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10/05/2006 11:18:00 AM
Review: NBA Live vs. NBA 2K7
By Lang Whitaker
Good old-fashioned capitalism has ensured that several sports -- including the NFL and Major League Baseball -- will have only a single company making the official video games for their league. The overt price for this is a (presumably) rather large check from the company to the league, in exchange for the rights to the names of the players and franchises. The latent price for this is a possible lack of development in the video game industry. For instance, if EA Sports is the only company allowed to make an official NFL video game over the next decade, what incentive other than corporate pride is there for EA to spend the necessary money needed to innovate and create?
Which is why the fact that the NBA doesn’t have an exclusive deal in place with any one video game company is so heartening. Just as the ABA pushed the NBA to new levels back in the day -- like introducing the three-point line -- I remain hopeful that eventually one of the multiple NBA games that are introduced each season will break on through to the other side, capturing the NBA so perfectly that all the other games will rise to the challenge and make significant changes. Which is exactly what needs to happen.
Even though the NBA season has yet to begin, three NBA-related games have already dropped, including NBA 07, Sony’s game that plays exclusively on the PlayStation 2 and PSP. But the Big Two, the duo of games that have battled head to head for NBA simulation supremacy the last seven years, are EA Sports’ NBA Live and 2K Sports’ NBA 2K7. I played both games on the Xbox 360, and the differences in this year’s games couldn’t be more obvious.
NBA Live 07 starts with a flourish, inside a huge, foreboding practice gym that resembles a battlefield setting from Halo 2. Everything from then on is shiny and polished, and honestly, the game looks like a million bucks. And then the game play starts, and to borrow a line from The Roots, that’s when the drama begins.
Once you start playing the game, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the NBA, and it doesn’t exactly feel live, either. The players, particularly without the ball, move with the grace of Peter John Ramos or Chris Kaman. When I fired up the game, I played one quarter and missed three relatively open dunks, although Josh Smith exploded from a standstill through the traffic in the lane and crushed one dunk that he’d never come close to finishing in a real game. The quarter took five minutes and there were no fouls called, which is not NBA basketball. I played an All-Star Game as the Eastern Conference, and was getting drilled until I discovered that I could pass the ball to Chris Bosh in the low post and immediately hit the dunk button, and Bosh would fire to the rim and dunk. I scored 10 straight points using this method. I’m relatively sure if an NBA team attempted this, somebody would make an adjustment, unless of course Sam Mitchell was coaching. That’s just one example of the balky A.I. in Live. Several times I ran pick-and-rolls and found myself looking desperately for the open guys, who would often refuse to rotate to the open slots on the floor. Hubie Brown would throw a chair through his TV watching this brand of NBA basketball.
To EA’s credit, they’ve beefed up the modes available in the game. Unlike last year, you can now play dynasty mode and use the All-Star Weekend on the 360. There’s also a complex Superstar Mode in which players are assigned various levels of skills that they can rotate between. I was more concerned with getting my players to catch the ball and turn and face the basket without stepping out of bounds, as Tim Duncan did twice in two minutes -- I’m willing to bet that never happened last season. Other bells and whistles include Marv Albert and Steve Kerr doing commentary, and more ESPN integration than the long-lost ESPN Mobile, with podcasts and scoretickers jumping out at you.
NBA 2K7 doesn’t look like much, at least compared to Live. Some of the cut scenes featuring over-the-top characters have the same angular and grainy feel of Grand Theft Auto, and the in-game graphics look jagged and hostile. Actually, the whole game looks alarmingly similar to the last few NBA 2K games, as though the only major difference is some new fonts and photos on the game box. 2K7 makes up for its lack of gloss with depth, with enough game modes to keep even Eddie Griffin distracted while driving. And most importantly, they get the gameplay right.
Now, I’m not saying that NBA 2K7 is amazing, but it is really good, and it is markedly better than NBA Live. The players don’t move with the grace of actual NBA players, but they do move fluidly, and I found the A.I. in the game much better than in Live. Several times I would bring the ball up to the wing and get it to my scorer, only to find the computer’s defense double-teaming me. I’d then have to reverse the ball out of the double team and often make two or three passes, waiting for the defense to rotate, to get it to the open guy. It’s probably not how Dr. James Naismith drew things up, but it’s how the NBA works, and it’s in NBA 2K7. No podcasts, no dunk contests, just NBA basketball (or something close to it).
If there wasn’t any doubt that Live and 2K7 are direct competitors, check out the packaging. The front of NBA Live has a badge that reads “#1 Selling Basketball Franchise,” while the front of 2K7 says “#1 Rated NBA Game.”
I can’t speak for the respective marketing departments and their success this year pushing the games on consumers, but at least in my Xbox, 2K7 retains its title, easily.
Not even close, really. As good a job as EA does with Madden every year and considering the magnificent work they did with MVP Baseball this year (my favorite sports game of the year thus far), it's baffling to me that Live remains so far behind their competition. 2K can still improve, and they've got a great headstart on Live, but 2K7 is fun and a fair simulation.
Live looks brilliant, especially on the Xbox 360. Everything gleams, and the faces in particular look very realistic. 2K7 is ragged in comparison -- Zaza Pachulia looks like Rocky Dennis.
Both games have a lot of modes available. Live's best feature might be the three-point shootout at All-Star Weekend, because it's just shooting the ball and no movement or teamwork is needed. The 24/7 mode on 2K7 seems promising, as well. 2K7 gets the nod here just because it's more fun to play, and if you're going to play a season or a franchise mode, you'll want to be using 2K7.