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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)

NBA 07
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.
Graphics: 4.5
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.
Replayability: 5.7
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.

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10/24/2006 10:24:00 AM

Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07

By Lang Whitaker

For my Dad's 70th birthday, I decided to go the non-traditional route and I bought him a PlayStation2. I suspected that retirement would present my Dad with the unique set of lifestyle opportunities conducive to being a video gamer: lots of free time, few outside demands, the ability to devote hours at a time at defeating a particular game. I went all out, getting not only a PS2 but also a few memory cards, two controllers, and a stack of about ten games from various genres.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
Electronic Arts
Two years later, my Dad plays the PS2 almost every day. He has not, however, become an avid gamer, sitting deep in his Lazy Boy with a headset on, chatting away online or deep in a game of Grand Theft Auto. Instead, my dad plays one game, over and over: Tiger Woods PGA Tour. And any game which appeals to ages from 10 to 70 must be doing something right.

EA has been cranking out an annual version of Tiger Woods' eponymous golf video game every year since 1999, but this year marks only the second version of Tiger Woods for the Xbox 360. And after years of playing video games solely on the PlayStation 2, I made the jump to the Xbox 360 a few weeks ago, and I have nothing but good things to say about the Xbox -- the graphics are crisp, the sound is full and loud.

Anyway, back to Tiger. Last year's version was pretty roundly panned, mostly because it had only six courses and few game modes. And course customization was all the rage a few years ago, just in case golfing on purple fairways is something you're into. This year, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 is full of courses (a dozen are included) and modes, without purple fairways but with a completely revamped aiming system that really revitalizes the Tiger Woods franchise.

The new aiming system is called "True Aiming," and instead of hitting at a particular point, your golfer hits toward a circle sized according to his skill level. It's now exponentially harder to hit the ball accurately with any regularity, so much so that I found myself having to actually pause and take a deep breath prior to each shot, in an attempt to make sure I didn't smack the ball into the gallery. I kept slicing everything to the right, so, taking a page from real golf, I started lining everything up to the left, taking advantage of my natural virtual slice.

Putting has also been tweaked. Gone are the "caddy tips," which told you exactly where to place your cursor, making the setup all the work. Now putts are determined by how hard you swing the putter, putting putting touch at a premium.

I mentioned the gallery before, and that's a pretty significant addition to the Tiger franchise. A rather large gallery tracks you around the course, applauding after great swings, running along the fairways to get a good view of the upcoming shots. Before you shoot, marshalls hold up "Quiet" signs. The only issue here is that fans are faceless and formless, like characters from The Sims dressed in muted earth tones. Occasionally a group of them can even be seen floating down the fairway -- running along for a better look but not moving their legs -- but overall the fans are a great addition.

Actually, the fans might be the worst part of the game's graphics, because everything else is pretty stunning. From the rippling lakes to the quietly chirping birds, the graphics are tremendous all the way around. This is perhaps best exhibited in the Gameface mode, where you create your character, fine-tuning everything from his or her haircut down to their wrinkles and freckles. The amount of control is remarkable, although when I tried to create a golfer that looked like Stephon Marbury, the best I could come up with was a guy that looked like a cross between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. But my poor artistic skills shouldn't count against the game's built-in bells and whistles.

I also spent some time with the PS2 version of Tiger Woods, which is based around a "team play" theme. Basically, you beat various characters in different matches and then have the option of adding those you've defeated to your roster for use in various match play events. The graphics aren't nearly as good as the Xbox 360 version, but there are more courses available and more mini-games.

The most fun part of the game remains the Career mode, where you build a golfer from scratch and then compete in tournaments and one-off events against real and fake golfers. Everyone from John Daly to Annika Sorenstam is available. The oddest thing is golfer Ian Poulter, who plays in a No. 10 Arsenal jersey with his own name on the back -- at least they could've put John Daly in a Razorbacks football jersey.

Nearly everything about this game is terrific, except for one major glitch: While testing out the online play, which EA has heavily promoted as a key facet of this year's game, I couldn't log into the game's online lobby. I enlisted the online gaming prowess of my SI.com colleague Adam Levine, but he also was locked out. An extensive SI.com investigation -- basically, Adam checked the message boards on IGN -- showed that we weren't the only ones unable to log in.

This game is good enough as it is, but playing online and talking trash over the headset is something I'm really looking forward to, assuming EA works this out. But even without the online play, I'm already hooked. And I'm pretty sure my Dad's going to be, too.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 8.8
The new True Aiming makes Tiger Woods tougher, but it also makes it much more fun and addictive.
Graphics: 9.5
From the opening graphic of Tiger bouncing his ball on an iron to shadows cast across the greens, this is one of the best looking games of the year.
Replayability: 8.5
The career mode and PGA Tour mode are plenty to keep gamers busy for months, but online play should really push this game to the next level. Assuming it works, that is.

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