There are two important elements in basketball: offense and defense. If your knowledge of the game were solely based on a few hours of playing “NBA Live 08,” you probably would not have grasped this complicated theory.

The creators of “08” seemed to forget that developing a competent defensive engine was necessary for compiling a complete basketball experience and, not surprisingly, the game suffers from it. It’s borderline impossible to stop any legitimate interior threat and perimeter defense is almost as fruitless.

Although the franchise has slowly improved since its Xbox 360 debut two years ago, EA Sports’ basketball franchise still falters due to frustrating defensive mechanics that permit the likes of Chucky Atkins to drop 40 points on a regular basis and its forced offensive elements fail to capture the real ebb and flow of the NBA.

Offensively, the game has subtly improved upon its predecessor, but still isn’t where it needs to be. Ball handling with the right analog stick relies too much on canned animations that limit gamers’ control and really isn’t all that different from what 2K Games was doing on PS2 about five years ago. And with the exception of low-post play, which is actually quite functional, executing a half-court offense is awkward and inorganic as players rarely rotate unless you’re constantly calling plays for them.

Game-play missteps aside, the rest of “08” ‘s feature set is fairly thorough. A deep dynasty mode, dunk contests, online leagues and a new FIBA international tournament make up a solid foundation for a good sports game.

Now all they need to do is figure out the basketball part and they’ll be set.

Cue the John Tesh theme music: Finally, EA Sports realized what the NBA did about 20 years ago: The league’s success is dependent on its marquee stars. To emphasize the game’s best players, “08” incorporated a new Go-To Moves system where certain players can execute special shots that are representative of their real-life game. The Go-To Moves vary in their effectiveness (KG’s turnaround move is unstoppable), but for the most part there isn’t enough diversity among players — about half of the top guards using the same side-step jumper.

Time to bust out your Jan-Hendrik Jagla jersey: To capitalize on the potentially existent international basketball fan-base in the US, “08” introduces playable FIBA World Championships. It’s not a full-fledged international mode, but just an eight-team, single elimination tournament. Plus, you can even sub in NBA teams, so let’s just rename this “Tournament” and shed the FIBA badging for “09.”

“Yeesh, Kobe for three”: When “Madden” cut out the studio announcing crew two years ago, the developers did so because announcing in sports games is usually boring and repetitive, and everyone knows it. But the announcing in “NBA Live 08” isn’t actually that bad. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr are constantly talking about something, and it almost sounds real. It’s strange, though, that Kerr is announcing in the game, considering he’s the new general manager of the Phoenix Suns. Conflict of interests? Um no, not really.

Sorry, virtual Isaiah will not accept your terrible trade proposal: The “NBA Live” franchise still has a lot of in-game kinks to work out, but the dynasty mode is fairly polished. There’s a focus on managing your coaching staff and off-day team assignments, and the standard roster-management-dynasty fare is included as well. Sadly, the ability to send refs on Atlantic City getaways hasn’t been incorporated yet.

If “08” were an NBA franchise, it would be . : The Milwaukee Bucks. It’s not the worst NBA game ever, but you’d be happier investing your time elsewhere. It’s reached the point where simply improving on the “Live” franchise isn’t good enough, and it might be time to blow it all up and start over.

NBA Live 08
Xbox 360
EA Sports

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