In our last preview of NBA 2K7, we took you through some of the extensive changes that are happening with the animations and on-the-court gameplay. The good news is, those changes aren't the only ones you'll find in this second next-gen NBA effort from the 2K Sports team. Today, we got a chance to check out the updates to the game's franchise and 24/7 mode and are pleased to say that both modes look like they've come a long way, even from last year.
The biggest changes are coming to 24/7 mode, which has now been slightly redubbed to 24/7: Next. The game's producers like to say that the only thing that's carried over from previous iterations of 24/7 to this year's version is the name "24/7." That isn't exactly the case--there are still a few holdovers, such as a create-a-player feature--but in some respects the producers are right. 24/7: Next mode looks and feels much different from how it has played in the past.
First of all, 24/7 mode is story-based, told through a series of cutscenes featuring rendered player models and full voice-over work by a number of actors. Producers estimate that this mode will comprise of approximately 8 to 10 hours of gameplay. The story goes like this: Your created character is an up-and-coming baller looking to make a name for himself and grab an invitation to the Legends Charity Tournament, a celebrity basketball game featuring NBA all-stars and held at famed street ball court Rucker Park. To get there, however, you'll have to make your way through a number of challenges spread across five different preliminary courts in locations such as Texas, Chicago, and Venice Beach.
You'll also have to make it through your nemesis in the game, Bernard, who will be looking to impede your progress to Rucker Park every step of the way. Fortunately, you've got some buddies on your side to help you through--Antwan, who looks like an updated take on Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Brad, who looks a bit like Turtle from Entourage, though a bit more on the slim side. Your first mission in the game will be taking on 2K7 cover star Shaquille O'Neal in a free-throw contest (using a first-person view when it's your turn at the line), which should give you a good idea of the tongue-in-cheek nature of this mode's storyline.
Previous versions of 24/7 mode featured challenges that were all over the map, from straight one-on-one matchups to the incredibly frustrating reverse control challenges. In 24/7: Next mode, the games seem to be more grounded in actual street ball, rather than placing artificial restrictions on you. You'll run into the occasional special-rules games such as three-point matches or layups only, but there will also be a good number of straight-up one-on-one (or two-on-two, all the way up to five-on-five) games to keep you busy. It helps, too, that the mode has an extensive player-creation feature, which includes more than 80 sliders just for the facial details of your player.
2K7 developers are quick to point out that in previous NBA 2K games, the 24/7 mode games don't feel that much different from the main NBA games (beyond the appearance of Flavor Flav, of course). They've tackled that issue this time around, and you can expect to see new shot and juke animations that aren't found on the traditional NBA hardwood. In some cases, NBA players will even teach you some new slick moves--after beating a tandem of Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett early on in the mode, Nash will teach you a simple one-button alley-oop. Later on, you'll go up against Peja Stojakovic in a three-point contest (modeled closely after the version found in the NBA All-Star game). If you manage to drain more treys than Peja, he'll teach you a fake-out move that should snap a few ankles when you use it against your next street ball foe.
After spending some time with the slightly skewed take on hoops found in 24/7 mode, the hardcore contingent will probably appreciate some of the updates to NBA 2K7's franchise mode, better known as "the association." One of the most notable differences is the game's presentation, which has definitely changed for the better. The look of the menus has been upgraded, and much of the information that is so vital to players in franchise mode is much easier to access this year. Little changes, such as more visual representations of team budgets (think: pie charts), really make a difference when it comes to getting a quick-and-dirty look at the information you need.
Another area of improvement is with player cards. Last year, clicking on a player on your roster brought up a simple card with his career statistics. Now, player cards have been blown out with extended player ratings (as well as a comparison between that player's rating for attributes such as three-point shooting or dunking, set against the league average at that position), tendencies, awards, and a game-by-game statistical record for the prior six weeks. This kind of thing will likely come in handy when you're deep into your franchise mode, and many of today's current superstars are out of the league. By clicking on player cards, you'll get an instantaneous view of how that player performs against others in the league in order to better help you prepare for opponents or build your team up for the future.
Of course, wheeling, dealing, and scouting only get you so far in the NBA. Sooner or later, you and your team are going to have to get out on the court and make things happen. That's where the other big addition to franchise mode plays out: progressive fatigue. Just as in the real league, the demands of an NBA schedule can take their toll on the players, especially the older guys. NBA 2K7's progressive fatigue feature will take that into account, though it's important to note that this feature doesn't necessarily model fatigue over the course of an entire season (as you might expect from its name) but rather in smaller chunks of time such as week to week.
During particularly rough portions of a season--such as back-to-back games or three-game stretches in five days--you'll want to keep a close eye on your players' overall fatigue rating, which you can check out in your team roster. The higher their fatigue level is, the quicker their energy will deplete when game time rolls around. As you might expect, practice schedules and the age of your players will play a role here--if you've got an older team or a superstar you want to protect, you might want to schedule an off-day or lessen your star's minutes during the game. The more fatigued a player is, the more mistakes he'll make on the court--missed passes, bad shots, that sort of thing. That said, the challenge with the new fatigue model will be in balancing the health and production of your players with the need to keep their skills sharp in practice. It's an intriguing concept that we look forward to seeing more of in the game in the future.
With a better presentation and cool additions such as three team trades, the association mode in NBA 2K7 is looking to build off an already solid foundation. And while the franchise mode is growing in incremental steps, the revamped 24/7 mode seems like it's going to be a fun, and funny, alternative to the standard five-on-five action NBA 2K7 has come to be known for. Stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.