Whilst many will sing the praises of Electronic Arts, by this point in time its the ‘2K sports’ brand that has become synonymous in the US as a true seal of quality for any videogame sporting simulation. Similar in stature and complexity to the Pro Evolution soccer series, the NBA2K franchise continues to provide the most comprehensive simulation of Basketball on the home consoles, and provides an experience that bares more than just a striking resemblance to the real game. Based on the firm foundations of previous iterations, 2K7 simply expands the graphical repertoire and tweaks the control scheme; but for a simulation that errs on the side of perfection, those alterations alone are worth the price of entry for the series’ many fans. Graphically astounding and as deep as any sports title to come before it, if you never thought you’d sing the praises of digital sweat effects on silky-smooth cloth animation, get ready for a revelation.
For those used to the series, booting up NBA2K7 is instantly familiar territory; and it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of game options, multiplayer modes and the vast variety of different tweaks and alterations that can be made through to seemingly innocuous levels of detail. In fact 2K7 absolutely delights in presenting every possible option you could ever think of to customise the in-game experience, right down to the shooting percentages from different areas of the court and the aggressive style of individual players and teams. Unfortunately, as ever, the front-end is largely a convoluted mess of plain menus and complex navigation choices, and you’d think by this stage that 2K would have listened to the amount of feedback that they must receive on this matter. This is the one area that the EA sports series are generally light-years ahead, and unfortunately it’s also the one major problem that can dissuade new players from taking to the game instantly.
Hidden amongst the convoluted menu system are the standard plethora of game modes. Single-player action is served up in the usual variety of exhibition matches, tournaments, and leagues; as well as the rather novel 24/7 street basketball mode, and the ever-dependable and supremely detailed franchise simulation. Local multiplayer is well catered for, with detailed profile and stat-tracking options to be tinkered with, and the online side of things is as well-implemented and lag-free as ever. 2K has also seen fit to include a comprehensive user-managed online league service, something which all of the other sports titles have completely overlooked up until now.
Fortunately, once the action reaches the court, the play mechanics in this years version are as solid and free-flowing as ever. On top of the smooth basic control, it seems to be all the rage these days to incorporate the right analogue stick into any sports title, and the NBA2K series is one of the most successful examples of this to date.
First introduced in NBA2K6 and labelled as ‘Isomotion Control’, the right analogue stick in NBA2K7 offers up a vast range of layup, fade-away, jump shots and dunks to produce a truly incredible amount of different options when considering an offensive manoeuvre. The range of expression on offer with the analogue stick, and the fact that almost every player in 2K7 has individual running and shooting animation, combines to create an incredibly deep catalogue of player movement. In turn, this keeps the game fresh and involving throughout, and working your way through every possible approach to the basket would take a lifetime to complete. Not that you need to be militaristic of course. It’s a telling fact that over twenty hours of play, 2K7 can still surprise with new shot varieties in almost every game, and particularly if you end up prone to experimentation with your chosen team.
Of course none of the flair and solidity in on-court control really matters without an engaging and realistic team AI in place, and thankfully 2K7 doesn’t disappoint on this front. The default settings are suitably challenging, and particularly so when using the ‘Isomotion’ controls as opposed to the standard face buttons alone. The natural degree for error with any analogue system is always going to be wider than that of a purely digital scheme, and in turn this leads to a slightly lower shooting percentage from most areas of the court. This particular trait has come under criticism from some parts, and it does seem at times that the AI tends to punish the smallest variation in stick movement unnecessarily, but a quick tweak in the options can alter the percentages to be more realistic whenever needed.
Much like Pro Evolution Soccer however, NBA2K7 only comes alive once you know the strengths of the individuals on the court, and the overall style of the team in control. Strategic play is all important, and learning which teams and individual players are at their best posting up under the basket as opposed to shooting from the perimeter is paramount to success. Unfortunately on that front, 2K still offers up little in the way of introduction for players new to the sport, and you get the feeling that can only hamper the popularity of the series outside of the basketball-mad USA. Whilst you can get the basics of an enjoyable game without too much experience, many of the refined features will be lost; and as those are the exact reasons why 2K7 shines, it’s a shame that the development team didn’t consider taking a more newbie-friendly approach. Maybe that’ll be something for a future iteration.
The Playstation 3 version is largely the same as the Xbox 360 version released to acclaim last year. In fact the only real difference comes in the form of 1080p graphical support and a couple of small uses of the Sixaxis motion-control, which tend to be generally superfluous. The one novel use of the controller comes in the form of mimicking a free throw, holding the pad up over your head as a backwards motion with your shooting arm, and then moving it forward to release the ball. With practice, this becomes a nice addition to the control set, and shines as a good indication as to what can be done in the future with this sort of interaction. Whilst the rather rudimentary level of support for the unique features of the controller is by no means a reason to purchase the PS3 version above any other, is nice to see developers making an effort in this department.
Of course no game can ever be labelled as perfect, and there are a few issues in 2K7 which will need addressing at some point, but none of them are detrimental enough to warrant an outcry. Some of the animation transitioning is oddly junctioned at times, with players occasionally sliding across the court or clipping between opposition players, and for some reason there always seems to be a lack of any passing options whenever a player grabs the ball on the floor, leading to an almost inevitable interception. Also, as excellent as the graphical fidelity is, the player models often exhibit the zombified ‘uncanny valley’ look that seems to plague modern titles. Whilst this never becomes apparent from any of the normal viewing angles, it can certainly be distracting on the otherwise faultless replay cameras.
Overall however there isn’t a lot to detract from NBA2K7. Providing you can put in enough time to learn the nuances of the control scheme and generate a set of tactics that you feel comfortable playing with, there is an almost endless level of depth here that other sports games simply cannot match. On top of this, 2K7 is a definite graphical powerhouse, and will show off any next-generation setup to the maximum of it’s capabilities. Whether its for purely aesthetic reasons or gameplay alone, NBA2K7 is a worthy purchase for any basketball fan.