Review: The guys at Visual Concepts have done it again.
The NBA 2K series lifted off when it debuted on Sega's Dreamcast and has not broken stride since. The series has undergone improvements annually, yet it still somehow manages to take a backseat to the underwhelming but ever popular NBA Live games, which can be largely attributed to the attention-grabbing EA Sports logo emblazoned on the cover. All that aside, though, 2K7 is still the thoroughbred as far as basketball games go, boasting deeper controls, dramatic visuals, and a few other marked improvements over the previous installment.
The features in 2K7 are what you would come to expect from a 2K game. The crux of the action is found in The Association, where you must juggle the tasks of playing the role of General Manager while also getting the job done on the court. There are plenty of accomplishments to be made, which can then be viewed in your crib's trophy case. This mode covers multiple seasons and isn't particularly different from past installments. You'll spend much of your time on the court, but there are many managerial duties to be done between games and during the postseason. If certain team needs aren't met, you very likely could become an unemployed GM.
On the flipside, there's also 24/7 mode, which is the street-ball equivalent to The Association, so to speak. You start out as a fledgling baller without any notoriety whatsoever, hoping to someday establish yourself amongst the game's elite. Before you embark on such a journey, however, you first have to create your player. The create-a-player features much of the stuff found in last year's version, but the amount of leeway and the level of precision found in the face creator is still remarkable. You can literally sculpt a face that's strikingly similar to your own in a matter of 10-20 minutes. Furthermore, all sorts of clothing and accessories are available. There is not much to complain about here. You can even use the system to fully edit and update current NBA stars. Your biggest problem likely will be deciding on which Air Forces to sport.
Once you inevitably beat Shaq in a free-throw shootout and form an identity for yourself, you are ready to build up your status. Unfortunately, as you continue on you'll come to realize that games are reduced to mere back-and-forth offensive showings with little-to-no form of defense. And although you change teammates quite frequently and compete in various two-on-two's, three-on-three's, and so on, these games quickly grow stale. It's also worth noting that the defensive artificial intelligence isn't necessarily top notch--fortunately, it's much better in the regular season games--and this hinders the game's street mode. Opponents lack that hunger and aggression you would come to expect. While it's a help to your team, it's tough watching the computer avoid enormous alleys to the hoop and pass up wide-open jumpers. The opponent AI does stiffen up as you get further along. But it would've been nice if they exhibited more intensity from the start. Other than these two core modes, rounding off the list of available play types are season, street, practice, tournament, and situation.
Those familiar with 2K basketball will be fairly acclimated with the way 2K7 plays. It's a by-the-books type adaptation of the NBA league, and it does a formidable job recreating a true-to-TV presentation. Players are encouraged to make the extra pass and take wise shots, especially since the AI here is more equipped. Defenders cover their gaps and lanes well for the most part, although occasionally you'll frown at your teammates' lack of defensive effort on fast-breaks. That aside, they cover the floor well and respond concisely to various offensive and defensive play calls. Driving to the lane is effective to some degree, but the play calling is an integral part of play. Visual Concepts hammers down real-life strategies and compels you to make use of them. Spreading the ball around until you hit the open player is key, because the trajectory of your shot is a direct reflection of your shot release, the space between your nearest defender, and your shooting ability. Find the open teammate and--swish!--he'll likely knock down the bucket if he's a reasonably accurate shooter. Even if the shot happens to rim out, though, you're still setting yourself up for high-percentage shots and a very feasible chance to win.
While the game rests on its laurels, players will notice a number of additions that set this title above the competition, as well as previous installments. One great feature, dubbed ?On the Fly Coaching? by the developer, allows players to pull up various coaching screens with the directional pad during play. Each direction pulls up a designated menu. There's a play-calling menu, a substitution menu, and more. These flashy menus are easy to navigate and let players simultaneously coach and play without ever breaking the flow of the game. You can change defensive setups, substitute players, call offensive plays, and so on. It is a great way to try and dictate the pace of a game and take advantage of your particular team's style of play. Whether that is a fast paced, run-and-gun tempo or a more formal, half-court style is entirely up to you. Either way is equally satisfying. The default on-screen offensive and defensive plays cover your basic calls. But they can be interchanged with additional plays from the start menu, if you like. On the default setting the AI automatically substitutes players, though it's nice to be able to make your own substitutions, especially when managing players' fatigue levels.
NBA 2K7 is accessible to newcomers, but to truly appreciate the game, you must learn all the specific moves it has to offer. The face buttons still cover different passes and shooting, but you will often find yourself using the right stick, which subsumes many of the game's prominent functions. On offense the right analog initiates various dunks, lay-ups, and post-up moves, as well as your basic jump shot. For the casual player, the stick may seem to simply initiate a random animation. But the right stick actually evokes specific animations, depending on which direction you press. Pressing the stick up, for example, initiates a finger roll, while pressing the stick down calls for a tear drop. Press the stick by itself to perform lay-ups, or you can repeat the process while holding the right trigger for dunks. You can make the distinction of whether or not to take a hook shot or a fade-away jumper when looking to post up the defender, and better yet, you can specifically try to bank your shots off the backboard. The choice is really up to you. Naturally, the league's bigger, less athletic players are better suited for power dunks, while the more agile players have a knack for the fancier, more dazzling finishes. Either way, taking the ball to the paint and finishing the play is satisfying to watch. Players just have to be aware of the context of each shot, which can make the difference between a prayer of a shot and a beautifully executed finish.
As for finding the open lane, players can use a number of quick-burst crossovers and jukes to elude the defense, although holding various combinations of the left and right triggers, while stringing together multiple directions on the left stick, is easier said than done. Actually, the number of button combinations could rival that of some fighting games, yet they fail to measure up in consistency. For what it's worth, you have a varied arsenal of jukes at your disposal, but on the same token, it's somewhat uninviting for the player who just wants to pick up the controller and jump right into the mix, especially when the said jukes aren't entirely reliable.
The right analog plays an important role on defense too. Again, pressing the stick in different directions initiates various defensive stances and moves. If you pull the stick away from the defender, you'll put your hands in the air. The remaining directions let you make a cutoff move, go for the steal, swat block, etc. Considering the vast number of moves on both sides of the ball, newcomers to the series may have a hard time coming to grips with all these specifics, as it's understandably a lot to digest. Of course, casual players can very well pick up the controls and manage to put up a decent performance. Knowing how to pull off the more demanding moves can take time. And fortunately the pay off is worth the effort for those who do end up investing the time.
Being able to utilize so many offensive and defensive moves is not only a much- appreciated inclusion, it also lets the game flex its main selling point: signature style. Every player was motion captured and the results are unbelievable. With this, you see the likenesses of each NBA player come to life right on the screen. Shawn Marion's obscure way of shooting is there; Duncan's turn-around hook shot is there. However, it's not only the shots that are authentic, it's everything--the way they run, the way they dribble. Think of any player and the way he moves about and shoots the ball and its there, rendered to near perfection. The game's also robust with small nuances and intricacies. Players without the ball fight for position; cameramen stand courtside taping all the action; coaches and players that occupy the bench fervently watch from the sideline. It's really a sight to see, since just as much is going on courtside as there is in the actual game. It is also worth noting how the home team mascot and cheerleaders vivaciously parade onto the court during intermissions to entertain the crowd. Not enough can be said about the realistic animations, both with how they accurately represent players' real-life tendencies and with how they all mesh together so naturally. The end result is a game that's overflowing with liveliness no matter where your attention may be on the court.
The visuals are impressive in standard definition but still pale in comparison to a high-def setup. The visuals hit their low points with street mode's unpolished textures, but the graphics are top notch otherwise. Everything from the crisp menus to the lush arenas has more detail, with near-perfect player models. At the free throw line, you see their uniforms subtly dangling from their bodies. Then the camera angle changes to an up-close view, with convincing beads of sweat pouring down players' faces. Also, the lighting from arenas vibrantly reflects off players, displaying their chiseled arms and detailed tattoos. The faces strikingly mirror their real-life counterparts, and they animate well by conveying various facial expressions. Watching players miss a shot only to scowl at their inaccuracy is just as much eye candy as seeing them celebrate after a positive play. It's too bad, though, that player emotion doesn't necessarily take into account the context of the game. A player whose team is on the verge of getting blown out shouldn't celebrate as much as he does after a made basket. But it's almost nitpicky to bring up such issues, considering how solid the presentation is as a whole.
The excellent presentation is due largely to the game's graphical prowess. But even so, it wouldn't be quite as exciting if not for the excellent audio. Craig Sager, Kenny Smith, and Kevin Harlan return from last year to cover the play-by-play commentary, and they do a commendable job. Kenny Smith even does a halftime segment to breakdown the first two quarters. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm from the fans delivers a genuine feel to the game and intensifies the mood. It is rejuvenating to dictate your crowd's involvement with your on-court performance. Going on a 10-0 run as the home team will surely have the locals in an uproar, while going on similar runs in an opponent's arena will inevitably evoke an equally pleasing silence from the disenchanted, disheartened fans. The soundtrack is strictly rap and provides a decent balance between well-known stars and underground artists. The more notable acts include Slim Thug, E-40, Fabolous, Lupe Fiasco, and Mos Def. While the lyrics are mostly geared toward the hardwood sport, there's a good degree of variation found in the tempos and rhythms, although some of the songs are less fitting than others.
The game has a lot to offer with its core modes alone, but to really get the most out of the title you'll want to take the action online to square off against the best. Aside from the usual ranked matches, players can set up their own leagues, create tournaments, and even play street ball. With a reliable connection, the controls and animations stay seamless. A lackluster connection on the other hand can really bog down the game, throwing off the timing of your shot release and just about every other conceivable facet of play.
For those interested, you can upload the custom highlight reels you may have made with the 2K Reelmaker
. And if you want to switch up the pace, you can always go to your crib and play a game of darts or air hockey, both of which keep score as you play. Navigating through all the wonderful features that 2K7 has to offer, both online and offline, tends to be a chore. The problem with the menu screen, which is toggled on and off by moving the right analogue stick, isn't in its design, but rather, in its lack of functionality. Once you make a selection from the menu, the screen subsequently disappears. When you pull it back up, you're back at the start. This may not seem too dire at first, but it's not long before you're forced to incessantly navigate the same subsets of menu screens. This is truer than ever when navigating the online menus. What Visual Concepts was thinking with this shoddy setup is beyond comprehension.