Few things generate as much joy as college basketball. There’s no collegiate sport that gives so many schools the incredible opportunity to burst onto the national scene, thanks to the unmistakably American extravaganza that is March Madness. Let’s face it – if your alma mater’s football team doesn’t play in the Big Ten, Big Twelve, Big East, ACC, SEC, or Pac 10, it’s got no chance to make it to the Bowl Championship Series. That’s not the case in NCAA hoops though, as every school in Division 1 gets a crack at making the Big Dance. There’s never a doubt that Duke, North Carolina, UCLA, and Arizona will be handling the rock come March. Even better is the fact that universities like Rider, George Mason, Monmouth, and St. Peter’s all get that same chance.
Therein lies the best part of 2K Sports College Hoops 2K8. The Legacy mode puts you in the shoes of a coach that’s just starting out, getting a shot with one of a dozen or so tiny institutions of his choosing, and learning the fundamentals of the game along the way. Once you pick which one of these hoops-challenged schools to lead, it’s up to you to build a real program with meager resources across the board. While it’s a challenge, it’s by no means impossible. After a few games learning the basics, I relished the opportunity to take my Princeton Tigers on the road to compete in an Ivy League game. I lost more than I won my first year, but that forced me to learn how to set up my offensive plays, rotate in my best players for the right situations, and pick the right times to play tough D versus letting my opponent have a little leeway.
Even with a distinct learning curve for shooting that forced me to be exceedingly patient (no small matter considering I’ve played just about every basketball game released in the past 10 years), eventually I just about fell in love with 2K8. Not that it didn’t frustrate the living hell out of me a thousand times. Despite an inordinate amount of missed layups, botched free throws, and errant passes, the overall experience of immersing myself in all aspects of creating a successful basketball program from scratch was one of the most satisfying sports experiences I’ve had in a long time.
What’s College Hoops 2K8 got to offer you? Namely, the best pure college basketball experience to be had on the next-generation consoles.
Now let’s say you’re not someone looking to transform Fairfield from a patsy into a national power. Visually, it continues to push the envelope, as the courts, players, crowds, and cheerleaders are all stunningly rendered and mesh together in a mostly-smooth 60 frames per second. The sounds emanating from the arenas are all top notch, including the squeaking of sneakers, chants of the student section, and the PA announcers overseeing the action.
Gameplay is less polished though, and might cause you to toss some curses around the room. At the heart of the matter is the Shot Stick, which will undoubtedly try your patience. Granted, you’re directing college kids around the court, so they don’t exactly operate in the basketball plane occupied by the Dwayne Wades and Tim Duncans of the world. On the other hand, I found myself missing wide-open jumpers and easy layups all the time, whether I chose to try my hand at the Shot Stick or even using the traditional ‘X’ button shooting mechanic. I may not be the best videogame basketball player ever, but I’m no slouch. Even so, my shooting percentages were far too low. My only solace came from the fact that my next door neighbor and other buddies who played a few games with me shot even poorer.
Off the court, 2K has introduced 2K Share, an ingenious feature that allows users to upload and download rosters of teams with – yep, you guessed it – the real player names. I am always a sucker for authenticity, but I am also well past the age where I can sit down and plug in the names of the guys on each team. Now, anyone can sponge off of the hard work of others who do decide to dedicate themselves to such detail. What’s better is that it’s not just an aesthetic modification when the generic North Carolina center transforms into the real-life Tyler Hansbrough - the TV announcers and arena PA men recognize the changes and say the player names during the action. It’s a great touch that puts the cherry on top of a superb hoops sundae.
You’ll hear me complain regularly, but that still doesn’t change the fact that College Hoops 2K8 is a stellar hoops experience that continues to build on a strong foundation of collegiate basketball excellence. It’s a real next-generation experience that offers up a satisfying season, from meaningless non-conference matchups all the way through to the Final Four.