoring, you'll have a blast, but if you're into strategy and tough D, you'll just end up beating your head against the wall.
Both the PS2 and PSP versions look very similar to one another. But thanks to its smaller screen that hides a lot of visual flaws, the PSP version looks a little better. The PS2 isn't helped by a slow and somewhat choppy frame rate either. Players still have the inordinately large heads that let you more easily recognize them from afar. The two games have slightly different camera angles. On the PSP the action is viewed up close from an angle. This view helps make it easy to see what the ball handler is doing, but it's so close that you often can't see what all five of your players are doing. The default baseline camera angle on the PS2 works well, though you'll probably put up some shots from behind the backboard because it's tough to judge your position from this view. Rather than a quick camera rotation on possession changes, the PS2 version quickly fades in and out. It's distracting at first, but you'll eventually get used to it.
Once again, the duo of Steve Kerr and Marv Albert is nearly as good in video game form as they are on television. They do a fine job of keeping up with the action while mixing in a nice bit of analysis and banter in-between. Ernie Johnson and Greg Anthony do a great job calling the All-Star Weekend events. They're always good, but they're at their best when the competitors are at their worst--they'll really let you hear it if you stink.
NBA Live 08 is a competent, fun basketball game on both the PS2 and the PSP. The problem is that other than updated rosters, they're almost the exact same competent games from last year, which were almost exactly the same as the competent versions from the year before.