My new pet rock.
Once our roundball reviewer bounced, we were forced to find another basketball reviewing scrub, and he is me. I'm not sure why our rapidly-aging coach plucked me from my comfy bench warmer position, but maybe it had to do with my drunken comment that if we were to take to the court in real life, he'd only be able to recognize me from the bottoms of my shoes, as I skied over him en route to the rim. Curse this foul tongue and these great hops!
Or maybe bless them, because they won me a great game in an awesome series. Visual Concepts didn't change NBA 2K7
a whole lot from last year
. The deep control scheme is intact. The context-sensitive right analog shot and defend sticks are still perfectly functional, and the complex isomotion handling scheme is as good as ever.
[image1]To tell you something you don’t know, the big story this year are the three hundred, new fancy-pants animations that add a huge layer of realism to the gameplay, and make certain stars seem uncannily like themselves. Kidd's no-look sniper-passes, Shaq's pivot and jam, Kobe's soft fadeaway; all are captured in brilliant and life-like detail. NBA 2K7 hits a level of realism that's as awesome as it is eerie, for a gameplay experience so realistic you’ll start demanding a new contract from your parents.
The animations don’t just look good, they add new contextual elements to everything you do. Because many of the players have been "individualized" with a load of personal movements, much of the game's learning curve is just adapting to how your players move. This adds a sweet sense of unique identity to every team, actually making it worth your time to try them all.
As mentioned, the animations are highly context sensitive for every player, not just the stars. So if, say, you're running too fast with your back to a teammate in the post, then attempt a baseline pass, you will likely jump, twist your body in midair to face your target, and lob a meatball that reads "Steal Me". Then you will be treated to a defender realistically leaning out from under the pass to snag it down with one or both hands – whatever he realistically would have needed to do to adjust and make the play. It looks beautifully convincing and feels like a simulation should.
It's very satisfying once you get the feel of a particular team, and because many of the less marquee players still retain a more template-based set of bodily behaviors, there's just the right balance between familiarity and difference from one squad to the next. The only slight downside is that previous versions of the game seemed a little bit faster paced.
Rather than playing a mini-game filled with arrows, meters, or reticules, free throws have you matching right analog stick movements to the shooting animation of your player. This takes a good deal of time to master, especially since foul-shot timing will be different from one set of players to the next. It's a welcome change, unlike most basketball games where foul shots look and feel like a flash game any dope can play. If you want those clutch free points, you're going to have to earn them through practice.
[image2]That makes "foul-shooting mode" one NBA 2K7 is sorely missing. Otherwise, the game is filled to the rim with ways to play. Obviously you have Quick Play for fast fixes. The main attraction is the multiseason Association mode, which lets you once again hire staff, balance budgets, draft players, train them up, and set up practices to beef up your team's overall stats. The menu system for player trades is, however, as arcane as it ever was – good luck trying to decipher it without occasionally slapping your forehead and reloading.
24/7 mode has an infinite amount of player customization options to get lost in while creating your very own Dunkenstein, but it's still just a glorified time-waster. You can play twenty one, one-on-one, and half and full court games while pulling off some street-only, highlight reel moves, or go through the story mode which encompasses all of these game types as you become "ruler of all broke streetballers". It's worth a play through for sure, if only to experience the cheesey story about beating Shaq in a freethrow contest to get your foot in the door to semi-celebrity. If only it were that easy…
…and if only the AI would have gotten as much love as the presentation. Most of your teammates just hang around posing for screenshots rather than running to get open, posting up, or cutting down the lane. Most teammate control is manual, so you're responsible for calling set plays with a few taps to the D-pad, which bogs down the relatively quick gameplay of its predecessors but amps up the series' rewarding simulation aspect. It does have a few new bright spots of intelligent difficulty, especially when the opposition collapses on the ball during a drive, then fans out again for coverage if you pass to the wing. They also switch double teams efficiently and keep their hands in the air with their eyes on the ball to make you pay for those quarterback passes you fell in love with last year.
But it does have its holes, most noticeable when your teammates bunch up together down low, as if all their jerseys have a wicked case of static cling. They really could have used a “run around the opponent” animation in their template. Luckily, the opposition's ball-handlers protect the ball better, so it's not always pick-pocket season like it was the last two years. That too will take more mastery of, guess what, actual basketball!
[image3]You'll have a ton of competition to test your prowess against too, since there a ton of online options. From one-on-one, Quick Play, and Tournaments – it's all here. You can even set up an online league with up to thirty players with every gameplay slider and option customized to your will, or join a league with options you like. To temper drunken, overly heated trash-talkers, there is also a player feedback system after each game you play. Noob begone!
While running smoothly both on and offline, NBA 2K7 is also gorgeous -- gone are the buttered-up player models dipped in Vaseline. All the intense detail of uniforms, skin, sweat, and lighting reflections are rendered to a staggering level of television realism, aside from the occasional polygon break, where a player’s shirt clips into his chest to rest comfortably on his spleen. The zooming displays sponsored by Gatorade and info snippets brought to you by Toyota add a little bit more realism than we need, but they don’t change the fact that NBA 2K7 is the smoothest, best-looking basketball game we’ve ever seen.
The commentary is usually spot on, but can pull you out of the game every once in a while with late observations, and the stadium noise is excellent.
NBA 2K7 is a pleasure to play, or just watch. The load of modes and options will keep you easily entertained until next season, and the new animations and context-sensitive controls add a never-before-seen layer of realism, even if you have seen everything else before. If you have the cash, this is an easy bucket.