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College Hoops 2K8 Review

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Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: November 19, 2007 Also On: PS3 and Xbox 360

It did not take long into this new generation before I felt like basketball games were stuck in a “one step forward, one step backward” continuum. It wasn’t until I played Visual Concepts’ brilliant new Career Legacy Mode found in College Hoops 2K8 that I felt like I was playing something complete and coherent, crafted carefully and almost solely for next-generation consoles. Still, a few other features fend off a couple of gameplay and interface eyebrow-raisers; and smooth and detailed graphics help to offset a disappointing aural presentation. Although I am disappointed to again sense the cycle I mentioned before, I am happy to see that Visual Concepts shaped their college basketball game well for the 2007-2008 season.

When I first put in College Hoops 2K8, I was anticipating the Career Legacy Mode. Thus, it was the main attraction for me in my time playing the game. After creating Clifford Baker (“Bakehorn” couldn’t be understood by in-game announcers and the like) and hiring a small squad of assistants, I chose to occupy an open spot coaching the Golden Lions of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. APBU, not quite a stud of the lowly SWAC conference, didn’t offer me a lot of talent out of the gates. I had to work on individual training schedules, drills, recruiting, attending ABL games, and capturing the interest of the college basketball media before I could count on earning prestige and moving into the offices of my favorite school, Indiana University. Eventually I could improve my squad with three-, four-, and five-star recruits, pack my stadium to the brim with fans, feel the Sixth Man Advantage (more on that later), and coast through my schedule to consistent NCAA Tournament appearances.

Devoting time to Career Legacy Mode is the key to enjoying it, and thus experiencing the depth offered in this game. I only casually mentioned some of the bigger features, after all. I found that becoming intimate with my squad, just like a real-life coach, was what I needed to do to win games and understand the strengths and weaknesses of my team and my personal coaching, recruiting, and management. Setting individual drills and working through each and every day of the week is a tedious process, but I noticed the effects later on in the season. For example, the time I put into improving my shooting guard’s long range ability paid off when he would hit clutch, late-game three-pointers.

Career Legacy Mode can be enjoyed by casual gamers as well, but the benefits aren’t quite as great and the attachment to your school isn’t quite as profound of a feeling. For players who want to jump right into their favorite schools, there is an Open Legacy Mode that allows that very option. Still, I have a hard time believing anyone would develop the same craving to improve their players and learn about their team. A friend and I played through countless games in each Career Legacy season and have a lot of memories of funny moments during games, struggling to recruit better players, and the like. I won’t soon forget the clumsy tendencies of our big power forward, Udonis Adler, who would often end up fumbling the ball and pulling some play out of his heart in redemption, or the equally-exciting point guard, Happy Mcgee. Yes, I really did name a player Happy Mcgee.

On the court I noticed that College Hoops 2K8 felt slow and sluggish, so I turned up the game speed and player speed settings very soon after I started playing. The players control pretty well in almost every way: passing the ball is simple and improved with an effective and intuitive Maximum Passing system. If your big man is feeling the heat down low, you can lob a pass over the defender for an easy dunk with the press of an easy combination of buttons. Isomotion controls are a little confusing, but they work well enough if you don’t mash the buttons and actually attempt to pull off smooth combinations. Driving to the lane and playing down low in the post isn’t too difficult, and the Berlin Wall defenses of College Hoops 2K8’s predecessors does not negatively affect the game.

At halftime in each game there is a new feature that I thought was effective in bringing the player into the arena like never before. Coaching reports and hints are presented and help point out the strengths and weaknesses displayed in the first half; some of these tips can really help to prepare better for the second half. Frequently I wouldn’t notice a specific player was lighting up my team or that I could ease off of lesser players, and these notes would be the perfect remedy to any issue. Some of the notes don’t make a lot of sense, but there aren’t very many instances where I found this feature to be anything but helpful. Sixth Man Advantage, a feature I mentioned earlier, is another interesting feature. The home crowd will react quite a lot to their team’s ups and downs throughout the game, exploding with a key block or transition dunk. Alternatively, they’ll go dead silent at the drop of a visitor’s game-leading three-pointer.

A few problems keep the gameplay from perfection. Visual Concepts promised improved A.I., but I was frustrated to see my teammates watch loose balls bounce away or opponents jump for rebounds while they remained planted on the floor. There is a single glaring problem with the passing system; it occurs most frequently during in-bounds passes. I very often couldn’t see the passing icon beneath my players’ feet, and this meant that I would sometimes throw the ball Peyton Manning-style across the arena without intending to, resulting in annoying (and, in the worst of instances, game-squandering) turnovers. Fouls are far too frequent at their default setting. Big men absolutely can’t dribble, regardless of their size or overall rating.

Most annoying of all is the frequent missing of easy shots from players who shouldn’t be missing them, and in situations they absolutely shouldn’t mess up. I’m talking easy transition layups, big dunks, and uncontested, short-range jump shots. There is also an interface issue that I found to be particularly strange and perplexing. There was more than a few times in a season that I’d finish a game and end up back on the team schedule only to see an incorrect Win or Loss indicator, score, etc. In video games of today it is strange to see an error like this; one would usually figure that the process of the game inputting statistics and numbers in columns wouldn’t be so buggy.

Visually College Hoops 2K8 impresses with smooth animations, lively crowds, and detailed arenas. Everything from the basketball net’s swishing and swooshing to the waving of hands in the crowd injected a sense of excitement in me, and I felt like I was more in the game than I ever had before. It is sad that I can’t say the same great things about the game’s sound. Everything in this instance, from the menu music to the commentary to the crowd chants, is terrible despite being very loud and clear. I absolutely couldn’t stand Bill Rafferty or Vern Lindquist’s yammering, particularly that of the former.

Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg do a much better job with their College Hoops Tonight and Post-Game Shows, but their robotic, stiff movements are nothing short of hilarious to watch, despite the honest quality of their dialogue. The chants wouldn’t be so terrible if they weren’t so frequent; “You need practice” and “Back to basics” are only funny the first seven thousand times you hear them.

I have been to at least half a dozen NCAA basketball games every year of the last decade, and not in one single 40-minute game during that stretch of time did I hear as many chants as I’d hear in a five-minute half of College Hoops 2K8. One would hope that the Sixth Man Advantage feature, one of the game’s highest regards, would not be nullified by such things as poor commentary and annoying chanting—alas, this is the unfortunate reality this year.

Before I close up this assessment of Visual Concept’s greatly-improved game, I’d like to mention a few other interesting features that are really more exciting to play with and experience for oneself than they are to read about. 2K Share allows gamers to connect and send files like rosters, which is essential to the gamer whose in-game rosters absolutely have to perfectly reflect those of the real-life teams.

There is a nifty chant editor that I used to ensure my crowd was spitting crude letters and sayings at any time I felt like hearing crowd chants. There is also a play editor that allows you to make an entire playbook. In case that wasn’t enough there are training drills that eventually let you play against recent NCAA stars like J.J. Redick, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley, Jr.

As I said, I am quite satisfied with the improvements that Visual Concepts made to their college game. Although there are still a few issues that could be smoothed out for next year, College Hoops 2K8 would make a great option for NCAA fans feeling the madness before March. Next year I’d like to see fewer gameplay mishaps and a much better presentation.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8
Written by Cliff Review Guide