NBA '07 Review (PS2)

For the last five years of recorded history, I have been screaming loudly from the front of the video game media line that video games as a medium need to embrace the arts. They need to treat themselves as an art form, not a toy or hobby. Video games are developed by artists and creative folks that rival what you see on a movie set in Hollywood, a television studio in Chicago, a stage in New York or a recording session in Nashville. Gaming should be an experience. Not a time-killer.

When we took a look at NBA 06 last year, we were certainly intrigued and cautiously optimistic about the direction of the game. The Life (Volume 1) brought the action, adventure, and an almost RPG logic to a sports title and rolled it out with overall solid cinematic presentation. With the release of NBA 07, we get a look at The Life, Volume 2. After a year of development now under their belts and a growing interest in the genre, as evidenced by games like NHL 2K7 and the expanded Superstar Mode in Madden, the team at SCEA is expected to take the next step. But, can The Life imitate art?

NBA 07, at its core, remains largely the same as last year’s versions. You’re looking at three main modes of play: The Life, Season and Online. The basketball itself has not done much to change since last year. Controls are essentially the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I actually find myself enjoying the control system in this series. I would contend that it has, arguably, the best utilization of the analog sticks during gameplay. The jukes and spin flow really nicely in and out of animation and it seems very natural. The icon passing and Showtime features really blend seamlessly into the overall feel of the game.

Unlike some other basketball titles, the players on the court feel like their movements have logical weight and actually take up the space that they are meant to. You’ll actually see a lot less shots and passing going through arms and chests than you will in other hoops titles. That gives you a sense of accomplishment when you play smart basketball and put yourself in the position to make plays. Plus, the AI on the court plays pretty smart on all levels.

The Season Mode leaves a lot to be desired. I know the single-season thing works for a lot of people, but when you’re limited to one season, there is really no motivation to do anything short of building an All-Star team. You can’t get into “salary cap hell” like the Knicks or build a young team through the draft. Combined with the fact that the trade AI is pretty comical at best, it's not difficult to build a dream team by exchanging far lesser parts.

You’ll also find that there is not much else happening during the season to give it any sense of time. You end up, more or less, playing 82 exhibition games and then going into the playoffs with your juggernaut to blow through the competition that has likely been pilfered of their best talent.

Personally, if you’re looking for a bunch of exhibition games, you’ll probably get a lot more fun out of online play. NBA 07 actually plays one of the smoothest games that you’ll find on the PS2 servers. The competition is there and, while the modes are slim, the experience is not.

The bread and butter once again, however, is The Life. Volume 2 is here and this time you’re following a pair of wanna-be NBA superstars named "Big W" and "The Kid". You’ll actually follow the path of both players and take on challenges, in the form of mini-games, for both players.

Like last year, I still love the concept and it’s, for the most part, well executed. The cut scenes tell a nice story and it all plays out nicely. If I had to offer one complaint with the challenges on your path, it’s that sometimes they were a bear to complete. And often not for the reason you would think. I found myself growing frustrated at times with an almost randomness that would prevent you from completing challenges. I knew I was doing what it was asking me to do. I could see on the screen that I was doing what it asked me to do. But, for some reason, the game wasn’t recognizing it. Combine that with the vicious load times and I found myself wanting to shut down the game on a few occasions.

I still contend that NBA 07 is on the right path with this mode. I just would love to see a little more openness and freedom in how I get to the end. I think all game developers who want to put this style into their games, should be required to pick up THQ’s Saint’s Row to see how you can be open and tell a story at the same time.

The on-court graphics have become about what you would expect. As I mentioned earlier, I think the animations are very clean and natural, but the player models are still very PS2, almost remedial PS2. I know it’s tough to try to compete with the next-gen titles on the market, but as long as you are releasing new work, let’s see new work.

Even at that, the graphics trump the audio tenfold. There’s no commentary. Stop. Breathe. Now let me repeat it. There’s no commentary in a sports game. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, and done well. But, it’s not here. It’s not done well. They made the decision to use game and ambient sounds to fill the air. It's not a good choice. Not only does it not work, it gets downright annoying after a short while.

I still have a ton of faith in this franchise. Part of it is because of the concept itself. The other is because I think the team at SCEA does good work and is dedicated to making great products. NBA 07 does a lot of things a similar fashion to NBA 06. They’ve improved very little on the court or in the Season mode, but they still tell a nice story. Playing this game still keeps me optimistic that the franchise will continue and could potentially thrive. I’m interested to see what happens when it makes the leap to the PS3. In the meantime, it's a life worth living.

NBA '07 Score
out of 10