NBA Live 07 Updated Impressions
We check in with the EA Sports team to see how their next-gen basketball game is shaping up.
Tracy McGrady is playing hoops in the practice gym, draining shots from all over the floor, practicing his crossover moves, and working in a fabulous-looking dunk from time to time. Of course, this is a virtual McGrady, running around an empty court in a version of NBA Live 07, but at first glance, you might get caught trying to distinguish between the fake T-Mac and the real thing. Don't let the pretty graphics fool you, however. While EA Sports spent the development time on NBA Live 06 trying to make the game look like a next-gen sports game should, the focus for Live 07 has been firmly tied to gameplay, as we discovered during some recent hands-on time with the game.
One of the first elements you notice in Live 07's gameplay is the motion of the players as they run around the court. It's most evident when you focus on a single player and check out the momentum of his body as he shifts direction. In past games, players could more or less stop on a dime; in this year's game, physical momentum plays a bigger role than ever before. From an animation standpoint, it means things have been built from the ground up--shooting, rebounding, and player locomotion looks and feels more realistic than ever before in the series. From a gameplay standpoint, there are tangible benefits, as well. For one, it means that players will set their feet and turn toward the basket before letting loose with a jump shot; for another, it means that ratings for different aspects of each player's game will play a bigger role in the game and those aspects will shine through in the animations.
Running parallel to the new animation system is a next-gen twist on the freestyle superstar system that was such a big part of the previous NBA Live entry. For Live 07, the system has been tweaked a bit and gained a new moniker--total freestyle control. Like last year, NBA superstars can be categorized along five different roles: playmaker, scorer, high flyer, shooter, and post. Unlike in the previous game, however, players are capable of playing more than one role on the team. After all, Kobe Bryant isn't just a great shooter; he's been known to get his dunk on, as well. With NBA Live 07, the upper-echelon players can serve in many roles, and you'll be able to cycle through the different roles available to each player by pressing the right bumper.
To add another layer of customization to the player roles, each role will have three levels associated with it. Which level a player is rated in each role will determine the different moves available to him on the court. A guy like Joey Graham is a good dunker, for example, but he's not on the same level as T-Mac, and as such, the moves available to you when playing as Graham will be more restricted.
How you use those freestyle superstar moves has also changed in NBA Live 07. Like other EA Sports games such as NHL 07 and Fight Night Round 3, NBA Live 07 is making more use of the right analog stick. Level-one dunks, for example, are executed by pressing the left bumper while holding the right analog stick in any direction. More complicated level-two moves are accomplished with the left bumper and by moving the right stick in a quarter circle either left or right and either up or down. Examples of level two dunks include a windmill, pump, and tomahawk dunk. Finally, if you have level-three moves available to your player, you can pull those off by pressing the left bumper and moving the right stick in a half circle either up or down and left and right. Level-three dunks include cradle reverse, reverse windmill, and the always-popular 360 dunk.
Should your level-three player get on a hot streak, you'll get in the zone and have an entirely new set of moves available to you by moving the right analog in a full circle. Examples of in-the-zone moves include a free-throw-line dunk, a 360 windmill, and a behind-the-back dunk. Of course, each role type has its own set of levels, which you can execute using the control system described above, and because each player is rated differently, they will each have a different move arsenal available at any time. One cool superstar feature that ties into the game's franchise mode is the idea of player progression. As players mature in the NBA and are trained by various coaching staffs, their skills will improve and, eventually, decline. You might see an up-and-coming player evolve into a shot-draining shooter at the start of his career, only to develop a solid reputation as a playmaker as he gains experience. As a result, the moves that become available to you when controlling that character will change over time.
The improvements to NBA Live 07 extend out from the player you are controlling though. The team has focused on making sure that the artificial intelligence of your teammates and the opposing team is better--as a result, producers said that you can expect to see players looking for better lanes to make runs, making more off-ball screens, and more complicated set plays for teams to run--plays that are designed around the players on the hardwood. If Shaq isn't on the court, for example, you won't see the Heat running a bunch of plays that are specifically designed for the Diesel. And speaking of Shaq, the defensive AI in Live 07 is going to treat him like the minimal threat he is from the perimeter--players will back off O'Neal when he's running around outside. On the other hand, they'll be all up in the face of a sniper like Dwyane Wade or Steve Nash.
Moreso than any previous NBA Live game, Live 07 will take into consideration the talent level of each player in the game, thanks to a huge increase in the number of player attributes. While last year's game featured only about 25 attributes for each player, that number has tripled in this year's game. Curious as to your favorite player's layup vs. dunk frequency rating, or how his dribble speed rates? NBA Live 07 is tracking that kind of stuff, and you'll be able to look it up.
The dynasty mode has changed in NBA Live 07 as well. New for this season includes the ability to hire an assistant head coach, whose main area of responsibility will be team chemistry. How your team works together both as individuals and as a team is a bigger focus in this year's game as well. Players will have their individual needs--some players will want to play in a bigger market, for example, or be on a team with lots of talent. How these individual desires add up and interact with the wants of other teammates will determine the overall team chemistry of your team. One important task for your assistant head coach, then, will be researching rumors that crop up during the season. If you're looking to add another player to your roster, your assistant head coach will help you determine if a particular player is a good fit for your squad.
As you might expect, scouting the upcoming rookies is a big job for the scout on your team. The handy mock draft feature in the dynasty mode will give you an idea of where your team might end up in the draft based on the team's current performance, and which player would be available at that time. You can send your scout to check out that player, and get an early look at his skills to decide if he's worth adding to your team once the actual draft rolls around.
The NBA All Star Weekend returns in NBA Live 07 and you'll have all of the requisite game modes associated with the All-Star events, including the dunk contest, the 3-point shootout, the Rookie Challenge, and, of course, the actual All-Star Game itself. The dunk contest will feature plenty of new dunks from players like Nate Robinson's behind-the-back and around-the-leg shot; you'll also be able to bounce the ball off of objects on the court such as jumbotrons, the shot clock, and the crane cam. For the 3-point contest, the timing of the shots is now more individualized to each player's style, so that shooting threes with Dirk Nowitzki is different than with a quicker shot like Quentin Richardson. Of course, the All-Star game itself is a high-flying, high-scoring affair and the sliders for this game have been purposefully dialed down a bit to be more in keeping with the all-offense approach found in the real thing.
The final element to the game is the ESPN integration, which we first learned about at EA's summer press event. We didn't get a chance to check it out for ourselves during the demo, but the idea of being able to access regular ESPN audio updates, podcasts, streaming video, as well as traditional text news stories sure sounds like a cool feature to us. For more on the ESPN integration in NBA Live 07, check out our previous preview.
NBA Live 07 is still a work-in-progress, and we look forward to spending some extended hands-on time with it in the near future. By building things from the ground up again, EA Sports is promising a lot with Live 07, and we're eager to see if those promises result in a better game of basketball. Stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.
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