E3 06: NBA 2K7 Hands-On

We invade the 2K Sports booth at E3 '06 to check out a playable version of their next NBA game.

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LOS ANGELES--Had the Los Angeles Clippers not discovered how to win playoff games, the NBA 2K7 demo running at the 2K Sports booth, which featured the Phoenix Suns and the Detroit Pistons, might have been a prediction for this year's NBA Finals. Despite that slight hitch, we were very pleased to check out the second edition of 2K's next-generation hoops game and even happier to report that, despite it being only about 50 percent complete, the game was running quite well.

Naturally, this being an Xbox 360 game, the first thing that struck us about the playable demo of 2K7 was the visuals. Last year's 2K6 was a graphical wake-up call for sports gaming, and the team at 2K seems to be continuing that fine tradition this year. Most noticeable were upgraded reflections on the floor, as well as a 3D crowd that was wilder and more animated than last year's game; with loads of variety in the different movements throughout the crowd, especially going crazy during free-throw attempts, it looked more like a real NBA audience than ever before. Beyond that, some more subtle touches such as the impressive cloth physics that were in last year's game were well intact. Heck, even Steve Nash's hair looked pretty good.

On the court, new animations were everywhere--including a hot under-the-rim dunk from Detroit's Tayshaun Prince that had us scrambling to find the replay button, as well as some cool defensive animations, such as when Raja Bell lost control of the ball, his forward momentum carried him forward until he fell flat on his face as he tried to recover. Even small touches, such as Nash spitting on his fingers as he brought the ball down court on a change of possession was right in line with what we know of the real Suns point guard. Also, players were still sweaty, which is as it should be.

Another new presentation item was a more active camera that seemed to be more in focus with the action on the court--dynamically zooming in and out to give the player the best view of the action. At one point, the camera even switched to an overhead, slightly isometric, view, which gave us a nice vertical view of the court. Also new was the amount of action happening in between quarters--cheerleaders ran out onto the court to perform their dance routines, the Suns' familiar gorilla mascot came out to perform for the crowd, and when the ref whistled for the game to resume, everyone quickly shuffled off court. A small touch but pretty cool nonetheless.

The most noticeable gameplay addition to NBA 2K7 is the slightly shifted steal mechanic. Players who checked out 2K6 will remember that the steal controls shifted to the right analog stick last year, and this year, they've shifted slightly again. Rest assured, they're still tied to the right analog stick, but instead of focusing almost completely on steals, the new stick also lets you get your hand up in front of a driving player, either to the left or the right, depending on which direction you push the stick. And, of course, you'll be able to still steal from an opponent (provided he's the basketball equivalent of "asleep at the wheel," of course) and even attempt to block jump shots.

NBA 2K7 looks to be bringing the same graphical quality begun in the last game of the series, along with some interesting twists to gameplay, many of which will be revealed in the coming months. Rest assured we'll be all over this one in the coming months leading up to its release this fall.

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