While the focus of 2K Sports' NBA franchise has clearly shifted to the next generation of consoles, the series is still going strong, for the most part, on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. At this point, 2K seems content to build of the framework that it already has established with these versions, opting against any large, sweeping changes, and simply turning out a new edition that offers new rosters, minor tweaks, and not much else. But because that framework is so good, it makes the fact that NBA 2K7 plays so much like 2K6 a bit easier to swallow.
NBA 2K7 features an impressive number of gameplay modes. Quick play, street, season, the association, tournaments, and a robust online component give the game tremendous replay value. There are also a number of options and sliders that let you tweak the game to your heart's content. Navigating through all of the modes and options is much easier here than on the Xbox 360, thanks to a more manageable menu structure.
The association is NBA 2K7's multiseason mode, and it's deeper than ever. You're placed in charge of an NBA franchise and it's your job to hire coaches, set up practices, perform general manager duties, and play the games. Watching your team's chemistry as well as fatigue level is very important, since players will tire after hard practices, thereby not giving you their best effort during a game. Should you need to shake things up in the locker room, three player trades are now supported, though to be honest, we spent 30 minutes trying to pull one off without success. You'll also need to prepare for the NBA draft by scouting players and even putting them through a series of predraft workouts. One thing's for sure--there's never a lack of activities to keep you occupied. For such a complex simulation, the association seems to run smoothly, without any major glitches.
24/7 mode received a face-lift on the 360, but it's mysteriously MIA on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. If you're looking for a street-ball experience without the story, you can play one-on-one, 21, and half- or full-court in locales from Venice Beach to New York's Rucker Park. You won't find any street-specific moves here, but you can play as Flavor Flav, which, depending on your affinity for the world's greatest hype-man and object of trashy women everywhere's affections, is either great or awful.
On the court, Visual Concepts didn't make any huge alterations to how the game plays. Newcomers will likely find the controls difficult to pick up, while series veterans will appreciate them for their seemingly endless depth. Player substitutions, play calling, and more can be done during play by pressing the appropriate direction on the D pad, but the boxes that pop up obscure a large portion of the screen, particularly on the PlayStation 2. Effective use of set plays is an integral part of getting open shots, partially because that's how real NBA teams do it, but also because players move around the court as if getting open and cutting to the hoop aren't high on their list of things to do. Bumping up the difficulty to Hall of Fame gets the CPU to play with a higher sense of urgency, but that difficulty isn't for everyone. Crossovers, spins, and hesitation moves are done via the "isomotion" controls (right trigger or R1 plus the left analog stick). The hop step is mapped to a face button in the Xbox 360 version, but here you'll need to tap and release L1 or the left trigger while not touching the analog stick. It's tougher to do the move this way, meaning many people will probably never use it--a shame because it's a useful move down low.
Shooting is mapped to a face button, however, should you prefer, you can utilize the right analog stick for greater shot control. In theory, using the right analog stick to shoot lets you pick the best shot for the situation. A shorter guard posting up a power forward might want to opt for a fadeaway, while a taller player might go up strong and attempt a power dunk. In reality, using the analog stick results in players frequently putting up unnecessary low-percentage shots, rather than the simple shot you were hoping for. Free throws are performed by pulling down on the right analog stick to start the shot, and then letting up to release. Foul shots are very difficult to make on the Xbox 360, but here they're significantly easier.
Final scores and shooting percentages are slightly lower this year, in part because teams play like their real-life counterparts. One night you might put up a bunch of points against Phoenix, which loves to push the tempo, and on the next evening put up far fewer against the slower-paced Spurs. There's also an ugly side as to why scores are so low. Sometimes defenders legitimately play great defense, but just as often you'll skate in place, performing crossovers and hesitation moves against an invisible wall. The game seems to keep scoring down by increasing the amount of missed shots. By no means should players be expected to hit all their shots, but blown dunks and lay-ups, wide-open jumpers clanking off the rim, and missed put-backs all happen more than they should; however, this problem is less frequent on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox than it is on the Xbox 360. A few tweaks to the gameplay sliders can correct the anomalies, but that shouldn't be necessary.
As well as 2K7 plays, it has some noticeable artificial intelligence problems. Teams occasionally fail to even attempt a shot as time expires--a problem that we didn't experience on the Xbox 360. Ball handlers are prone to dribbling out of bounds for no apparent reason three or four times a game. Players also constantly rotate into mismatches. It's not uncommon to see a center guarding a point guard or vice versa. Not all of the AI is bad. When the computer is on defense, defenders will fight through picks, rotate quickly, and double-team the hot player. But there are some noticeable issues, even on the Hall of Fame difficulty setting.
2K7's online play is a great example of how to do sports right online. Whether it's a quick game of one-on-one, a tournament, exhibition, or a fully featured league you're looking for, NBA 2K7 has got you covered. The league option lets you set up and customize an online season for up to 30 players. You can allow trades, upload preferred slider settings, and even set how long people have to play their games--it's incredibly deep. You can check out other players' VIP profiles and even scout their playing tendencies. All of the options in the world don't mean a thing if the game doesn't play well online, but there's need to worry--the game runs smooth, and outside of lag making free throws a tad bit more difficult, it's very playable.
NBA 2K7's graphics are on par with last year, meaning they're generally quite good, but also starting to show their age a bit. As usual, the player animation is outstanding. There are lots of little touches that go a long way toward making it feel as though you're watching a real NBA game. Players move and react realistically to the action and will move their heads to track the ball as it's in the air. You'll also notice players exhibiting more emotion--raising their hands in shock at being whistled for a foul, and hanging on the rim for emphasis after throwing down one of the game's fantastic-looking dunks. The arenas are accurately modeled and full of life. Cool things to look for are cheerleaders performing during timeouts, close-ups of fan reactions, and the referees signaling that a ball has been tipped on a shot. Most of the popular players are instantly recognizable and look realistic. Lesser-known players aren't so lucky, and often look downright freaky. Uniforms don't flow as freely as they do on the Xbox 360, but if you look closely, they do move a little bit. Those with a keen eye will notice that while both Kobe (24) and Amare (1) are sporting their new numbers, Steve Nash is still rocking his long hair from last season. The much-hyped Xbox 360 feature of hundreds of individualized player shots didn't make it over, but there are a healthy number of recognizable moves for the game's bigger stars.
Xbox owners will be pleased to know that the frame rate is fast and smooth, even during the nice-looking instant replays. The game is crisp and clear in 480p, but severe aliasing makes the players look jaggy. The PlayStation 2 doesn't fare quite as well, noticeably chugging during replays, but rarely during live action. Player models and textures also look much better on the Xbox than on the PlayStation 2, as do the courts themselves. It won't be a surprise to anyone who has played previous iterations of the series to learn the game suffers from frequent clipping problems, most noticeably during replays, where you'll occasionally see a player reach through the backboard and dunk the ball from the baseline. The $30 difference in price between the Xbox 360 and Xbox versions make it worth noting that when both are viewed on a standard-definition television, the Xbox version looks reasonably comparable. This is something that budget-conscious gamers without access to an HDTV might want to consider if they still own an Xbox.
One area that went virtually untouched from last year is the audio. Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith do a fair job calling the action, but they fail to offer a whole lot of analysis, and they're quite repetitive. Plan on hearing about how a team can get a "two for one" with 30 seconds to go nearly every quarter. Sideline reporter Craig Sager gives his canned spiel at the beginning of each half. Kenny Smith shows first-half highlights during halftime, but his "stamp of approval" from the 360 version is absent. The halftime show isn't particularly interesting, and you'll probably end up skipping it after just a few games, but at least it's there. The players are quite talkative on the court, yelling when they're open, calling out picks, and pointing out double-teams. 2K7's soundtrack features a hefty number of hip-hop tracks, though you'd never know it, since for some reason most of them are set by default to not play, forcing you to go into the options and turn them on. One feature that's exclusive to the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox is the ability to create short audio clips using songs from the game's soundtrack. On the Xbox, you can use songs that you've ripped to your hard drive, giving you carte blanche to make your arena sound just the way you want.
Despite being outclassed visually by the Xbox 360 edition, NBA 2K7 holds its own from a gameplay standpoint. The 24/7: Next mode isn't likely to be missed by many, and the game still has one of, if not the most full-featured online offerings of any sports game. Those who were expecting a big leap from last year will likely be disappointed, but fans expecting only a slight improvement, or anyone looking for a solid, well-rounded basketball game, will be pleased with NBA 2K7.