If you're in the market for an NBA game on the PC, NBA Live 07 is your only choice. Unfortunately, it's not a very good choice. There aren't any noteworthy new features; the visuals are the same as last year, and the gameplay is riddled with bugs and glitches. Live 07 seems as though it were rushed out the door, and it's an all-around disappointing game.
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, an assistant, a trainer, and a 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 it has expanded the concept this year. Each star 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 are designated as "superstars" and have flashier moves than regular stars. Freestyle moves are performed by holding down the freestyle move button and a face button. The moves are easy enough, and while some are more useful than others, they add a lot of variety and pizzazz to the game. 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.
If you're thinking about playing Live 07 with a keyboard, forget it, because it's near impossible. You'll need a controller with two analog sticks to get the most out of the game. 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 ballhandling 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 than Live 06, but that isn't 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. For the most part, players don't work very hard to get open in the half-court offense, and they tend to be content to just stand around. 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.
NBA Live 07 comes apart because of the numerous glitches and bugs found throughout the game. Regardless of how tired players are, the CPU won't substitute them out; certain players that should be able to dunk (like Rasheed Wallace) can't throw one down to save their lives; free-throw controls periodically reverse; and direct passing is a mess. Though it's near impossible to play with a keyboard, very few brands of controllers are supported, and it's a cumbersome process trying to get one to work. We also had difficulties installing the game--we finally got it to run on the third PC we tried. To top things off, the game also crashed to the desktop on several occasions.
Online play includes ranked and unranked matches, as well as one-on-one, slam-dunk contest, and the three-point shoot-out. As is typical with online-enabled EA games, the initial sign-in process is cumbersome, but once you're logged in you'll find that the menus are easy to navigate. On the rare occasion that you manage to get a good connection to another player, the game runs well enough, but lag is frequently a problem and makes events like the three-point shoot-out and slam-dunk contest rather frustrating.
Other than some slight tweaks here and there, the game looks identical to last year's NBA Live, which means the visuals are starting to show their age. The frame rate isn't horrible, but it does struggle to keep up on fast breaks and when the paint gets crowded. It's tough to say that players' faces look realistic, since they have inordinately large heads, but if you ignore 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 opposite direction, and they tend to warp from one animation to the next. Clipping issues--such as a player's arm passing through another's or the ball going directly through someone's chest--are rampant throughout the game. In fact, players constantly grab rebounds or dunk by reaching through the glass. The arenas are faithfully replicated (other than the Raptors' home court), and the animated crowds look good.
There's very little ESPN content in the actual game, but if you're online you can get updated scores and information from the ESPN ticker that runs across the screen, and you can read news pages in the online lobby. The ESPN Radio SportsCenter feature that all of the other versions of Live 07 have is nowhere to be found here.
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 Sergio Mendes & The Black Eyed Peas, Gnarls Barkley, Jurassic 5 featuring Dave Matthews, Rhymefest, Lady Sovereign, and Talib Kweli.
The best things you can say about NBA Live 07 are that it sounds great and that the slam-dunk contest is entertaining. There are lots of different play modes, but all of the options in the world are worthless when the gameplay has so many problems. If you simply must pick up a copy of NBA Live this year, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions are by far your best bets--the PC version is inferior to them in every way.