Just in time for the tip-off of the of the college basketball season, 2K Sports has released College Hoops 2K7. People who don't follow college hoops may dismiss the game as little more than NBA 2K7 with a different coat of paint, but it's really much more. Sure, there are similarities, and both titles share the same game engine, but it's the little things that separate the two: The best season-ending tournament in all of sports, raucous crowds with crazy student sections, pep bands blaring fight songs, average players who can sometimes dig deep for a special performance, and coaches who actually teach are just a few of the many differences between the two games. Unfortunately, there's one game which College Hoops 2K7 is just a little too similar to, and that's College Hoops 2K6, which was released just eight months ago. 2K7 is a very good game, and it's better than 2K6 to be sure, but not by a large-enough margin to justify the 40-dollar price difference.
Whether you want to play a single game or lead a university to the promised land, there's no shortage of ways to stay busy in College Hoops 2K7. You can play a quick game, a single game rivalry, enter a tournament, or head to the practice court if you need to polish your skills. Here you can practice, shoot free throws, and take part in a number of drills including fastbreak, monkey in the middle, dribble and shoot, knockout, and many more. Not only will you be coaching your team in coach mode, setting defenses, tendencies, and substitutions, but you can actually watch the game from a coach's vantage point, too.
To get the most out of the game you'll need to play legacy mode, where you control nearly every aspect of a college basketball program. There's quite a bit of depth here and it can be a little overwhelming at first, but the mode's more user-friendly than before, and as a result, more enjoyable. There are two ways to play legacy mode. In career legacy you can select from a group of small programs where you'll need to establish a solid track record before getting offers from bigger, more prestigious schools. An "open" legacy lets you take the reins of any team in the game. This gives you a better chance of success right out of the gate--but with the higher-profile jobs come higher expectations, so you'll need to win--and win quickly--to retain your job. Both modes place you in control of day-to-day operations such as recruiting players, hiring coaches, and scheduling your games. For those who prefer the sim aspect of legacy mode, a new feature called hoopcast has been added this year. You can still simulate your games with the press of a button, but hoopcast lets you set tendencies, sub players, and, in general, just keep a closer eye on the game. It's perhaps not quite as user-friendly as it could be, but it's a nice idea, and it should be interesting to see how it evolves in future iterations of the game.
As they did last year, Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg host a preseason show that covers the top 25 as well as the best players in the country. Near the end of the season they host a Selection Sunday show that breaks down the NCAA tournament. New this year is a weekly show called College Hoops Tonight, in which Gumbel and Kellogg break down all the big games of the previous week and discuss upcoming matchups. The presentation here is a bit dated and the lip-synching is atrocious, but the content is fantastic, and watching the show is a great way to keep tabs on what's going on outside your conference.
Should you grow tired of playing the CPU, you can play with or against up to three friends on one console, or you can head online to play a quick match, join or create a league, and even participate in tournaments. There have been some reports of people being unable to play and finish online games, but other than one laggy game (and some opponents who shot way too many three-pointers), the online experience was as smooth as can be.
2K7 does a great job differentiating the college game from the pro game. Teams play a variety of styles, mostly sticking to their real-life tendencies. Knowing when to apply pressure on defense and how to break a full-court press on offense is very important, as this can often be the difference in a close contest. You'll also need to be adept at patiently picking holes in zone defenses while also being able to run the floor to keep up with teams that like to push the pace. As in real college basketball, there's often a great disparity between the talent levels of teams, but that doesn't mean the less talented squad is always destined to lose. Players have a confidence meter that builds as they have more success on the court, and when it's full they'll be able to perform at a higher than normal level. The new team unity feature works in a similar way, but it's the entire team that gets a boost. By playing well and keeping players that are working well together in the game, your team's unity will increase and perform even better. Sometimes the effect is noticeable, but even when your team unity is low, you can still mount a comeback--it's just easier when your team's meshing.
For the most part, College Hoops 2K7's gameplay is very solid, thanks in no small part to how much it has in common with NBA 2K7. They have similar control schemes, so you're able to shoot with the right stick, and pull off crossovers and other dribbles by holding down the right trigger and moving the left analog stick. You can also shoot with the X button, do crossovers with the B button, and spin moves with the Y button. This works out fine, especially for people who don't like the "isomotion"-style controls. This added dribbling control comes at the expense of the passing, as there's no lead pass with the default control scheme (there is a lead pass option in an alternative scheme). Not having the ability to lead players on a break leads to a lot of fast breaks coming to screeching halts as players often stop to catch a pass. It also makes turnovers much more prevalent than they probably should be because passes often end up behind players. Calling plays and changing defensive sets on the fly is as simple as pressing a direction on the D pad.
There are a fair amount of quirks and glitches that make 2K7 less fun than it ought to be. Casual players may be able to look past most of these, but anyone who's really into sports might not be as forgiving. It was absurdly easy to tie up the ball in 2K6, and while that particular issue has been fixed, it's frequently all too easy to intercept passes. For some reason, blocking fouls are called quite often, which is annoying in and of itself, but it's made even more problematic because rather than getting free-throw attempts, you're generally forced to take the ball out of bounds after getting blocked while in the act of shooting, and you rarely get the continuation call. Players will often step out of bounds to receive passes, and there are a number of questionable goaltending calls. Since many players in the college game can't dunk, you can expect to be attempting plenty of layups. You should also expect to miss far too many of them. Players will attempt ill-advised reverse layups and toss up crazy-leaning jumpers that have little chance of going in. Sure, you can't make them all, but the missed layups here are excessive.
Anyone who played College Hoops 2K6 because it was easy to pick up all 1,000 achievement points in one game won't be doing it again this year. There are 49 achievements in all, and they range from winning specific rivalries to breaking records and performing well in legacy mode. Quite a few of them can only be earned online, and several of these are near impossible to get. Not only do some of them require you to take down some of the highest-ranked online players, but several are dependent on getting a lot of positive feedback--something that's easily ruined by vindictive vanquished foes.
College Hoops 2K7 looks decidedly better than College Hoops 2K6. However, it doesn't look quite as good as NBA 2K7, even though they share the same game engine. The arenas look excellent, and there are even cheerleaders and school mascots patrolling the baselines. While there might be minor differences between how the courts look in real life versus how they look in the game, the amount of team-specific detail is impressive. A number of real coaches have been included this year, which is a nice touch, though they don't add much to the proceedings and there are some big-name omissions as well. The real stars of the show are the rabid fans who pack each stadium. They may not look all that nice individually, but seeing an entire crazed student section dressed in school colors hopping up and down and screaming like mad really adds to the college basketball atmosphere. There's a lot of variety to players' animations, and some of them, like when a player stumbles or falls to the ground, and any of the dunks, look fantastic. A few moves look peculiar due to poor transitions from one move to the next, but these are the exception--most of them are just fine. Player models are detailed and look great from the neck down, but because the developer can't use real player likenesses as in the NBA 2K series, the created players' heads don't look quite as realistic. Some of them look nice, but many of them are oversized or just plain freaky looking. It's also odd that players in the Xbox version can wear T-shirts under their jerseys but don't on the 360.
There are a few other visual problems that detract from the otherwise attractive graphics. The game was clearly designed with HDTVs in mind, and much of the text is illegible on standard-definition televisions. SDTVs also get the short end of the stick when it comes to the camera, which for many of the available camera angles is often zoomed in too close. You can zoom out with some cameras, but many of the most preferable ones can't be changed. Player's limbs will often pass through other player's bodies, and they can occasionally dunk right through the backboard. One glitch that carried over from NBA 2K7 causes players' shorts to sometimes partially disappear during breaks in the action.
A vital part of re-creating the college basketball experience is accurately capturing the sounds of the game, and College Hoops 2K7 does just that. 2K6 was lacking in the fight song department, but 2K7 boasts a huge number of them (around 200), and they all sound great. Not just the big schools have their fight songs; small schools are well represented, too. The crowds are energetic and will cheer and chant until the final buzzer. There are tons of team-specific chants from the get-go, but should you want more from the crowd the all-new chant creator is sure to get the job done. You can have the crowd spell out words, scream entire words and phrases, and even set the chant to a drumbeat. The whole system is easy to use, and there's enough depth to the utility to keep you occupied for hours. Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist do a solid job calling the action, but they repeat themselves quite often, and Raftery can get rather obnoxious. Bonnie Bernstein provides up-to-the-minute updates from the floor, and she actually has some interesting insight into the proceedings.
College Hoops 2K7 is a good game that does a nice job of capturing the look, feel, and sound of college basketball. There's no shortage of things to do, be it controlling every aspect of a program in legacy mode or creating custom crowd chants--you can lose yourself in the game for hours on end. However, casual fans may want to consider College Hoops 2K6, which came out just eight months ago and can be found for 40 dollars less.