Shaq is one of the most dominating basketball players on the planet. He's just getting old.
NBA 2K7 suffers from the same fate, if you can really call it "suffering." The NBA 2K franchise has for years been as dominating as the Big Diesel, turning in such smooth, realistic gameplay that the game has become the videogame choice for a number of NBA stars. But 2K7 is aging, improving only marginally in gameplay and graphics, utilizing the same elements that made the game a winner way back on the Dreamcast.
Hey, getting old hasn't stopped Shaq. When he backs down a defender in the post, drop-steps and deftly spins to the basket, throwing down a rim-rattling jam, we all nod approvingly, thinking, "The big fella can still do it." With amazing attention to detail, rich and authentic gameplay and a wonderful sense of basketball style, NBA 2K7 continues to score, despite its age. Yes, NBA 2K7 can still do it.
Check out the video link below to see NBA 2K7 in motion in our full video review.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise in 2K7 is a newfound sense of style. An old complaint with the franchise is that it didn't have much character; that it didn't capture the swagger of NBA stars. Technically, everything was done well, but the only way to distinguish between players was comparing attribute points. Some guys just made more shots than others. Throw all that out of the window. In 2K7, the team at Visual Concepts was able to squeeze in every player's shooting style on to one tiny disk. Kobe, T-Mac, D-Wade, Brent Barry, Shawn Marion -- it's all here. And these are names you've at least heard of. How about the two-handed jumper of Vladimir Radmanovic, the quick release of Mickael Pietrus, the slow, behind the head release of rookie Adam Morrison? Nenad Krstic! The off-balance follow-through of friggin' Nenad Krstic!
No other sports title in history has gone into this much detail. I still can't get over it. Nenad friggin' Krstic.
This spills over to free throws as you have to time your release with the signature style of the player. Some guys walk right up to the line and drain the shot. Shaq, on the other hand, takes a week or two to line up his one-handed release. As such, free throws are much more difficult to make this year. You do have the option of letting the CPU playing the percentages and shooting for you. This way, you may actually make a free throw.
On the court, the gameplay is tried and true NBA 2K, with subtle improvements across the board. The most notable improvement is in the post, where a new move-set has been mapped to the Y button. While backing down a man in the post, you can tap Y for a drop step. If you have good position or Tony Parker is guarding Yao Ming (which happens all too often in this game), you can spin right around your opponent and use the shot stick for a hook, flashy dunk, lay-up. The choice is yours.
If you get the chance to make it, that is. The defensive AI, even on "basketball for dummies" difficulty settings, is excellent. Defenders switch off, rotate quickly, double team good players, close off lanes, fight through picks. As such, playing offense is much more difficult -- and realistic -- in NBA 2K7. You'll need to rotate the ball and -- gasp! --follow the occasional set-play diagram to run a successful attack. The days of crossing-over endlessly, shaking defenders out of their canned-animation shoes are over -- the defense collapses much too quickly. That's not to say that great ball handlers can't get to the hoop. But in 2K7, you may actually have your player pass the ball after beating the defender. Instead of throwing down a monster jam over everybody, you wait for the D to collapse and then dish to the open man. That's good basketball.
The Shot Stick adds another level of control and improves upon last year's version. Experienced players will most likely opt for the face button for jump shots. But on the way to the basket, you can choose between a left or right lay-up, a runner, a power dunk, flashy dunk and reverse dunk. Typically, the Stick does great. Occasionally, the left and right lay-ups, which are meant to shield the shooter's body from defenders, go the wrong way. You flick left while driving left and your player will toss up a right-handed lay-up that's blocked into the beer vendor in row seven. It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens enough to know that the Shot Stick is not yet perfect.
Isomotion, the ball-handling mechanic in NBA 2K7, returns and is improved with the hop-step button. It's still amazing the depth of moves you can pull off, like hesitation crossovers and spins and step backs and stutter crosses. Beginning players will need to crack the instruction manual and figure these moves out for themselves. At first, it feels like you are just wiggling the left analog stick until the defender goes into a tripping animation. But with practice, you'll feel at home going around the back to the hole.
Passing is somewhat of a mixed bag. On fast breaks, you'll lead a teammate but when he receives a pass, he will often go into a lengthy catch animation that slows the entire break. Ideally, you would like to pop-pop-pop the ball on a three-on-two, but the animations actually get in the way. While they are fun to watch, they do sometimes slow the game down and lock you into something you don't want to do. On entry passes into the post, for example, a big man like Shaq will have position but he will jump out to the wing to receive the pass instead of keeping the seal on the defender. Shaq never jumps out to the wing, people. You can now float the ball into the post as well as dish a bounce pass using the left-trigger modifier.
Defensively, the control has been tweaked but only slightly improved over last year. You can now cut off passes by flicking the right stick to the ballhandler's left or right -- a great touch that can force the action away from star players. Still, steals are too commonplace. In one sequence, I stole the ball four possessions in a row from the opposing point guard. Near the basket, players will still miss point-blank shots if a defender is standing nearby. Centers will mysteriously guard point guards instead of making logical switches on screens. You can hold down the left trigger to crouch into a defensive stance, but a quick crossover can easily beat you. Playing against friends, it's a common tactic to control a player off the ball so the CPU defense doesn't get beat. The way we see it, you should want to play defense.
The computer has a few AI issues, most notably with clock management. Not even an inebriated Doc Rivers with a busted Seiko could do worse. Example: down by three with 15 seconds to play, CPU-controlled Denver inbounds the ball, needing a bucket and quick foul or an open 3-ball opportunity. Andre Miller takes the pass and gingerly walks the ball up to the top of the arc, calling out plays. On defense, I naturally play in Miller's face but try not to foul. Miller continues to hold the ball, 10 seconds remaining. He looks left and passes to Melo on the wing. Seven seconds. He holds the ball. Then he passes to Martin on the left post. Martin jumps out of the key to receive the pass. 5 seconds. Martin jab steps, and ducks his head looking to set up a shot. Two seconds. No time remaining, but Martin is cool. He keeps his composure. He looks -- BUZZ.
Game over. I couldn't believe it. I had to go into situation mode to try this again. And it happened again. The offense didn't get a shot off, didn't try to set a high pick for a shooter. Didn't even try to draw a foul down low. Didn't even try. The CPU does a nice job of intentionally fouling on the defensive side of the ball. But on offense, there might as well not have been a clock. This doesn't always happen. Steve Nash drained a three with five seconds remaining with a hand in his face to beat me in a different game. But it happens.
Visually, 2K7 is like Dwyane Wade. When he's on, he is on and a thing of beauty. When he's off, his three-ball is easy stat padding for good rebounders and we all suddenly remember that the phenom was a 17-percent shooter from behind the arc last season. First, the animations. In short, they are splendid, the kind of smooth, silky, true-to-life motions that all sports developers should aspire to. Visual Concepts has always excelled here, and you can pretty much cut and paste the compliments on animations going back to NFL 2K titles. When point guards dribble up the court, they will raise their hands, and call out plays. Maybe next trip up one will dribble through his legs or maybe skip up the floor. You don't have to press a button. Players just move and act realistically. If you stand next to a shooter, the defender will put a hand right in his face. A friend walked by, not paying close attention, and asked me what game I was watching. That's how good the game looks from afar. But like too many ex-girlfriends, it's far from looking good.
Some of the player models are downright frightening, most notably white guys with long hair. Instead of amazing, life-like players -- see Shaq, D-Wade, Lebron -- we have frightening, blood-sucking creatures from a Steven King novel, stealing the uniforms and attributes of Manu Ginobili, Chris Kaman, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Troy Murphy. Even a few stars like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker look like extras on the set of Sleepwalkers.
For all its faults, if you pause NBA Live 07, player faces look pretty sharp. In 2K7, it's as if a designer spent a year using the create-a-player feature from Top Spin 2, painstakingly altering every single detail until Jason Terry looked just right. Unfortunately, no matter how long you use that create-a-player tool, it's impossible to create a player that looks like an actual human being. Such is the case with too many players in 2K7.
Of course, these mugs are only so ugly because they are in stark contrast to the beauty of the three-dimensional arenas, the sexy cheerleaders, the dynamic crowd and the neon lights of an electrified basketball arena. Aside from some ugly faces -- bodies look and move great -- and some pixilated, low-res menus, NBA 2K7 looks great.
In the booth, Kevin Harlan, Kenny Smith and Craig Sager offer recycled commentary from 2Ks gone by. In my sleep I can hear Harlan talking about two-for-one opportunities, pondering how my team is going to play the clock. We've heard this with 32 seconds to go in every quarter for the last two years now. The team does do a fantastic job at half time, with Smith giving his stamp of approval to hot players, complete with highlight show. The hip-hop soundtrack is excellent, featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, and a bunch of other famous rappers that I know nothing about except that they are famous. It's crazy delicious.
Probably the strongest side of 2K7's game is in presentation. On the floor, that translates to the aforementioned halftime show and subtle, ambient animations, as well as an amazing array of options and sliders. There are countless camera options, some of which can be zoomed in and out to your liking. The gameplay sliders are too numerous to count; playbooks would make any clipboard junky salivate. The 2K Virtual Identity Profile (VIP), which records all your stats and tendencies, is back. The Crib, the virtual trophy room, is back. The beauty of it all is that you can just grab the controller and enjoy yourself. But you also could go deeper than any basketball game before and play good, team basketball, changing base offenses and plays on the fly, looking for matchups. NBA 2K7 is as deep as you want it to be.
In terms of gamemodes, we have Association, the franchise mode, tournament, street ball and 24/7: Next. 24/7 has been revamped into a story mode, where you guide a created baller from the mean streets of Chicago to Rucker Park, the holy land of American streetball. The voice talent is professional, but laughable at times. Still, it's a fun 10-hour journey to an NBA contract and 2K deserves credit for including more than quick play and a franchise mode.
Which brings us to the Association, the single best franchise mode in basketball games. Each free day, you can assign different practices to the entire team or individual player, giving an attribute boost while taking a fatigue hit. You can also go through a variety of individual player development drills like post defense and offense, for example. In the offseason, you can do predraft workouts with potential draft picks, trying to scout the future MJ and avoid the next Sam Bowie. While the presentation lacks the pizzazz of NFL Head Coach with Mel Kiper Jr., it gets the job done. 2K also added three player trades you can play with up to eight players total in Association.
The only hit on presentation could be the menu interface itself. Let me offer a quick note of advice to all developers: if someone picks up a controller and can't figure out how to move through the menu system, you done messed up. EA is guilty of this as well in its sports games, and 2K Sports followed suit with 2K NAV ™. Basically, you flick the right stick to bring up the main menu and select, oh, let's say Association and Coaching and Gameplan and Lineup. After selecting Lebron to your first team, you decide to set your basic strategy. Instead of hitting a back button, you have to flick the stick, which takes you to the Association menu, select coaching, gameplan and then strategy. It's a hassle and plain silly.
The online game is typical 2K Sports: excellent. Online leagues and tournaments, as well as standard lobbies, ranked games and leaderboards. In our online matches, the game didn't show any lag at all, although the halftime show reverts to screenshots instead of full-blown highlight replays, and the broadcast team missed a few calls. Still, 2K excels again on Xbox Live.
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