Monday, December 10, 2007

Big names, big games round out "College Hoops 2K8"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought college basketball video game featured full seasons?

Published by 2K Sports, "College Hoops 2K8" brings a unique basketball experience to the Xbox 360. The game has big-name basketball athletes, including J.J. Redick (Duke), Greg Oden (Ohio St.) and a few others adding some depth to the title.

New features this year include All-American Training Challenge (very similar to NHL 2K8's training minigame) that helps gamers improve their skills on the court. You will face some serious challenges from Redick, Oden, Julian Wright, Mike Conley, Glen Davis, Al Thornton and Alando Tucker. You will perform drills in passing, shooting, defensive abilities in order to advance to the next challenge. You can track your scores to measure how well you are improving.

Also new to the series is 6th Man Advantage. As you play in front of your home crowd (For me? The Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill), you can harness their energy into the 6th Man meter. When the meter fills up, your team gets a surge of strength, confidence and hustle and it rattles your opponents' confidence. During my matches, I found myself maxing that meter out consistently.

There's also Maximum Passing, which allows gamers to throw a lob, chest bounce pass or a lead pass on the fly. Press and hold the Left Button to see the pass options. Especially during a fastbreak, it's an awesome feature to get the ball to the end of the court.

There's Lock-On-D (put pressure on certain opponents during the game), Play Designer (create your own plays), improved Legacy Mode (this year's game features Amateur Basketball Leagues, Create-A-Recruit) and 2K Share. With the Share feature, you can save and swap customize settings, rosters (this is a timesaver), school chants and game files with your friends online.

When players start "College Hoops 2K8," they can hop onto the court with Quick Game, which is an essential tool to see how good you are. If you want more depth, there are also several game modes to choose from. The game includes Legacy, Pontiac Tournament, College Hoops Classic, All-American Training Challenge, Coach Mode, Tutorial and Practice.

The Legacy mode also gamers to create a coach and see if they can take their teams all the way. Players also have limited schools to put their coach at. While this is a big challenge, especially for the schools listed, this really hurts "College Hoops 2K8." Since it's a simulation anyhow, why not let gamers sign with any school they desire?

After creating a coach, you sign your assistants, plan your schedule and play your games. Will you get a contact? Maybe, maybe not - but if you could have UNC, Florida or Arizona, it would be much easier.

The Coaching mode puts you at the helm of a college team - and gives gamers the opportunity to lead their squads to victory. Do you have what it takes to be the next Bobby Knight or Dean Smith or be the next Richie McKay?

In the Pontiac Tournament mode, the game randomly selects teams for the Big Dance. Wow. I have a front-row seat and can play all of the games, including the infamous play-in game. However, what baffled me the most about this game was - there's no real season to play as your favorite team. I am used to sports games having a season that you can play through. Not on this game. Yes, you can download content, yes, you can change the roster names to real players, but no, you can't take Steve Alford's Lobos to the Big Dance. No, you can't take Billy Donovan's Gators through a full season. What in the world are the designers thinking?! You can create a coach, create a schedule but can't guide your favorite team except in a quick game. Maybe it was EA who did this. However, there's no excuse for a game to have tons of features and lack a glorified season mode.

You can also play in a preseason tournament in the "College Hoops Classic" mode. You have four schools to choose from: UConn, Kentucky, Memphis and Oklahoma.

There's also an Around the NCAA option to check rosters, view coach profiles, conference pages and view records. Creation Zone makes a return appearance, letting gamers create schools, players, school chants and plays. You can also edit schools, playbooks and reset your messy changes.

Multiplayer? Yes. Go online and battle ballers on LIVE for the crown. There's nothing like playing a real opponent instead of the sketchy AI.

Gameplay, nonetheless, is solid. The controls are pretty steady and the opponent AI loves to cheat, so be ready for a late charge. If you have a big enough lead, you'll weather their flurry.

The graphics are good - not a lot of improvement over last year's offerings. The players' movements are fluid and the environments are sweet - the crowds, the cheerleaders, the camera guys aren't static but dynamic.

The sounds are awesome. You can access 2K Beats to hear some sick sounds. In the game, the grunts, the crowd chants and the swish are killer. The announcers are as dry as a Boston Market Turkey Dinner in the Sahara.

The game also has an ESPN sports ticker to keep you up-to-date with scores, transactions and the like.

Though the quick game rocks and the gameplay is solid, lack of a season mode puts "College Hoops 2K8" on the bench.

Why should I care: If you love college hoops, this game is sweet. Just don't expect to go deep into the game as a future college star.

The good: Excellent gameplay, sweet animations, engaging and crazy crowds, tons of modes and multiplayer - and dozens of customizations

The bad: No season mode - and limited team selections in other modes

The ugly:
My long, John Kerry face when I realized there was no season mode

Overall: 7.9 (out of 10): This game was so promising. To me, the best NCAA game this year was NCAA 2008 from EA Sports. You play in a high-school tourney and get recruited by tons of colleges. You can play for most schools and work your way up to starter. And you play an entire season, though you just play your plays on the field and simulate the rest. That would be an excellent edition to this game. But to have no mode where you can play as a rising college star is unacceptable. Any sports game needs a season mode. Without it, you have a superstar that lacks a soul. Maybe next year, 2K Sports will add season mode and get off the bench and back into the game.

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