I review a lot of sports games-mostly on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Whenever I am faced with the task of reviewing a PS2 game, I have to remember that in one sense, I can't hold it to the same standards as the next-gen games (it costs less right?). Obviously, the hardware is not as powerful, and not capable of the same depth and visuals. But I am not ready to admit that the good ole' PS2 can't still churn out sports games that are fun, play great, and are entertaining. Sure, NBA 08 "The Life" V3 on the PS2 isn't going to look as good as, say, NBA Live 08 on the next-gen consoles, but it should try to match the experience in what it does. Although it is rather fun in spots, this game doesn't quite have the gameplay or entertainment value to make up for the fact that it's a sports game trying to survive on the PS2.
The main section of the game, The Life-V3, puts you in the shoes of a rookie trying to get his start in the NBA. This is an intriguing idea, and has the potential to be very, very entertaining. Unfortunately, the game is held back by some key flaws, both in the gameplay and in the AI. At the start, a team has lost its best players and the coach has left, and you are sent to training camp to see what you can do. Training camp is basically just a bunch of mini-games and situational goals, such as making some free throws or piling up a certain number of a stat in a scrimmage, or balancing jumpers with dunks in a scrimmage. Either way, you'll want to meet all the goals to progress your player and jumpstart him toward stardom.
The problem is that there is not much depth or variation to the training, which is a relatively big part of the game. It quickly becomes a chore, and you'll be getting through it just to boost your player's attributes long after it ceases to be fresh and fun. When you do play actual games, it's all about whether or not you're completing your personal goals, and not even so much about winning or losing. One thing I found very annoying is that no matter how well or badly I did in a game, the cut-scenes were always the same. I could play great and then get yelled at in a cut-scene for not playing well. It just doesn't make sense sometimes. Sure, cut-scenes are nice and add some flash, but if they don't make sense half of the time, then they tend to lose their value.
If it all made sense, all of the time, then The Life mode would actually be a very fresh, enjoyable mode. But the lack or variety and depth in the training, the non-sensible cut-scenes, and the linear feel all combine to hinder this mode from being what it could be.
The actual gameplay of this game does not do enough to save it from mediocrity. There are just too many little frustrating details that keep it from being a smooth, enjoyable basketball experience. In general, there is a lot of lag between when you input a button command, and when the action actually happens on the court. For example, when you switch players on defense, it takes a second for the switch in who you are controlling to actually happen. Speaking of switching players, it is next to impossible to switch to the right player. In most games, it automatically switches to the player closest to the ball. In this game, it seems to rotate in a set order, so that you have to scroll through before you get to the guy in help-side position that you need to step in and help. By the time you get to him, it's too late, and the ball is being dunked. This is an example of a basic element of video game defense that shouldn't be an issue, but is here.
Aside from several other gameplay examples like the previous one, the overall gameplay is simply not smooth. The animations are jerky, and dribbles, passes, and shots are not strung together well. You feel as if you are trying to control a string of actions into an end goal of putting the ball in the basket. Don't get me wrong, there definitely is some fun to be had in this game, and it's not all bad, but basketball video games are the kind of games in which just a few details can detract greatly from the overall experience.
Graphically, this game is not bad for a PS2 game. If you've played NBA Live on the PS2, it's about on par with that series. The animations are not that smooth, and you'll definitely notice some blockiness and choppiness in the players. The crowds and other visual aspects are satisfactory, but nothing impressive. The sound is nothing to write home about, but does the job for your average basketball game.
Besides the Life mode, there are several other options to keep you busy. You can jump right into an exhibition game, choose from a number of different mini-games to play, or play a single season or playoffs. For a season, you will manage your roster, make trades, work with free agents, etc. It's nowhere near the dynasty mode of the NBA Live series or anything, but it's a season you can play through if you get tired of the Life mode. You can also create players and put them on teams and take them into a season. The online component is there, but is barebones at best. You can play an exhibition game against one other person, but that's it.
There certainly is some fun to be had in this game, and the story mode approach to basketball is a very unique and different spin on basketball video games. However, there are just too many little flaws in this game that hold it back from being a great game.
If you're a PS2 devotee and crave that RPG element in a basketball game, then go pick this one up-you certainly will find some enjoyment in it. Otherwise, I'd go with a different option for your virtual baller this year.