IGN Review of NBA Live 07
Last year, NBA Live 07 tried to restore the creativity and the spontaneity to the basketball court by introducing Freestyle Superstar Controls to the game. While the flashy moves did separate the stars from the generic athletes, it also made them extremely dominant during the games. So it was pretty obvious that EA Sports would refine the system to hopefully make it more balanced for this year. Unfortunately, in their quest to make the control system better, they neglected both gameplay and the basic mechanics of the sport itself. As a result, Live 07 is a game that really should be riding the bench instead of starting this year.
Welcome to the GM's Office
The Dynasty mode has made a return this year with some new enhancements, such as a larger focus on the draft, team dynamics and scheduling. Players can now choose to relive the 2006 NBA draft and pick their favorite rookies to help build the future of their team. Along with the standard assistants, scouts and trainers, you'll also need to hire a new assistant head coach to schedule team events such as practices or press days as well as check up on potential rumors that may be used to your advantage. These can range from players potentially being traded to highly skilled coaches and staff members looking for new organizations to become part of. As you progress through the season, you'll need to continually check in with these guys to see how well your squad is progressing, as well as what the team's particular chemistry is. Team Chemistry is important because the play of your team is affected by how high or low your rating is. The lower the rating, the harder it is for a team to mount a comeback during a big game.
Dynasty mode also tracks the fatigue factor on your players in two ways. The first is based off the amount of game time your players log by starting or coming off the bench. The other is based on the amount of time that your team spends on the road, playing against opposing teams in their home arenas. It might not seem like a major part, but going on a long stretch around the country will negatively affect the strength of your players, making them much more susceptible to injury and long stints out of the lineup. There's something that's particularly unbalanced about this new system though, because some three or four game stretches away from home will sometimes knock out two or three of your starting five without fail.
Getting Ready For Tip-off
Basketball may be a team sport, but it's always been extremely easy to spot the stars from the generic faces on the court and the elite athletes that rose above them all in the NBA. Live 07 tries to highlight this with a new focus on Freestyle Superstar Controls. This year, players are aligned along three separate levels: Regular, Star and Superstar. Regular players are the guys that are good enough to play in the league, but aren't particularly significant enough to stand out. Star players are guys that stand out above the crowd with some specific facets to their game that make them strong members of a squad, such as their shooting, defense or passing skills. Superstars, on the other hand, are the players that are household names - players that continually elevate their game to a heightened level. As a result, they typically have many more abilities than the other players on the floor. To demonstrate their extraordinary talents, Live 07 gives you the ability to switch skills on the fly, so a player that might be an inside scorer can quickly change to a playmaker or a shooter if the team needs those particular abilities.
Speaking of abilities, Live 07 features 8 skills that you potentially rotate between. Now, these are technically the same six skills as last year (High Flyer, Scorer, Shooter, Playmaker, Power Player and Stopper), but the main difference is that now Scorers can be designated as Inside or Outside Scorers and Stoppers can be Inside or Outside Stoppers. It's not a major change, and in some ways it even feels a little like a cop out, particularly if you played last year's game, because it's only a minor adjustment of pre-existing traits. While the variety in skills may not be different, the manner in which these skills are triggered are; by using the right analog stick in combination with the left trigger or L1 button, players can pull off special moves. What's more, while moving the stick in one of the four cardinal directions will create a basic kind of move, by rotating the right analog stick in a quarter circle players can make more complex and flashier steps.
Finally, players will notice that Live 07 focused on clutch players that aren't necessarily superstars, but can get in the zone and dominate a game when their team needs them most. This feature is known as "The X-Factor," and at the start of every game, one man on each team is designated as the potential game changing player. However, you can't just have that person on the court to unlock their ability; instead, you have to keep that player involved in the flow of the game by getting them the ball, making shots and causing turnovers. As soon as these players start to get amped up, you have a choice to make: you can trigger the X-Factor which will turn that athlete into a Freestyle Superstar for at least 5 minutes or you can save it until you need to use the ability. There is a trick to the latter option though - that X-Factor player has to remain actively involved in the offense and defense to remain in the zone. While it's nice to see that Live 07 is giving these secondary players their due, you aren't going to go out of your way to adjust your playing style just so these guys can get in the zone, particularly if they're the sixth or seventh man on the bench. It would've been better if it had been tied into the game intensity system, which is supposed to ratchet up the aggressive play on the court when the game is close or some players are constantly hitting their shots, which should let you know that you've got your team on a roll.
Then again, you may find that it's relatively tricky to get just about anything going for your team, thanks to the horrendous offense and defense found in Live 07. The number of bugs, game glitches and play issues are so numerous, I literally wanted to rip the disc out of my system and smash it into a wall. While I won't try to bore you with all of them, let me run down some of the key ones that I discovered. First of all, the inside game is atrocious, and you'll easily find yourself cursing as your "professional athletes" blow a good 60-70% of their dunk attempts. This unfortunate percentage ranges from the lame players up to Superstars like Shaq, Kobe and Lebron. While the game claims that there is a risk/reward to attempting a flashy dunk, it doesn't matter considering that they can't hit a layup to save their life either. This isn't solely tied into contested shots in the paint either; I'm talking about fast breaks where there is no defender and the damn guy can't convert on a fundamental shot. What's worse, you may discover that if a player is in the lane, they'll sometimes try to make a shot from behind the backboard, which is automatically turned over (if it doesn't clip through the board and ricochet from the rim). This was a serious problem from last year's game, and it returns big time in Live 07, regardless of the difficulty level setting.
Jumpers aren't particularly strong either, regardless of the player that you happen to be controlling or how deadly they might be from the perimeter, due to the game's inaccurate recognition of shot timing. I took ten shots from various locations, literally releasing the ball at the same point in my jump every single time, and only managed to make one of them. These weren't all shots from downtown, mind you -- I changed them up by taking baseline shots and short range pops in front and to the side of the basket. Regardless of where I was, the results were the same: a crappy shooting percentage. Even stranger are the arcs for every single shot, whether it's a jump shot, layup or otherwise, are wildly off the mark. For instance, in real life, layups are usually sweetly placed off the glass and into the basket instead of flying up to the top of the backboard and then rattling off the rim.
The same can be said about a standard jump shot, which has the trajectory of an end of quarter desperation heave instead of a typical shot. And before you ask: yes, these shooting issues occur regardless of whether you're using the Superstar controls or not. You'd expect, particularly with the dominating play from last year that the Superstar controls would potentially balance out, but they come off just as broken and uneven as the standard shots, effectively rendering them useless in a game situation. Finally, while the free throw shooting may have been tied to the right analog stick, it doesn't take into account the shooting style of each player. So even if a horrible free throw shooter like Shaq gets to the line, you can hit the right timing with the stick and still make shots.
Turning away from the shooting issues and onto the squads themselves, it's extremely common to see a ton of A.I. issues or glitches on your team and the computer's team. Players that are inbounding the ball will often be standing on the court when they pass the ball in, which is blatantly wrong. During transitions, players will often run the length of the court out of bounds, making any passes to these morons immediate turnovers. Even worse, the game will often slow down as you're passing the ball over half court, as if the gameplay got mired in bullet time (here's a quick hint: to cut down on the level of annoyance from this problem, go to the option screen and pump the overall game speed up to at least 70 or 80). The computer will often inbound the ball to players that are either out of bounds themselves, or are in the backcourt, resulting in turnovers as well. It will also demonstrate horrendous shot clock and ball management, having one player hold onto the ball in one location without passing until the clock runs down to about five seconds. Then it will either take a shot or attempt to pass to another player, which can sometimes result in a turnover or a shot clock violation.
This is extremely curious because on defense, the computer can be ridiculously overaggressive, often stripping the ball away from your players in traps and grabbing rebounds off the boards while your players simply stand around, not contesting a shot or boxing out. I could go on and on about some of the other issues for pages, but I'll leave you with one of the largest ones around: substitutions with the fatigue meter. Simply put, the game doesn't do it properly. With the exception of foul trouble (and even that is questionable at moments), the game will never substitute players based on their fatigue, which isn't realistic in the slightest bit. Nor is there a radically change in their gameplay, such as easily turning the ball over or putting up a ton of air balls. Some computer players can be completely exhausted and still annihilate your team with their shots. It's disappointing, it's flawed, and it, along with every other problem, has to be fixed for next year if this is even going to be anywhere close to a decent title.
Live is one of those games that's a mixed technical bag, particularly with the character models. The heads on these players are simply huge, and while some athletes look close to their real-life counterparts, others are completely off. Facial aesthetics aside, the game suffers through a massive amount of visual issues, such as player's hands that move through backboards on dunk attempts. Players will still skate along the floor, and there was more than one instance that we noticed players stuck in a running pose without that frame of animation changing across the court. What's more, while the game does have some new poses and celebratory moves after a play has been made, they do seem to be canned and repetitive. When you see three different players on the same team thump their chest on three separate plays in a row, you start to wonder just how much time was put in on that feature.
Marv Albert and Steve Kerr handle the lion's share of the commentary, while Greg Anthony and Ernie Johnson take the duties for the All-Star Weekend. The dialogue in Live 07 is actually rather decent -- Anthony and Johnson have a lot of the best lines, particularly when it comes to the dunk contest. However, you may still notice that the play by play is still lacking, particularly in following the game action. There are plenty of moments where Albert completely drops out, or will make a comment on a play that's easily 30 seconds or more old. While Kerr has a lot more of the anecdotes and comments that should give the game additional perspective, the fractured timing within the game gives the accuracy and relevance much less importance than you'd think.
Finally, the ESPN integration for the game, which is technically one of the coolest features for the game, is extremely nice, but doesn't go far enough. Every 20 minutes, you get an update via ESPN radio either automatically when it's updated or when you request it. You also have the ESPN ticker which will scroll scores and news across the bottom of the screen when you've logged on. It's a nice addition, but it would've been nice to have the chance, once you jump on, to tailor your experience to what you're interested in. For instance, it would be excellent if you could tailor the ESPN experience to give you highlights on specific teams or sports when you log on, giving you a little more control over what you're receiving from the servers. Ah well, maybe next year.
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