Despite the addition of several previously missing modes, NBA Live 07's many gameplay flaws and uneven visuals relegate the series to the bench for yet another year.
- More game modes than last year
- slam-dunk contest is great
- commentary and sound are top-notch
- Level-one superstar moves are cool.
- Online options are sparse, and lag is a huge issue
- upper-level superstar moves are overkill
- animation is spotty, and there's lots of clipping
- controls are unresponsive
- new dunk and layup buttons make controls needlessly complex.
Once the initial luster of shooting hoops during load screens and seeing realistic players drenched in sweat wore off, flaws such as missing features and impossible-to-make free throws made NBA Live 06 on the Xbox 360 a letdown. EA has addressed many of these problems in NBA Live 07, adding several game modes and superstar controls, but many key issues remain. As a result, NBA Live 07 again comes off as unpolished; it just happens to have more ways to experience the rough edges.
NBA Live 07 boots straight to the practice gym, where you can warm up your moves with Tracy McGrady. Here you can select from a number of game modes via the well-designed menus. Play now, season, and online return from Live 06, and new this year are dynasty mode and the NBA all-star weekend. The all-star weekend includes the rookie challenge game, three-point shoot-out, slam-dunk contest, and of course, the all-star game. The dunk contest is easily the highlight of the weekend mode due to its depth and the large number of great-looking dunks you can perform.
Dynasty mode places you in the role of general manager for the team of your choice. After hiring an assistant coach, assistant, trainer, and scout, it's off to training camp where you set your team's training priorities. Over the course of a season, you can use your staff in a number of ways. Assistant coaches can research rumors and schedule team events, assistants work with players to improve their skills, trainers help players heal faster, and scouts can evaluate talent year-round in preparation for the draft. In addition to monitoring players' happiness and overall team chemistry, you'll need to keep an eye on their fatigue levels to make sure they don't get too worn out over the course of the season. If you're looking to improve your team via a trade, you can do so. Another way to better your squad is through the draft--a process made easier if you keep your scouts busy during the year. Your team can still perform well if you don't keep your staff occupied every day, but putting in the work will yield tangible results.
Introduced on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox last year, but new to NBA Live on the Xbox 360, are "total freestyle controls." Each superstar player is designated as having one or more of the superstar abilities--high flyer (great dunks), scorer (athletic layups), playmaker (fancy passes), post (power dunks), and shooter (variety of jumpers). The best of the best have three levels of skills, as well as another set when they're "in the zone." These additional tiers let them pull off even fancier feats of skill. Level-one freestyle moves are performed by holding LB and either pushing a direction on the right analog stick or pressing a face button. The level-one moves are easy enough to do, and while some are more useful than others, they add a lot of variety and pizzazz to the game. The additional levels of freestyle control look slightly cooler but aren't any more useful. Once again, EA has failed to provide an adequate instruction manual, so the only way to learn these moves is by trial and error or by going into the control-settings menu every time you want to try something new. You can change players' abilities on the fly, but you won't need to do so very often.
Despite several changes and additions, NBA Live 07's gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. The basic controls are easy to learn, and freestyle control, which is mapped to the right analog stick, feels great. Using the stick to perform advanced ball-handling moves is cool, and it's just as intuitive when turning a normal jumper into a fadeaway or stealing the ball. On-court actions are often difficult to execute due to frequently unresponsive controls--specifically, controls unrelated to the freestyle control method. This is made worse by players frequently getting stuck in animations, most often when backing the ball down or when double-teamed in the post. Dunks and layups are now mapped to the X and Y buttons, respectively. This is supposed to add a risk/reward element to your shot selection, but the concept is poorly executed since there's no consistent method to figure out if you'll be able to make a dunk. If you elect to dunk and your player isn't going to make it, a good portion of the time he'll switch to a layup, and when he doesn't, he'll clank the ball off the rim--a frequent occurrence. Hop steps aren't well implemented, mostly because they tend to move your player away from the basket rather than closer. Layups and the hop step are both mapped to the Y button (hold for a layup and tap for a hop step), so it's easy to end up taking a shot when you wanted to hop step. Thankfully, free throws aren't impossible this year.
When playing against the CPU, the overall pace of play is slightly faster than that of a real NBA game. It's not the dunkfest that Live 06 was, but even on the highest difficulty, it's still not particularly taxing to get to the rim. Offensive players do a nice job of filling the lanes on a fast break, and they work hard to get open in the half-court offense. Should you want to run a specific play, you can call one via the D pad. Defensively, the CPU is aggressive, rotating quickly, fighting through picks, and double-teaming often. There are also lots of gameplay quirks. Players don't get back on defense quickly, and they'll also routinely chase and then grab the ball out of bounds when they weren't the last one to touch it. Rebounds often fall to the ground untouched, and players frequently dribble with their backs to the basket when they're unguarded at the top of the key.
Players don't "skate" around the court as much as in the past, thanks to new physics that take momentum into account. This is also theoretically supposed to keep players from changing directions in the blink of an eye; however, it's not uncommon to see a player erupt from standing completely stationary into a high-flying dunk. The new system also causes some bizarre collisions under the basket and makes it extremely difficult for a defender to keep a quick player like Allen Iverson from driving right on by. To make up for the difficulty of changing directions on defense, offensive players frequently get sucked into defenders, slamming into them repeatedly.