For a number of years now, Sony's first-party basketball games haven't been very good. In fact, SCEA recently benched the series for a season in an effort to right the ship. It didn't help much, though the hiatus did spawn one interesting feature in NBA 06--a story mode that followed the on- and off-court life of a rookie NBA player. The Life was further refined in NBA 07 on the PlayStation 2 and was easily the most enjoyable aspect of an otherwise unremarkable game. Unfortunately, The Life didn't make it into NBA 07 on the PlayStation 3, and the game suffers for it, because there's nothing to hide the shallow season options and flawed gameplay.
Most of NBA 07's game modes aren't particularly deep, but there are a handful of ways to keep yourself occupied. You can play a single game or season, or jump straight to the playoffs. The season mode is shallow and encompasses only the 2006-07 NBA season--there's no multiyear franchise option. You can trade players without having to worry about the salary cap, but general managers are a little smarter than they were on the PS2, so you can't do something like trade P.J. Brown for Dirk Nowitzki anymore. It was a little easier to swallow the lack of a franchise mode in the PlayStation 2 version of the game because of how much depth The Life offered. Here, there are no such distractions, and the omission of a multiyear play mode reeks of the game being rushed out the door. NBA 07 does have a bunch of minigames, most of which are enjoyable for a short time. From the NBA's all-star weekend, the three-point shootout is playable, as is the skills challenge, where your dribbling, shooting, and passing skills are put to the test. There's no dunk contest, which is curious, since it's in the PlayStation Portable version of the game. You can take on the computer or three other players in own the court, where you try to hit jumpers to take control of circles of varying point values that are spread around the court. None of the handy drills from the PlayStation 2 version of the game are here, which is a shame because they were really helpful in teaching some of the finer points of the controls.
While The Life has been stripped from the game, at least one concept made it over, albeit in slightly modified form. NBA replay has 50 of the best individual performances from the 2005-2006 NBA season. There are two challenges each week, and you unlock the next week by accomplishing all of the goals that go along with each challenge. After selecting a challenge you're given a list of objectives that must be met, plus another list of optional goals. One of the first challenges gives you just under three minutes to score eight points with Kobe Bryant, with the caveat that none of those points can come from three-pointers and you've got to win by two. Sometimes you'll need to dish out assists or limit the performance of opposing teams and players. Games of the week mode is a modified version of NBA replay that features the five most impressive performances for each week of the current NBA season. After beating each of a particular week's challenges, you can upload your scores to a global online leaderboard. For some reason there are no online leaderboards for the basic NBA replay mode, which makes trying to accomplish the additional "extra mile" tasks rather pointless.
The replay mode is fun in small doses, but there are a number of issues that limit its attractiveness. For starters, the difficulty is all over the place--it starts off easy, then it gets hard, and then gets easy again; it's very uneven. There's also not a whole lot of variety to the game scenarios. They mostly revolve around individual statistics, particularly scoring and dishing out assists. Occasionally, you'll need to maintain a lead or hold opposing players to a certain point total, but you're rarely rewarded for steals, rebounds, or blocked shots. It's also a pain to check your goals and how close you are to achieving them. A message will appear onscreen when you've accomplished a goal, but once you've started a game the only way to find out what you have left to do is to pause the game.
On the court, NBA 07 gets a few things right, but they're overshadowed by the things it does poorly. The timing-based shot meter that uses red, yellow, and green to show how well you timed your shot is helpful and works fine. A marker that shows where a rebound is headed is supposed to make it easier to hit the boards, but the ball just ends up magically appearing in a player's hands, so it's not very useful. Because it only appears for missed shots and it appears as soon as the ball is shot, you know as soon as the ball leaves your hands whether the shot's good or not. This takes quite a bit of suspense out of the game. You can perform jukes, crossovers, and spins via the right analog stick, and this system works quite well. Alley-oops can be thrown by pressing R2 to send a player toward the hoop and then X (or triangle for a no-look) to pass. When it works, this method feels great, but too often it's hard to tell which player is going to make a run, and by the time you figure it out, the pass is too late. One aspect that the developer did nail is the post game. You can start backing a player down with L1 and then flick the right analog stick when it's time to make your move. This control scheme is easy to learn, yet still allows you a lot of freedom. Playing defense primarily is a largely futile endeavor that involves frantically trying to keep the defender in front of the ball handler and then pounding the triangle button to block the shot. But even your best won't prevent the game from quickly becoming a dunkfest.
NBA 07 uses the Sixaxis' tilt-control to let you perform spins, jukes, and crossovers. There are no tilt-control moves on defense. Rotating the controller clockwise causes your player to spin left, while rotating it counterclockwise makes them spin right. Moving the controller left or right performs a crossover in the corresponding direction, and juke moves are done by pushing the controller forward or pulling it back. Spin moves feel pretty natural and are easy to do, but crossovers and jukes require a lot of force to perform, and the game frequently fails to respond to the movement of the controller. Because it's so much easier to get to the rim by chaining together moves with the right analog stick, there's no reason to use the tilt-control functionality once the novelty of being able to control a player onscreen by spinning the controller wears off.
As for how the game actually plays--it's not very good, but some casual players may be able to look past the many gameplay flaws because the game's brisk pace and easy-to-learn controls make it accessible. Players don't do much more than run from point A to point B to get open, so for the most part you're on your own when it comes to creating shots. Even the worst players can get to the rim by running around the court juking and spinning if they're persistent. You can call a few basic plays using the D pad, but since it's not particularly difficult to get to the hoop, you really won't need to use this feature very often. Should you want to play in a more realistic fashion, you can't, because the computer blocks shots like Shaq playing against fifth graders, particularly on the harder difficulty settings. The CPU is also adept at stealing any pass that needs to travel more than 15 feet. Even if you try to keep your passes short, you'll often end up throwing a cross-court pass that usually ends up getting picked off. Fast breaks aren't much fun at all. Not only do passes get stolen all too often, but players tend to stop in their tracks to receive the ball, and streaking players run straight down the court and never cut to the hoop. If you manage to get the ball to someone near the rim on a break, they'll most likely be sucked into a defender, even if that defender is several feet away. This happens in the halfcourt offense as well. Sometimes you can get around players, but more often it feels as though you're caught in the defender's gravitational field.
The artificial intelligence often employs some questionable tactics. If they're losing, opposing teams will often intentionally foul late in the game, but when they get the ball they don't make much of an effort to get a quick shot. If teams have the lead, they'll still pass the ball around, even taking shots when all they have to do is dribble out the clock.
There are a host of bugs as well. Players can dunk through the backboards; blocked shots don't count as missed shots; players routinely step out of bounds when they're near the baseline (though sometimes they don't get called as being out of bounds) and they frequently get whistled for fouls when no contact was made. But wait, there's more. It's near impossible to pick up a ball you've knocked loose; referees will call backcourt violations when there aren't any, and often don't call them when there are; players will sometimes get in defensive positions on offense; balls will speed up and slow down for no apparent reason; and it doesn't count as goaltending when you block a shot by jumping and sticking your arm up through the center of the basket.
Online play is bare-bones, offering nothing more than basic five-on-five play and leaderboards. For the most part, the game ran lag-free online, but the frame rate took a nosedive on every change of possession. As was mentioned earlier, you can download new games of the week challenges and post your scores online.
NBA 07 is not the game you'll be using to show off your PlayStation 3 to your jealous friends. It's not a very good-looking game, and the overall presentation is sorely in need of some flair. The default baseline camera tends to be zoomed out too far on fast breaks, making it tough to play anywhere near the baseline, though a quick change to the camera settings fixes this problem. The arenas look pretty good, though there's some odd lighting in the arena that causes a halo of light to surround the players sometimes. The courts themselves are highly reflective and look really nice. The crowd is fully animated, and there are a few security guards and cameramen here and there, but there aren't any mascots or cheerleaders. When you're viewing the action from the baseline camera you'll notice textures popping in on the people sitting courtside. It's also distracting to watch the depth-of-field blurring effect that's used on the crowd vanish as you dribble upcourt.
The player models aren't impressive, either. Checking out a replay reveals that players' faces do have lots of detail, but many players don't look much like their real-life counterparts. Even when the replay is paused, sweat will still roll down players' bodies, which looks odd. Certain player animations like dunks and layups are smooth and look great, but the transition from one move to the next is often poor or nonexistent, so it's not uncommon to see the ball warp from one hand to the other or players spin around without moving their legs. There's an egregious amount of clipping in the game. Players will pass right through one another, the rim, and the backboard--they can even magically pass the ball through solid objects.
The game looks crisp in 1080p, but the frame rate chugs on quick changes of possession. On the other hand, if you're playing in 480i, the image quality is horrible but the frame rate is a steady 60 frames per second. The sweet spot seems to be at 720p, which runs smoothly while still featuring a lot of detail.
The soundtrack consists solely of hip-hop tunes and features a handful of songs from KRS-One, Rhymefest, Big Rich, Rakim, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and a few others. Save for a lone PA announcer who calls out baskets, assists, and steals, there's no commentary to speak of. This omission is inexcusable. The fact that the PSP version of NBA 07 has both a play-by-play and a color announcer makes this even more difficult to accept. Short bursts of music liven up the arena a bit here and there, but the subdued crowd is seemingly just as bored watching the game as you are playing it.
It's mind-boggling that SCEA is charging $60 for what amounts to a buggy, stripped-down version of a PlayStation 2 game that wasn't all that good to begin with. Sure, there are moments here and there where the game is fun, but these fleeting moments are always ended by one (or more) of the game's glaring flaws. Other than having support for 1080p, the game in no way, shape, or form takes advantage of the PlayStation 3's abilities.