It's rare that a game makes the leap to the Xbox 360, only to be upstaged by the same version on the older consoles. Such is the case with NBA Live 07, which is more enjoyable on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox than on the 360. Live 07 won't blow your mind, as many of the changes from last year are of limited value, but it's certainly worth a look if you like your basketball games a little up-tempo.
All of the game modes from Live 06 return. You can choose from quick play, season, dynasty mode, playoffs, all-star weekend, freestyle challenge, one-on-one, practice, and slam-dunk school. The NBA all-star weekend includes the rookie challenges, 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. The freestyle challenge lets you take on friends in the slam-dunk contest or three-point shoot-out.
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.
Last year, EA wanted to highlight the difference between the great players and the average Joe by introducing the concept of superstar players, and they've expanded the concept this year. Each superstar player is designated as having one or more superstar abilities--high flyer (great dunks), scorer (athletic layups), playmaker (fancy passes), post (power dunks), and shooter (variety of jumpers). Strong defensive players are designated as inside or outside stoppers and have a wider array of defensive moves available. 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 the left trigger (L1 on the PS2) and either pushing a direction on the right analog stick or pressing a face button. The level-one moves are easy enough, 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. Higher-level moves require holding the left trigger (L1 on the PS2) and moving the right analog stick in certain patterns. The instruction manual does a terrible job of explaining these new moves, but there are a few in-game tutorials that will help you out. Changing players' abilities can be done on the fly, but you'll rarely need to do so.
Players with a knack for stepping up in big spots, like Robert Horry, are now designated as "x-factors." If you use an x-factor enough during a game, he'll heat up and earn temporary superstar abilities. This works as advertised, but it's not very useful. If you're in a close game, you've got more important tasks to worry about than making sure Ben Gordon gets his touches.
The basic controls are easy to learn, and freestyle control, which is mapped to the right analog stick, feels great. It's simple to use the stick to perform advanced ball-handling moves, and it's just as intuitive when turning a normal jumper into a fadeaway or stealing the ball. Touch passes are another new feature, but they don't add much to the package since they're rarely needed. Dunks and layups are now mapped to separate buttons. This is supposed to add a risk/reward element to your shot selection, but the concept is poorly executed since it's difficult to figure out if you'll be able to make a dunk before you commit. If you elect to dunk and your player isn't going to make it, he'll either switch to a layup or clank it off the rim, making the option pointless. Hop steps are one of the better changes to the control scheme and are easily performed by pressing up on the right analog stick. Free throws are shot by pulling down and then pushing up on the right analog stick. The new mechanic works OK, but the old system was fine, so this change seems superfluous.
You might think that NBA Live 07 is significantly more difficult that Live 06, but that isn't really the case since they just bumped up the default difficulty to all-star. Teams are supposed to run more realistic offenses this year, but if they are, the difference is tough to see. The action feels as fast as ever, with most teams hustling down the court for fast-break buckets. The teams that don't fast break won't waste any time getting shots off quickly. Offensive players run the same exact pattern on every break, never cutting to the hoop when you need them to. They do, however, 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. You will notice players winding up out of bounds for no particular reason, and there are an inordinate number of offensive foul calls.
Online play is relatively smooth, and you can play ranked and unranked matches, as well as one-on-one, slam-dunk contest, and the three-point shoot-out. As is typically the case with online-enabled EA games on the PlayStation 2, the initial sign-in process is cumbersome, but playing online after that is no problem. The Xbox version lacks this particularly arduous process, and also happens to play a bit smoother online as well.
Other than some slight tweaks here and there, the Xbox and PS2 versions look nearly identical to last year, though not identical to each other. The Xbox looks much better and has a steadier frame rate. And it's worth noting that the Xbox version looks stunning when viewed in 720p. The frame rate on the PlayStation 2 isn't horrible, but it does struggle to keep up when the paint gets crowded. It's tough to say players' faces look realistic, since they have inordinately large heads, but ignoring the odd scaling, you'll have no problem recognizing players. For the most part, players will turn their heads in the general direction of the action, but you'll often find their blank stares set in the complete opposite direction. The arenas are faithfully replicated, and the animated crowds look good.
There's very little ESPN content in the actual game, but if you're online, you'll be able to hear a brief ESPN Radio SportsCenter every 20 minutes. You can also get updated scores and information from the ESPN ticker that runs across the screen and read news pages in the online lobby.
One area in which NBA Live excels is its commentary. Marv Albert does the play-by-play, and player-turned-announcer Steve Kerr provides color commentary. The two have great chemistry together in real life, and this comes across in the video game in the off-the-cuff remarks and banter between the two. Ernie Johnson is joined by Greg Anthony for the all-star weekend, which means after a weak dunk you'll get to hear Anthony say off-the-wall cracks like "I'd rather watch girls dunk on an eight-foot rim." NBA Live 07's soundtrack is vastly improved over last year's. The well-rounded soundtrack includes a wide variety of artists from around the world, including Segio Mendes & The Black Eyed Peas, Gnarls Barkley, Jurassic 5 featuring Dave Matthews, Rhymefest, Lady Sovereign, and Talib Kweli. It's good that the soundtrack is enjoyable, because the custom-soundtrack option is not available on the Xbox.
With Live 07 pulling up lame on the 360, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox are your best bet if you're looking for a good game of NBA Live. The new features don't add much to the overall experience, but the game still plays well and has plenty of game modes. If you're trying to choose between the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions, the PS2's controllers are a little friendlier, but the Xbox looks much better, especially if you're playing it in high definition.