Where does an NBA champion go after he's won it all, especially if he did so in his rookie year? What about the aging NBA superstar whose livelihood is threatened by the aforementioned new blood but has an entirely new set of problems to deal with off the court. These are just a couple of the questions asked (and answered) by the next version of Sony's recently revamped NBA series, NBA 07. We got a peek at the game's plot-intensive gameplay at a recent Sony press event and had a chance to get some hands-on time with the game to see how it's shaping up.
First, let's talk gameplay. As in previous versions of Sony's NBA series, this is a fast-paced game of basketball--players move up and down the court quickly, and you can expect the shots and the dunks to come often. That said, the development team hasn't forgotten about the defensive game in NBA 07. One of the big additions to gameplay this year is the rebounding hotspot. Now, when a shot goes off the backboard, an icon will indicate where the ball will land on the court. It's a simple idea but one that will pay dividends in your defensive game, assuming you pay attention and get one of your big men to that area to grab the ball or at least keep opposing team members out of the zone so someone else can yank the rebound. A similar addition to the color-coded shot meter that the NBA series is known for will give you a better idea of how accurate your shot will be based on the defense you're up against. If the defender is playing soft, you've got a much better chance of making the shot than if he's right up in your face.
The SCEA team has also made some strides in the artificial intelligence in the game--computer-controlled teams now won't be as sluggish to get to loose balls, and they'll be more apt to get down court and take advantage of fast breaks or mismatches. In all, you should expect a more aggressive game of basketball in NBA 07, albeit one that still plays at the heightened pace you're used to.
There's more to the NBA series than just its gameplay, however. Those who played last year's game will remember the introduction of an entirely new mode of play--the story driven "The Life: Volume 1." Then, you played the role of an up-and-coming point guard nicknamed "The Kid," who makes a name for himself in the NBA, as well as a few enemies, most notably a fellow point guard known as "Big Dub." Playing as The Kid in last year's game, you replaced Big Dub as the starting point guard and, as you can imagine, he wasn't too happy about it.
In NBA 07, the story picks up more or less where the last game left off. The story still revolves around The Kid and Big Dub, only this year there are some crucial twists that will keep the mode feeling fresh. For one thing, you'll be playing games as both characters in the game. Now, the obvious question is, "Why would I want to play two point guards?" The answer is: You won't. Now that Big Dub's moved to a new team, his size and shooting ability means he's moved to small forward. As a result, you'll get to play the game from two distinct perspectives in the game--the pass-making, floor-general point guard and the shot-making, driving small forward.
Two different roles on the court mean different roles you'll be playing in the game and different goals to accomplish during the game-time scenarios that make up "The Life: Volume 2." The producer admitted that last year's game simply gave the player too many goals to accomplish in a single game and the scenarios themselves were often too long. That will change in NBA 07. Not only do the goals make more sense, but the scenarios are often shorter, which means that even if you don't succeed the first time, it won't be too much of a time investment to try it over again.
Furthermore, the goals for both The Kid and Big Dub differ. The Kid's goals are laid out at the beginning of the scenario--score this many points or shoot 100 percent from the free-throw line. Big Dub, on the other hand, will have dynamic goals--timed challenges that appear as the game progresses. One dynamic goal we saw gave you 18 seconds to make a field goal with Big Dub after using a spin move. Incidentally, the challenge clock only counted down when the ball was in Dub's hands, so you could still move the ball around to find a better look.
Because The Life Vol. 2 is a continuation of last year's story, you'll be able to import your created version of The Kid to the new game. However, you won't be able to keep those stellar attributes you built up over the course of the last game; early on in the plot, The Kid suffers an injury and his stats will suffer accordingly. As the plot progresses, The Kid will find his playing time challenged by yet another player on the team. Meanwhile, Big Dub will be going through challenges of his own--his young son is in the hospital, for example, so he's got things on his mind beyond basketball. Throughout the linear storyline of NBA 07, all these various conflicts will once again come to life through multiple cutscenes, a few of which we got to see for ourselves during the demo. As in last year's game, the voice acting and cinematic presentation seems to be top notch in NBA 07, and you can expect the entire plot to play out over a total of approximately an hour-and-a-half's worth of cutscenes.
Other news for NBA 07 includes a number of minigames, including the returning "own the court." One minigame that sounds fun is "shout out," where your coach will yell out certain moves, dunks, or shots on the court and challenge you to follow his instructions. Also, the game will have the involvement of the TNT television network (which broadcasts NBA games during the season). Unfortunately, Sir Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith won't be contributing their vocal talents to the game, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for next year.
In all, NBA 07 looks to be a compelling continuation to last year's game, both from a gameplay standpoint and through the plot line of "The Life: Volume 2." We'll have to wait until the full game is released later this year to learn the exact fates of The Kid and Big Dub, but we hope to see more of the game's other features, such as online play and additional on-court improvements, in the near future.