It can be tricky to make a good game even better. If you're trying to improve on the best there is, it's much harder. Take NBA 2K7, for example. Easily the best basketball title released this year (and arguably of recent years as well), NBA 2K7 upped the gameplay, the AI and the number of options that players could access. Not really a lot of room for improvement, right? Enter the PS3 version, which provides a new way to fire off free throws and places much more emphasis on the controller and the shot stick.
One thing that 2K7 spent a ton of work on for this year's title is the Signature Shooting style for every single player. Everything that goes into a player's movements for a jumper or a low post move has been accurately captured, ranging from little hops when a player lands to how they turn their feet during a shot. Whether it's Paul Pierce's lingering follow through or the quick snap from Steve Nash, the detail that was put into capturing the individual quirks of every player as they take a shot is simply incredible. What's more, the detail carries over to free throw shooting, where every player's particular shooting rituals and stroke is taken into account.
Now, with the other versions of 2K7, you relied on the right analog stick to make your free throws, which involved timing the release of that stick with the release of the person at the line. Slower shooters, like Shaq, would require a much longer hold on the stick to accurately make a bucket. What makes the PS3 version of the game stand out is the reassignment of this feature to the SIXAXIS Controller. No longer will you rely on stick work to make free throws; instead, you'll pull the SIXAXIS back towards you, and then push it forward at the right time to release the ball from your player's hand. In effect, you're "physically" making a free throw, and you may even find yourself gripping the controller in the same manner that you would if you were shooting the ball itself. While you always needed to pay attention to when you released a shot before (too early or too late versus a perfect release), you now have to contend with how exactly you wind up pushing the controller forward as well. A slight twist to your hand in either direction may place some extra rotation on the ball that you don't want or send it sailing to the left or right of the rim.
Now, just because you're physically moving the controller to take the shot doesn't mean that you don't have to pay attention to the players at the line. In fact, you have to know how each player on your team shoots even more this time around, because you'll need to hold the controller back much more before you push forward. Fortunately, good free throw shooters have a larger window that they can cleanly make a basket in compared to average ones. You may also wind up waiting a bit longer before you fire off a shot if you're playing with against human opponents. Defenders can shake their SIXAXIS controller in an effort to rattle the timing of the athlete taking the free throw shot. There are still some mild balancing issues with using the Controller to influence a shot on defense, particularly if you happen to be the visiting team. (There's no way that the visiting team should have as much influence as they do, unless they've got a massive lead during a game, and even then it's a stretch.) But for the most part, the new focus on the SIXAXIS is an excellent use of the motion sensing controller. It may take some extra practice during the game, but once you've got it down, you'll love the feature.
Although the motion sensitivity isn't used at any other point during the game, I'm sure players accustomed to the right analog stick are wondering if they can use that instead to fire off their free throws. By default, you can't, but you can enable it if you navigate the somewhat confusing 2K Nav and turn on Shot Stick Free Throws in the Gameplay options menu, which disables the SIXAXIS functionality. While the initial settings may not allow you to use the right stick, you may find yourself compensating for the loss at the free throw line by using it more for the Shot Stick functionality. In fact, because you'll probably pay more attention to how players shoot free throws, you'll find the Shot Stick to be much easier because you'll learn their timing for jump shots.
This increased proficiency with the controls may even translate over to isomotion, as you learn how best to crossover, spin and juke your way through defenses. The isomotion feature in 2K7 is just as good as it has been in previous versions of the game, although newcomers to the basketball franchise may find it to be a bit hard to learn because of the lack of information on how to pull off these useful moves. They're not included in the instruction manual, nor in the in-game manual. What's more, there are some blatant copy and paste moments from other versions of the game included in 2K7 -- The SIXAXIS Controller doesn't have vibration, so why are you getting out hopes up?!
Isomotion and manual gripes aside, if you've played the previously released versions of NBA 2K7, you're well versed in what the PS3 game has to offer. First off is the large and robust online mode, which is extremely stable and exhibits very little lag. I only ran into a few instances of it during a few games, and it wasn't bad at all. Other than the quick game, the Situation mode will let you create any kind of game situation you want to test your skills, while Practice mode lets you train yourself in how to make jump shots and free throws. You can set up Tournaments comprised of up to 16 teams and see who the victor is, or simply take your balling to the Street mode and play either Full Court, Half Court, One on One or 21. While you can do Season mode and avoid the hassles of the back office, The Association mode returns with more than enough options, like three team trades, progressive fatigue and other twists to keep sports fans occupied. Finally, the 24/7 mode lets you take a created player from obscurity to playing with NBA athletes on various street courts.
Obviously, there are a ton of modes included in this game, and NBA 2K7 remains as accessible as before with its user created level of difficulty. Players can literally tweak almost every single aspect of the game, making their experience as realistic or arcade like as possible. However, because a lot of this is carried over from previous games, there are a lot of similar issues that have crept into 2K7 for the PS3 as well. While 2K Sports and Visual Concepts spent some time trying to fix AI and gameplay flaws, such as the poor clock management and stealing issues that cropped up in other versions, these problems still exist in the PS3 version of the game. It's still way too easy to steal the ball, and the computer will still not take a shot at the end of a game if it's down by a number of points. Ditto with the amount of time some players spend flopping on the ground, which can feel like the second coming of Vlade Divac at his worst. While some issues, like transitions for fast breaks, have been improved, there's still a ways to go when it comes to solving all of the gameplay problems in the game. The same can be said about the poor layout for the menus in the game, which hasn't been improved at all. Sorry 2K, but your Nav is still horrible...
As far as the visuals are concerned, there are a couple of improvements that have been made, mostly in the texturing of the stadiums and the character models. The reflective polish of the hardwood looks much brighter than it did before, and even some replays of in-game action retains a much sharper focus that on other consoles. As for environmental action, it's actually possible to sit back and watch new crowd action from the cameramen, cheerleaders, mascots and audience members. It's not a make or break kind of a thing, but it's a hell of a way to make the ambiance of the game come alive, especially when you start to bring the crowd to their feet during a hard fought game. Character models have definitely received a bump in their texturing, particularly with the cloth physics of uniforms, which move a bit more realistically. Facially, you'll probably pick up on some sharper details as well. For instance, during one game I could literally see the sweat rolling off Richard Hamilton's mask, which was pretty impressive. You will still see ugly athletes though; some players still look like creatures from the Black Lagoon. As for the sound, you're not going to notice anything radically different in the standard presentation -- the commentary is practically the same, and the soundtrack is just as large as before.
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