Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
10/27/2006 01:20:00 PM
Review: NBA 07 (PS2)
Posted by Spencer Wise
I’ve never needed basketball sims to be realistic. Sega’s NBA HangTime was one of my all-time favorites and I played with a little green alien named Hank who drained 3-pointers; and my teammate, Tom Gugliotta, turned black halfway through the game. HangTime was addictively fun without even the slightest pretense of realism. It knew exactly what it was. Sony’s NBA 07, on the other hand, is suffering from a serious identity crisis.
For instance, dribbling down the court with Paul Pierce, I beat my man along the baseline when Kenyon Martin slides over, pinning me under the basket. I hit the dunk button and on his way to the rim, Pierce levitates through the backboard.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing -- teleporting through solid matter -- happens all too often in a game that claims to be the "real NBA experience." One of the culprits is the bunky default camera angle. On fast breaks the camera zooms out so wide that you aren’t sure if the ball handler is under the hoop or two feet in front of it. When you kick it out to the perimeter, the camera zooms in too close, making it impossible to find your teammates.
These flaws mar an otherwise superb introduction, which had my heart racing. The game starts with a One Shining Moment montage of cross-over dribbles, windmill dunks, and coaches screaming from the sidelines. A voice shouts, "What time is it? Game time! What time is it? Game time!" punctuated by an alley-oop dunk before all fades to black and you’re officially in The Life.
Sadly, it goes downhill from there. The game is thinner than Manute Bol -- no multi-year franchise option, no dunk contest, no player introductions or victory celebrations. Trades are absurd; I traded my point guard, Sebastian Telfair, to the Cavaliers in return for Lebron James without worrying about money or messy contracts; just ask and ye shall receive.
NBA 07 is also in desperate need of some flare. The stadiums are depressingly bare. Meanwhile, the players’ faces are strangely Cro-Magnon. Number 23 looks more like Lucy than Lebron. Nevertheless, the game action is surprisingly fun. NBA 07 is at its best with minor animated details. Cross-up a defender and he’ll stumble forward losing his balance. Delonte West actually lunged for a steal rather than feebly waving his arms. Off the ball, Wally Szerbiak threw a swim-move to get around his defender on the baseline.
The game developers really nailed the post-up game. Hold down L1 and your big man posts up. With the defender on your back, flick the right analog stick and your player spins to the hole and flushes it down. Another boon to the game play is a nice-looking alley-oop. Holding down R2 sends your player leaping at the rim and a well-timed pass seals the deal.
But forget the Princeton offense; more often NBA 07 resembles a sloppy pick-up game at the JCC, minus the bald guys and Rec-Specs. Players cluster together and bump into each other like farm animals. Shooting guards stand around; picks are rarely followed by rolls, passes over 10 feet are invariably picked off. You’re better off calling an isolation play and taking it yourself.
The AI is bunky; somehow my opponents, the Toronto Raptors, managed an unprecedented three back-court violations. Several times Rasho Nesterovic worked his way to the baseline only to step out of bounds.
NBA 07’s signature feature is a story-mode called The Life, which follows the careers of the Kid and Big W., two rival stars vying for an NBA title. Their stories are told through a series of cut-scenes, alternating between the Kid, coming off a blown knee, and Big W., whose son is sick in the hospital.
After each cut-scene you are thrust into a game scenario as one of the two main characters and expected to fulfill a variety of objectives -- a cross-over layup, a juke-step field goal, hold the opposing small forward to four points (good luck finding him, by the way; names, not positions are provided). If you complete your objectives, the story advances. If you don’t, well, keep trying until you do. Some of these challenges are easy, others infuriatingly difficult; all of them however are tedious.
It’s an innovative concept poorly executed. While you scramble to fulfill objectives, you never actually play a full game of hoops, which is presumably why you bought the game in the first place. If its objectives you want, the RPG’s do it much better. Who cares how many times you cross-over before dunking? If you want to spin, god knows, you’ll spin to your heart’s content.
What NBA 07 lacks in quality it tries to compensate for with quantity -- two-on-two, 3-point contests, All-Star Game, and skills competitions.
Stunningly, NBA 07’s best mini-game is only available on the PSP version. “Conquest” mode is essentially a basketball version of Risk. Starting in one state, you “attack” adjacent territories by challenging them to a game. If you win, you take their team and control their territory. If the CPU initiates the attack, defeating them allows you to take their best player in exchange for your worst. It’s absurdly fun and simple, but sadly not an option on the PS2.
In the end, the real competition isn’t between the Kid and Big W, but between NBA Live and NBA 2K7 for supremacy of Mount Hoops. NBA 07 The Life vol. 2 is still wandering through the desert trying to find itself.
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 5.2
NBA 07 does some things very well -- shot meter, jukes, alley-oops, to name a few -- but until the realism of the game-play matches the intensity of the cut-scenes, The Life is in serious trouble. Weak minigames and a tepid presentation are begging for improvement. It bears mentioning, if only to point out how unrealistic things get, that the Knicks are one of one of the top-five teams in the game. I have to wonder if the developers’ time wouldn’t have been better spent creating either a great story-mode or a realistic basketball sim. As it stands, neither mode is particularly strong.
Sony isn’t going to win any converts with this title’s graphics. Nary one bead of sweat drops to the floor; nothing sparkles or gleams. The high-quality cut-scenes and voice-overs don’t compensate for jaggy graphics and awkward game-play.
You don’t have to be a huge basketball fan to enjoy the lightning-fast pace of NBA-mode. Only a lot of time on my hands, say, a second case of chicken pox and a friend stealing all my other games could force me to replay The Life. Grueling load-times before and after each cut-scene felt like a video-game lobotomy. Gamers with A.D.D (really isn’t that all of us) beware.