Review: College Hoops is solid, not excellent.
College Hoops 2K7 is 2K Sports' second NCAA basketball entry for the 360. Over the years, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports have paved an exceptional foundation for both of their current basketball series. So those familiar with 2K basketball already have a pretty accurate understanding of what to expect with Hoops 2K7, a game that borrows heavily from last year's entry as well as the recently successful NBA 2K7. At its core, the argument could very well be made that Hoops 2K7 features the tightest, most intuitive controls from a 2K basketball game yet, and no doubt, the game is fun. But at the same time, those who have played the excellent NBA 2K7 may have a hard time adjusting to a game that, visually and aurally, doesn't hold a candle to its pro-ball counterpart.
The menu interface, graphics engine, gameplay, and control mapping were all lifted right out of NBA 2K7, so please excuse the persistent comparisons of the two. You will, however, notice some immediate differences in the control mapping. The Y button's hop step function is replaced with a spin move, and A is the only pass button, allowing B to pull off various cross-overs and quick-burst steps. Those familiar with NBA 2K7's controls may fumble a bit on these minor adjustments, but once you get a hang of the changes, the game controls just as fluidly as past entries. And though the juke system is virtually the same (holding left and right triggers while tapping directions with the left analog), it feels more responsive and reliable overall, and the addition of a quick-burst step gives players a bit more offensive potency too.
Control-wise, little else has changed from last year. The right stick still acts as a shot stick, allowing players to shoot jumpers and, more impressively, choose how they want to finish a shot after cleaving through defenders. Pressing the stick to the left, for instance, executes a left-handed lay up. It's a great feature that gives players more control over these once-random animations, and is nearly identical to last year's version. The d-pad still executes play calls, and you can manually set each one from a comprehensive play list. Also very much intact is the quick-sub menu. During dead balls, a controller icon momentarily pops onto the screen, indicating the brief window you have to bring up the quick-sub menu. Here, you can manually sub individual players or, better yet, select situational squads for specific moments in the game. You'll perhaps want to bring in your ?freethrow? or ?tall? squad when the opposite team is at the stripe. Likewise, it'd be beneficial to bring in your ?3-point? squad if you need a beyond-the-arc shot in the critical juncture of a game. As great as the quick-sub menu is, though, it's a regression from NBA 2K7's on-the-fly subbing system, which lets you substitute players anytime during play. Instead, you have to either call a timeout (or just wait for a dead ball) or pause the game to make the necessary lineup changes.
Calling a timeout also grants you access to the coach's clipboard. Players with a penchant for coaching will love this feature. For starters, you can arrange the probability of press settings for specific circumstances. Fullcourt man, fullcourt trap, 2-2-1 zone press, and the remaining defensive calls can be set to always
, or after basket
. You can manage individual player-pressure tendencies too, so you can decide whether a player tightly or loosely guards his man. And you can also manipulate a player's double-team tendencies and set individual player match-ups.
Arguably the best feature with the coach's clipboard is the ability to emphasize a particular aspect of play. After all, that is the elemental reason for a timeout, isn't it? With two allotted to you each half, these points of emphasis give your team a temporary boost in that particular area. If you're getting beaten badly on the boards, for example, you may want to call a timeout to emphasize rebounding. Or, if your passing starts to become erratic, you may want to emphasize ball control. All the above micromanagement options combine for an unparalleled amount of coaching control over your computer-controlled teammates. And when put in motion, the settings really seem to have a pronounced effect on the court. While all this is going on, your success in ball distribution is measured via the unity meter, which stresses a basic fundamental that players should already practice: Pass the ball! It takes a good deal of teamwork to actually impact the meter, but if you can build it up enough, your team will start to stylishly pass the ball and drain jumpers from everywhere on the court.
The artificial intelligence is superb on both sides of the ball and instinctively reacts to your potential coaching adjustments. Teams play at similar paces to their real-life counterparts, and they make use of different offensive and defensive play calls quite often. They can methodically run a half-court offense, calling various plays and setting up formations. But they can aggressively run full-court fast-breaks and break your defense down just the same. If your defense enters a lapse, the offensive-AI is quick to expose your flaws and has no problem finding the open man to make you pay. So you'll find it advantageous to make use of the gaggle of coaching options.
Legacy returns as the game's main mode, and players can approach it in two clear ways: career and open. If you select the former, you begin by creating a coach. As a brand new coach, naturally, you must first find a job. It's safe to say that the list of potential jobs consists of many small-conference schools you may have never heard of--teams such as Prarie View, Centenary, and Dartmouth. If you're not content being at the helm of such a small-scale team, you'd probably find more fun in the open setting, which lets you pick any team you like from whichever conference. Not every team features its true-to-life coach, but coach settings (including name and appearance) are adjustable for those who like to keep things accurate to the sport.
Once you decide on a coach and a team, the two modes are essentially the same: You distribute a set number of attributes to the different facets of your coaching ability, select two assistant coaches, and then you're ready to go. Before you begin, though, you can fully customize your schedule, which comes in handy more so with the career setting, allowing you to swap out weaker opponents for ones that will improve your stock in the polls. The season is illustrated by a calendar that specifies important team events, including tournaments, regular-season games, deadlines, and more. You're notified of team concerns through the email system, and you can stay up to date with everything that's going on, from current poll rankings to the hottest recruits nationwide. Players that enjoy all the preparation that a team goes through during the regular and off-season will have plenty to think about. For those who would rather skip this altogether in favor of just playing the games, the computer doesn't necessarily do a just job assuming these duties.
Two tournament modes, coach mode, rivalry, practice, and online mode cap off the remaining play types. The two tournament modes work well as multiplayer modes. But coach mode, on the other hand, is more of a gimcrack than anything else. Here, you watch each game in its entirety from the coach's perspective. You can roam the immediate area while directing your viewpoint as players move up and down the court. All the while, you have on-the-fly access to all the coaching options via the face and shoulder buttons. The problem is that this mode fails to immerse the player because these options offer nothing beyond those found in the other modes. Not only that, it's disheartening that you have to succumb to this mode just to have on-the-fly coaching options, a feat that NBA 2K7 brandishes in its regular modes.
Visually, the game also fails to live up to its big brother, NBA 2K7. It's palpable that the graphics engine was lifted directly from NBA 2K7, but the transition discarded a large portion of the game's polygonal highlights. Background textures and player models lack polish, and the presentation is heavily tarnished by the absences of signature style and player emotion. To be fair, it would be a near impossible and implausible task to incorporate a motion capture that rivals 2K's NBA game for a number of simple reasons, starting with the fact that NCAA players aren't paid and therefore can't get licensed into a game. Moreover, the number of NCAA competitors convincingly usurps the number of NBA players. So 2K Sports isn't in total blame. But the rabbit hole goes deeper. The underutilization of broadcast-style camera angles, which were ideal for conveying player emotion in NBA 2K7, also negatively impacts the game. In fact, there's very little player emotion at all. Backup players and team coaches nonchalantly occupy the sideline without any form of enthusiasm, whether their team is getting blown out or is on the verge of winning.
Player close-ups are rare, and they lack any sort of blur or focus effect, displaying jagged-edged fans even in a high-def setup. The arenas, packed to the brim with fans, are one of the few upsides. And if it's any saving grace, the fans are thoroughly supportive, displaying energy with clapping sequences and common inspirational chants--all of which are accompanied by familiar tunes from the marching band. Together, the crowd and marching band are a high-spirited combination, helping to divert you from the boringly monotone commentary. While the analysts' comments are factual and to-the-point, they rarely use any humor or wit to spice it up. The soundtrack includes your usual rap songs as well as fight songs from the league's more distinguished teams.
There are many accomplishments to be made, ranging from your simpler tasks to ones that take more persistence. Also, you earn credits for completing simple tasks like getting 10 team dunks or scoring 25 points with one player. These credits are redeemable at the campus store for various nostalgic ornaments, alternate uniforms, and the like. The campus store has a dart board and ice hockey table too (just like other 2K Sports games), and they provide a decent distraction as fully functional two-player games. And the same can be said for the 2K reelmaker and chant creator. But it's a shame you're still forced to navigate all these areas with the same troublesome menu interface found in NBA 2K7. You would think they could muster up a more user-friendly system. Other than that, the online mode plays well and sports all the usual features: leaderboards, ranked matches, leagues, and tournaments. And if you've played previous 2K Sports games on Xbox Live, your 2K user profile remains intact.