IGN Review of NBA 07 Featuring The Life Vol. 2
When Sony set out to create a basketball game with a story, it tried to ambitiously meld on the court action with off the court drama. It also tried to implement a new scoring system and mini-game features taken from the PSP version to fill out its gameplay. Unfortunately, clumsy goals in the story mode and clunky play in the regular game made NBA 06 a title that bounced harder than a Shaquille O'Neal free throw. This year's title promised to fix a number of issues from the first game, including better AI, new gameplay features and a new chapter in the story mode. While it does hit on some nice additions, NBA 07 is almost the same thing repackaged in a new wrapper, just barely making it a decent upgrade to last year's game.
Getting Ready for Tip-Off
NBA 07 follows much of the same formula from last year, presenting the NBA, The Life and Online as the main modes of the game. This time around, players will discover a much more expanded number of mini-games to play around with. Along with the 3-point shootout and Skills Challenge during the All-Star weekend section, as well as Own the Court, players will have a variety of options that they can do to sharpen up their game skills. Newcomers can enter training camp and practice their timing with free throws, open court situations or just simply shoot the ball around the court. Players looking for a larger challenge can try drills like Shout Out, where you try to match the moves that the computer demands of you or Clean Up, where you try to knock down shots from ten separate stations around the court.
While these "mini-games" are fun, they don't have the same kind of punch that Own the Court has, and won't hold your attention for very long. In fact, they may simply remain something to warm you up before you leap into either a single game or hop into a season game. While season play still isn't as deep as that of other games, you can still choose between 29, 58 or 82 game seasons. You are also still able to trade players without worrying about salary caps or restrictions, and for the most part, the game will let you trade for anyone you happen to want without a single eyebrow raised or objection made. In fact, the few times that we did receive a refusal for a trade, we quickly resubmitted the offer and found it to be accepted shortly afterward, which made no sense.
For the most part, many of the features that players experienced from last year make a return, although they have a couple of augmentations that you might not expect. For instance, the strongest feature of NBA 06 was the green, yellow and red colored halo system that let players know when they'd made a good, okay or horrible shot. Fortunately, that returns this year with two new adjustments. This time around, if you manage to find a player who's got the best opportunity for a shot (like they're completely undefended on the perimeter or during a fast break), the Smart Shot white halo will pulse underneath that athlete to let you know that your shot will pretty much be automatic. On the other hand, if you happen to be on defense and you notice a white halo pop up after a shot has been made, you'll have an opportunity to take advantage of the Rebound Hot Spot to pull down the rock before the opposing player if you pound the triangle button. Interestingly, while the Smart Shot isn't guaranteed (just like the shooting mechanic -- you can still miss if the shot is green or make shots if they're red), the Rebound Hot Spot is an immediate indication of whether or not you need to worry about defense. If you don't see it, you know that the basket is good regardless of the color surrounding the ball. This is way too simplistic to relegate defense solely to this system, and while you can turn both off, the game is still pretty much governed by these mechanics.
On top of that, Showtime gameplay returns, although it's somewhat more focused on flash this year. Instead of it being an accurate reflection of how your players are working together as a team, this time around it focuses much more on dramatic shots and dunks, as well as impressive blocks and rebounds. Players that manage to perform something particularly eye-catching fill up a small bar above the scoreboard. Once you've performed three spectacular moves in a row, you'll receive boosts to your team's speed and shooting accuracy. While these boosts aren't like arcade-style games, you'll notice that the stamina of your players will be substantially boosted along with this increased energy.
However, on the negative side, there are still massive issues with the game, particularly when it comes to defense. You can never accurately square up on an opposing player, instead continually sliding up on them at an angle. Not only is this unrealistic, but it immediately takes your defenders out of any play because an offensive player can perform a crossover or spin and already have two or three steps on the man you're controlling. The same can be said if you try to make a play for the ball, because the angle can easily put you out of the play as your players lunge for the ball. Curiously, the computer doesn't have these problems, and will even demonstrate a much more aggressive defense, making steals and plays much more often than you or your team. While you can switch between teammates and even slide your protection around to minimize the impact of this uneven defensive scheme, you are inevitably at a disadvantage when you don't have the ball in your possession.
One other thing stands out when you're playing any game, whether it's a single game or a meeting during a season: the lack of commentary. With the exception of hearing the stadium announcer call out who managed to score on a specific play, or a snippet of music playing over the loudspeakers, the only sound that you'll hear is the squeak of shoes for the most part. That's right, no commentary, no vocalization, and only ambient crowd noise, which will come in and out. While that may be a specific design choice to draw players into the action on the court, it just feels strange that there's not even a bad announcer commenting on something happening on the court. Since the visuals haven't really changed from last year (in fact, while there are some new camera angles for rebounds, the character models are still as bland as last year), you'd hope that there was more put into the visual and audio department.
Returning to the Life
Last year's game focused on the fate of the Juco Kid, a player that you controlled as he made a meteoric rise from the draft into superstardom in the league. While it focused most of the attention on the endorsements he earned and the wins his team amassed, it also showed how his selfishness could fracture the team chemistry with his fellow teammates Shane and Jerome. The story also developed a healthy rivalry with an established player, Big W. NBA 07 picks up this story one season later, letting players navigate the 2006-2007 season with both the Kid and Big W. Unfortunately for both athletes, there's a lot of tragedy involved in their future -- for Big W, he suddenly discovers that his kid is dangerously ill; for the Kid, it's making it back from a knee injury that he suffers at an invitational tournament playing one on one against his rival.
Unlike last year's story mode, this year puts a different spin on the gameplay and goal system that players experience. Sony thankfully recognized just how much of a pain the goal system was from last year. This time around, you're given goals on two separate tiers: team goals and Showtime goals. Team goals are the standard kind of tasks that you are expected to complete to pass that particular game, such as taking the lead into a specific quarter or getting a set number of assists. Interestingly, to match up with their personalities, NBA 07 also breaks out these goals based on character personalities. While the Kid's overall team goals are actually focused around team play and are established at the start of every scenario, Big W has dynamic goals that pop up randomly during play. Unfortunately, this situation will make you neglect any kind of ball handling in favor of simply trying to accomplish your goals, which is something that you'll probably find yourself carrying over to the Kid when his turn comes around. Considering that you'll have the same issues from a standard basketball game plaguing you when you play the life, solely depending upon the Kid and Big W is a much smarter move for you to make than the other players on your team.
Showtime goals, on the other hand, are much more specific and much more complicated, such as outscoring the opposing team with your player or making a number of shots from the low post. While Showtime goals are voluntary, they can give you potential rewards, such as unlocked jerseys or player cards. They can also add points to your MVP total, which will let either one of your players compete for that prestigious honor. In case you happen to fail any one of these secondary goals, you have the opportunity to return to a previously completed scenario thanks to this year's story hub. However, this really shouldn't be a problem for people who played last year's game; whereas last year's game was way too hard to complete many of the game scenarios, this year its way too easy to breeze through each goal whenever you step onto the court.
Speaking of the story hub, it will display how the plot will alternate between Big W and the Kid at various points. Sometimes it will focus upon a game, while other times it will focus on drills or story elements. The story hub will update with any unlocked items that you've won from previous goals, as well as scouting reports for both players and the option to customize their appearance. The hub is a creative concept, along with the rest of the story, but they come off sloppy in their execution. For instance, right when you think you might become interested in what happens to one character, you're immediately switched over to another character. As a result, you don't necessarily care as much as you should about Big W's kid, nor do you necessarily like the Juco Kid either or care for any of his teammates. It might have been better if you chose one player at the start of the story mode and followed their thread all the way through instead of alternating. Similarly, it would've been interesting if you had much more control over deciding what position the Kid and Big W happened to be, instead of having the point guard and small forward position automatically dictated to you.
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