The Life is a flawed, yet fun basketball game that's worth a look for anyone that's searching for a different take on the sport.
- The Life's story is excellent
- lots of game modes
- feels like more than just a roster update.
- The Life's goals are often frustrating
- graphics are dated
- no play-by-by commentary
- on-court action needs improvement.
After taking a year off, Sony's first-party hoops title returned to little fanfare with NBA 06. The gameplay wasn't anything to write home about, but the story mode, dubbed The Life, proved to be an interesting and original approach to combating the "more of the same" vibe that many sports games give off year after year. The Life is back again this year with an expanded story and a few new minigames, but many of the same problems that plagued NBA 06 remain untouched in NBA 07.
Most of NBA 07's game modes aren't particularly deep, but there are a number of ways to keep yourself occupied. You can play a single game, a season, or jump straight to the playoffs. The season mode is shallow and only encompasses the 2006 to 2007 NBA season--there's no multiyear franchise option. You can trade players without having to worry about the salary cap, or for that matter, general managers that have a clue as to what they're doing. Ben Wallace for LeBron James? That'll work! P.J. Brown for Dirk Nowitzki? It's all good! If you want to add yourself into the mix, you can snap a picture with the EyeToy and create a character. NBA 07 does have a bunch of minigames, most of which are enjoyable. From the all-star weekend mode, the three-point shoot-out is playable, as is the skills challenge, where your dribbling, shooting, and passing skills are put to the test. There's no dunk contest, which is curious, since it's in the PSP version of the game. You can head to the playground and play two-on-two or take on another player in own the court, where you try and hit jumpers to take control of circles of varying point values that are spread around the court. There are also seven drills available to help you hone your skills. You can practice alley-oops, dribbling, free throws, post-up moves, and more. These are handy not only to learn the game, but also to improve your skills for when you tackle The Life.
NBA 07's deepest feature isn't the season mode; it's the story mode titled The Life Vol. 2, which is best described as the ESPN show Playmakers with basketball players. The Life follows two players, The Kid and his rival Big W, both of whom will be familiar to anyone that played last year's game. Each player has his own story arc, but the two stories are somewhat intertwined, and the two players occasionally cross paths. The Kid's story centers on how he comes back from an injury and must struggle to reassert himself as a part of the team. Big W, on the other hand, has a sick child and a meddling owner (complete with Beethoven's 5th as his nefarious-sounding ringtone) to deal with. The short cutscenes that tell the story occur before and after you play games and practices. The game or practice scenario is usually relevant to the story, but not always. For example, your agent wants you to show the world that you're back from your injury, so you're placed in a game that's already in progress and tasked with certain individual goals to achieve before the game is over. Later, The Kid asks his coach to stop by his home gym, and the following scenario is you practicing against your coach. Most of these challenges are enjoyable, but there are a few that are incredibly frustrating. The two players' stories are compelling and well written, so you'll likely want to see them through.
The concept behind The Life is a solid one, but the execution keeps it from being as enjoyable as it could have been. One of the biggest problems is the frequent load times, which are often over a minute long. Finishing a scenario and then waiting for a cutscene to load is bad enough, but waiting another minute after the cutscene is painful. Vague objectives are another issue. Some scenarios will tell you to limit an opposing point guard or small forward to a certain number of points or assists. The problem is that you have no idea who is playing what position on the other team since only a player's name, not his position, is shown on the court, and even then it's just when that person has the ball. You can pause the game to see your progress toward certain goals, but this only tells you if you've gotten them or not--not how close you are.
There's also not a whole lot of variety to the different game scenarios. They mostly revolve around individual statistics, particularly scoring and dishing out assists. Occasionally, you'll need to maintain a lead or hold opposing players to a certain point total, but you're rarely rewarded for steals, rebounds, or blocked shots. By far the biggest problem, and the only one likely to keep you from seeing the story all the way through, is the uneven difficulty. Some challenges are quick and a piece of cake, while others are lengthy and involve multiple challenging goals. One in particular gives you 4:51 to complete four dynamic goals, make 10 shots with Big W, and limit the opposing small forward to two field goals. You also have to win the game by at least six points, which means you'll need to outscore the other team by 18 points in that time span. Some challenges ask you if you want to temporarily drop down to easy if you fail repeatedly, but after failing over and over for 30 minutes in the case above, the game never offered any sort of mercy.