Many of you probably remember the first look Vetz got at NBA 2K8 this past July when we premiered their exclusive Black Top mode that featured the new Slam Dunk contest. Other than that, 2K Sports has been very hush, hush about their critically acclaimed basketball simulation. Well finally, Vetz got another look at 2K8 and while we had limited time with the game, we saw enough to know 2K isn't resting on their laurels one bit.
First off I'd like to thank Anthony Chau for taking the time for showing us a build of NBA 2K8 that was roughly 80% complete. The team is still working on nailing down the player motion to eliminate as much skating on the floor as was seen sometimes in last year's game. I mentioned to him that sometimes the isomotion moves weren't as smooth as they could've been last year, and you got stuck in canned animations as the moves were finishing. Something he agreed with and assured me that they were working on delivering as tight as player control as possible.
The first thing that jumped out at me was how well done the player models were looking, even from afar. Kevin Garnett looked exactly like himself, especially on post moves. From his body type, to the shape of his head, 2K nailed him. The movements of the player's shorts looked even more fluid than last year. On the announcing side Craig Sager, Kenny Smith and crew are back calling the action and from what I heard, the announcing sounds similiar to last year but they do have some new lines thrown in. Personally, I liked the crew, so this was good to see.
Gameplay. Aside from the overall game speed being a tad bit slower, the game moved very smoothly, and it was a upgrade from last year. Passing was improved as the ball moved crisply instead of those lazy passes you saw sometimes in 2K7. I still saw some players jumping for passes when catching the ball on the break, but this did not deter from the transistion game. Rebounding, sometimes a sore spot last year, seemed more intuitive this year as I didn't see any balls touch the court like we saw all too often in 2K7. Players really seemed more aggressive attacking the ball as it came off the rim. If you noticed that I keep comparing the game to last year, that's just to accentuate how much this game has improved over it's predecessor.
Another element that got a huge upgrade was the dual player control. If you remember last year, dual player was kind of hit and miss. Too many times you'd set a command for a player and the A.I. would fail to execute it correctly. This has been addressed this year by new off-ball controls which will give the player a lot more flexibility on the court. Essentially the system lets you chose a two-man play to run. For example, if I'm controlling my point guard, I'll first call the play (left bumper), and you'll see the four plays pop up, get open, come off a screen, got to the post or set a screen for another player. In this instance, I'll use Jamal Crawford here, I told him to run off a screen. I immediately saw Crawford highlighted (indicated by the 'rb" icon over his head) and he runs the play accordingly. In this case, Eddy Curry moved out to set the screen for Crawford to run off of. After Crawford reached the open spot on the floor, a button icon appeared over his head and you have to press the corresponding button to pass him the ball. It even goes further as you also have the option of taking control of Crawford before he makes his move. You can select any player on the court by using the D-pad, then you can call the play with the point guard. Still using Crawford as the example, say I highlighted him first (d-pad to select him, "rb" indicated highlighted player), I then have the option of taking control of him by pressing the "rb" bumper. I can still tell Crawford to come off the screen, but only this time I'll be controlling him and have to move accordingly as the play calls for. It may sound complicated at first, but after awhile it will become second nature.
Another thing Anthony stressed to me was, they wanted to make playing defense fun in NBA 2K8. As most of us remember, that could be quite a chore in 2K7 at times. This year the focus is on defense and improving the defensive controls. On display was the new lock-on defensive system that assists the user in playing tighter defense on the ball handler. To initiate it, you hold down the left trigger and you'll see a small target start pulsing under the player's feet. Once it's complete, your defender will be locked onto the ball handler. This system is tied into the defensive attributes of the players, so poor defenders will have a much harder time locking down the ball handler. When I said assists the user earlier, that means the CPU will kick in and help you play defense. This isn't to say ankles can't be broken anymore, as I saw a few players even locked on to the ball handler, still get beat off the dribble. But overall, I liked what I saw, the defenders played the ball handler a lot more agressively when you locked on. Keep in mind when the ball swings to another player, you'll have to initiate the lock down process all over again with the next player. So you'll want to choose wisely who you want to guard tighter.
NBA 2K8 also has a system that is an answer to NBA Live 08's hot spots. You'll notice under every player's feet a small icon that looks similiar to cell phone reception bars. The icon represents each player's shot tendecies at different areas of the court. This data was compliled from real life NBA data, to ensure every player plays as close to their real life counterpart as possible. This system will indicate when a player is close to his hot spots on the floor and whether he's hot or cold. As the player moves closer to his spot, the yellow bars in the start to fill up. So you can imagine that Rip Hamilton's icon was completely filled from any midrange shot on the floor. If a player gets hot, that is indicated by red bars in the icon. If you're laying bricks all over the court, the icon will have blue bars. I just want to stress that, just because a guy's icon is completely filled, that does not ensure that he will make the shot everytime. I saw Nash miss a few close ones inside despite him having the icon filled because the shot was contested. So these are just tendencies, not assurances.
A few misellaneous things I noticed:
- Free throw system has returned from 2K7
- on the fly subs are back
- Half time show has been scaled down considerably. Instead more of a focus was put into the post game wrap up. Kenny Smith will have the plays of the game and you also have the option of viewing any replay of any player that partcipated in that game. Want to show your boy that bogus foul on Marbury back in the first quarter? You can call that particular play up with a DVD-styled menu with the player's name highlighted.
- Association has been beefed up. Players now have roles that can adversely affect team chemistry. You might want to play that dynamite rookie you have, but it might be at some veteran player's expense. These kind of decisions will affect the team chemistry.
- Slam dunk contest had more players from what was seen last time. Added in were high flyers like David Thompson and Dr. J.
From what I've seen in the short time with the game, it has improved considerably from last year. In the coming weeks Vetz will have more coverage on the game as soon as possible. In the interim, stay tuned for an exclusive NBA developer interview that will cover any loose ends not in this preview. Look for that in about two weeks. NBA 2K8 releases on October 2nd, on the 360, PS3, Xbox and PS2 consoles.