The once-great-but-now-aging athlete attempting to recapture a hint of his past glory: sports fans have seen it hundreds of times and it’s the subject of at least half of Hemingway’s stories. As gamers, we’re now seeing it on a regular basis as the dated PS2 hardware attempts to bring life to venerable franchises for those who haven’t made the jump to next-gen consoles. Well, just be thankful that this is a game review and not one of Hemingway’s depressing jags. If 2K Sports’ College Hoops 2K8 was an ailing matador and not just a sub-par basketball sim, someone would be dealing with the business end of some bull’s horns.
To its credit, the game does some things right. We were pleased to see that developer Visual Concepts continues to understand the differences between the pro and college games. Instead of just tossing in the new additions from this year’s NBA game into its college title, it wisely decided to develop new features specifically for its NCAA game.
And the major new development is the 6th Man Meter. Again college ball is not pro ball. The fans in Syracuse — at 30,000-plus strong in the Orange Dome — are rabid about their team. Same goes for the folks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Bloomington, Indiana. Not to knock these places, but there’s not a whole lot going on in February other than college hoops. Visiting teams know that they’re going into enemy territory when they have to play there. When you have a team made up of 19 and 20 year-olds, nerves are easily jangled. On the flipside, when you’re the home team and you have a screaming throng tossing you its love, you’re going to be able to do things you didn’t think you could. And that’s where the 6th Man Meter comes in. A green bar at the bottom of the screen fills as you do well. Max it out and you become stronger while your opponent loses a step and some sharpness on their shots.
It’s a cool idea, but it could have been cooler. We found the meter filled too smoothly and gradually. We’ve never been to a college game where if you banged in a three-pointer and then stole the inbounds pass and finished things with a dunk, the place didn’t go absolutely insane. A meter that was a little more volatile might have made for a more realistic 6th man boost. It also became too much of a temptation to go for the big play instead of a more fundamentally sound one in order to stir up the crowd. While it did make the meter move, that’s the kind of play that very few college coaches would put up with.
Another on-court addition is the Maximum Passing feature. Instead of weakly tossing the ball to your teammate, holding the L2 button lets you use the face buttons to deliver the type of pass you want. Not only is it a kick and real advantage to be able to hit your man with a very sharp bounce pass — as opposed to the lazy, default semi-lob pass — it also lets you be creative with the tempo of the game.
And once you find your man, a new range meter lets you know if he can drain the shot. An easy-to-read six bar meter — kind of like the reception bars on your phone — shows how comfortable a player is shooting from a certain area. Four bars generally is enough to make him a solid threat. If you’re looking at a single bar or no bars, again, just like with your cell phone, you’ll probably be out of luck.
Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of the innovation ends. The PS3 and 360 crowd gets an incredibly deepened version of the career Legacy mode thanks to the addition of a playable Amateur Basketball League made up of the country’s best prep prospects. PS2 gamers are left with a Legacy game that’s still relatively deep, but by comparison seems lacking. On the plus side, PS2 owners won’t pull their hair out trying to figure out the Play Designer from the next-gen versions. The ability to create your own plays and put them into games is cool. The way you have to do it, though, isn’t.
Presentation-wise things aren’t a giant leap from 2K7, which wasn’t a giant leap from 2K6. The graphics can seem dated and there’s some noticeable slowdown. On the audio side, things get very repetitive very quickly. A lot of this, of course, is the nature of the beast. In a pro game, you can talk ad nauseam about the individual players and coaches. In a college game, NCAA rules prohibit real players from appearing in games, so you end up with a lot of vague comments that get repeated more often.
When you’re not going through the usual suspects of single-player modes — single games, tournaments, legacy mode — you can bring it against a stranger online. You can do a single game to see how your skills work against live competition or you can take part in a league or bracketed tourney. Online, things get choppy at times. It wasn’t awful, but there was noticeable difference between the single-player game and the online game.
The last couple of years have seen 2K Sports’ College Hoops series running just about even with EA Sports’ March Madness series. Despite the addition of the 6th Man Mater and some improved passing and shooting aids, this year’s version of College Hoops seems tired. EA’s collegiate game won’t drop for a couple more weeks, but at this point, it’s still an open race to see who the big man on campus will be this year.