IGN Review of NBA Live 07
Last year, if 360 owners were looking to step into the next generation of basketball play, they weren't doing it with NBA Live. Without a Dynasty Mode, All-Star Weekend or Superstar moves, the game was more like a shiny demo instead of a full court experience. This year, NBA Live 07 for the 360 tries to make amends by restoring everything that last year's game lacked: a full-fledged Dynasty mode, the All-Star Weekend that PS2 and Xbox owners have become accustomed to, and introduces Freestyle Superstar Controls to the game for the first time. Unfortunately, while they pumped in additional modes, the gameplay and the basic mechanics of the sport itself are still extremely flawed. 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 actually comes to the 360 this year with 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 by including the Freestyle Superstar Controls that have been part of the current gen system since last year. This year, players are classified as either a level 1, 2 or 3 superstar. Level 1 Superstars are the guys that are starting to be the future of the franchise, the guys that you know will take over for the veterans as they approach the twilight of their careers. Level 2 Superstars are guys that consistently make big time plays in big time games, thanks to their shooting, defense or passing skills. Level 3 Superstars, on the other hand, are the dominating athletes of the sport - players the fans want to see and the teams spend practice preparing for. 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 a high flyer and prefers to dunk can quickly change to a playmaker or a shooter if the team needs those particular abilities.
Live 07 for the 360 only features 5 Freestyle skills that you can choose from, unlike the current gen and PSP versions of the game. That feels somewhat cheap, since the other games have three more, especially since they decided to do away with the defensive superstar abilities. Now, players have the chance to be a High Flyer, which gives them flashy dunks, Scorers for layups and close shots, Play Makers for fancy passes, Post players for strong inside play and Shooters for raining shots from a distance. Somewhat similar to the current gen version, players can trigger any one of these moves by using the right analog stick in combination with the left bumper. 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. What the 360 version does not include this time around is the X-Factor, the clutch player that can become a superstar based on their on the court play, which happens to be found in the current gen versions. In its place is the ability to get In The Zone, which gives your Superstar new moves that they can make, as well as a better chance of their shots and passes working.
However, you may find that trying to get your team into The Zone is not only tricky, but it can be extremely hard to do thanks to the horrendous offense and defense found in Live 07. The inside game is one of the worst that I've seen in years, 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 low level stars up to household names 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 or bounce off the bottom of the backboard). This poor aim isn't restricted to human controlled players either; we played more than a couple of games where both teams tried to go in for a easy two points and either completely missed the basket on their attempt or rattled the boards without the intended result. One particularly thunderous failed dunk by Shaq during one game was so forceful that the ball bounced away from the backboard and went sailing towards the other side of the court.
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. Regardless of whether or not you know the timing of your favorite player, he'll still wind up firing poorly and missing more often than not. And before you ask: yes, these shooting issues occur regardless of whether you're using the Superstar controls or not. You'd hope that the shooting controls and the Superstar controls would be balanced out, particularly since they weren't included in last year's game, but they are just as broken and uneven as the standard shots, effectively rendering them useless in a game situation. We even checked out the game's sliders, and while it was set firmly at the game default of 50%, the game experience played much more like 15% or less. 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. While you can make immediate play adjustments thanks to the D-pad, it won't force these guys to remain in bounds, making it a toss up as to whether or not a player will be established on the court at any point in time. 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, 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.
Hell, at least Live 07 retains that visual flair that made it so captivating to look at from last year. Players still look extremely good on the 360, and the intro sequence of T-Mac holding down a sparse gym by himself is still one of the coolest sequences around. It would've been nice to see the actual intros for each team instead of the same kind one with different team logos, but I guess you can't expect everything. Then again, if they were trying to substantially augment this year's game, it would've helped out a lot. The game still suffers through a massive amount of visual issues, such as player's hands that move through backboards on dunk attempts. You'll also notice a number of times when you go for dunks or some layups that the game has to calculate an end to one animation before it progresses towards the next, and that hitch isn't simply a player gathering momentum before they explode towards the basket, either.
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 is excellent, but it doesn't go far enough. Every 20 minutes, you get a 2 minute podcast 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 to Xbox Live. On top of that, there's the option to read full news stories direct from ESPN, listen to podcasts or radio articles, or even watch video highlights and shows thanks to the ESPN Motion feature. 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. It would also be excellent if you could actively watch some of the video highlights in a minimized window while you performed some of your GM functions in Dynasty mode. Similarly, it would be nice if you didn't have to constantly return to the ESPN menu to play the next item in a radio article. Finally, some of the audio on video and radio pieces are wildly out of sync, causing to you continually readjust the volume levels on your TV because they just don't match well. This is more of an encoding problem on ESPN's side, but you'd hope they'd check that out before they pump that over to the game. Ah well, maybe next year.
©2006-10-02, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved