Reviewed: October 12, 2006
Released: September 26, 2006
In the past five or so years of reviewing, I have seen my fair share of basketball titles. And in all my time looking at b-ball games, the genre has remained pretty much unchanged. Broken down into two factions, Simulation and Arcade, you either get the stats-heavy career mode of the NBA season with a requisite “street” mode thrown in to boot, or you get the over-the-top backboard-shattering flaming ball action of NBA Jam. EA has done well in the past by embracing both factions with their incredibly popular NBA Live and NBA Street franchises.
Sony, on the other hand, hasn’t fared so well in recent years. While there was a time when Sony ruled the roost on basketball games, somewhere around the launch of the PS2 they dropped the ball. In the years that followed, Sony just seemed to not be able to make up for their lost ground – releasing games with suspect quality and touting “new” innovations that the competition had used years before, and eventually putting all sports production on an extended two year hiatus.
So last year, Sony tried to do something special with their reemergence of their sports line – introducing something genuinely new to the basketball gaming scene; a story.
NBA 06 Featuring the Life was supposed to mark Sony’s triumphant return to the sporting genre, but no story could make up for fact that little had been done to repair the suspect gameplay of years before.
So here we sit, one year later and Sony is back with NBA 07 Featuring the Life Vol. 2. And while the game is definitely headed in the right direction, it still misses its mark on quite a few crucial aspects, rendering it as yet another mediocre – albeit honorable – effort at evolving the genre.
The main focus in NBA 07 is the career mode, aptly titled “The Life”. In The Life, the gamer takes on the alternating roles of two hotshot hoopsters from the NBA – Big W and The Kid.
Big W comes in as the reigning star of the NBA, who has just found out that his young son is in the hospital with a serious illness. His bad boy attitude is made worse when the team’s owner shows little compassion regarding his son’s condition, and forces him to honor the binding contract – playing games amidst all of the hardships.
The Kid is the hackneyed rising star of the NBA, and upon entering his second year in the NBA (the first being last year’s NBA 06) was poised to upset Big W’s throne when an “accident” during a charity one-on-one match between the two hot shots leaves The Kid with a leg injury.
For the most part, The Life forgoes the traditional game-by-game b-ball match-ups for a system that places players in a series of realistic mid or end game scenarios. The game then tasks players with a series of goals that need to be accomplished in an allotted amount of time, generally to turn the tide of the game for the better.
While the idea sounds really sweet on paper – letting players jump into games mid-span, finish a challenging list of goals, and then get right back out – achieving certain goals can sometimes be a nebulous and tedious affair, leaving little in the hands of the gamer. For the most part, this can be attributed to lackluster teammate AI – especially on the defensive side of the court – which forces the gamer into an overly responsible role of babysitting all the positions on the court.
The defensive woes do not end with the AI babysitting – the fact that the game does not allow any sort of boxing-in or squaring up on the ball handler makes playing effective defense nearly impossible. Considering that most of Sony’s competition addressed this issue years ago, it makes NBA 07 feel like jumping back five years in the past.
The silver lining to the lackluster defense is that the CPU-controlled teams do not perform much better than your own, so it is possible to quickly learn money lays which will all but guarantee a bucket. A few simple passes and a long range shot will generally stump a dumfounded defense, leaving them standing in confusion while you make the swish.
While the attempt at developing a story within a sporting game is admirable, the storyline itself is quite predictable, and lacks any genuine emotional value. As a father of three children, I should be the first to feel unyielding compassion for Big W’s plight – but I never once felt like I really cared, especially since the story had little tie-in to the gameplay.
Gamers aren’t forced to play through The Life’s career mode – the game also features a requisite season mode, and some legitimately cool mini-games. The same defensive problems exist in the season mode, so those gamers willing to torture themselves through an entire 82 game season mode can be my guest – I’ll stick to the shooting sweet shooting mini-games instead.
It always blows my mind how Sony can feel comfortable shipping first party software that look this poor on their very own machine. I know that not every game can look like their own Gran Turismo or Ratchet and Clank franchises, but this NBA series just looks terrible. Muted colors combined with blocky character models, all overlaid by a sepia-tinted warm and fuzzy effect that screams, “we needed all the filtering we could get just to pull this one off.”
The animations are choppy and unnatural, and the players’ running doesn’t seem to match the speed with which they are moving across the floor – looking like they are running against a treadmill.
The courts look decent enough, but the crowds are extremely generic and unexciting. And while the PS2 never fares well with shadows and lighting (compared to the Xbox), NBA 07 looks exceptionally unrealistic.
Needless to say, NBA 07 is not much of a looker. Still, as poor as they are, the quality of the visuals trumps the sad state of affairs on the sound front.
Do you like sneaker squeaks? I hope so, because that’s pretty much all you get in NBA 07. Why? Because there is absolutely no commentary, no color commentary, and no broadcast announcing at all included in the game. Sure, there have been times in the past when I have thought that games would be better if they simply dropped the shoddy broadcast announcers – but NBA 07 proves that I was dead wrong. No announcers = instant boredom.
The game does do a legitimately good job of capturing the sounds of an arena, featuring believable crowd swells and an arena announcer (I guess there is one announcer in the game, sorry) to report scores, fouls and time issues.
The cutscene voice acting is decent, although the characters could have been a bit more believable in terms of emotion. Given the circumstances the characters are in with their personal lives, I would like to think that they would drop the hard-guy act and begin sounding like real people.
While the gameplay mechanics might not be so great, the gameplay itself is unique for the basketball (or any other sport for that matter) genre. The goals system in the story mode is quite challenging and addictive, and is the closes the PS2 comes to inciting the excitement of the Xbox 360’s Achievement points system.
The game does feature an online play mode, but considering that the game is choppy and unresponsive in single player, you can guess that it is worse over an Internet connection. Still, Sony at least included online play, so they get points for that.
But the real question is whether or not NBA 07 is worth $40…and the answer is probably not. Aside from the goals-based scenarios in the career system, every other aspect has already been done better before.
I was really rooting for Sony on this one, especially with EA’s NBA Live franchise quickly going town the tubes (longtime fans are actually organizing against EA regarding the latest release of NBA Live).
And while Sony does take an interesting new approach to the basketball genre, I simply cannot recommend NBA 07 at full retail price.