Amongst the B-ball competition available, NBA 07 does an adequate job of utilizing the PS3’s capabilities.
Basketball titles on console systems are everywhere. It seems like everyone has their own franchise. EA has Live, Take-Two has 2K, and Sony has its own yearly NBA franchise as well. Carrying certain AI deficiencies and restricted to an inferior graphics engine (the PS2 has really aged in the sports world), many ball fans have stuck with either the Live and the 2K series. On PS3, however, NBA 07 is making a huge move to capture their audience back with excellent visuals and the most interesting downloadable content in all of sports gaming.
NBA 07’s claim to fame this year are its graphics, and for good reason. The visuals, particularly in everything BUT the players on the court, are impressive to say the least. Nothing important was left out when modeling this game (though it would have been nice to see the Love-a-Bulls during halftime playing in Chicago) and they even made sure to include the mop guys beneath the rim. Players themselves are modeled with fantastic detail, capturing everything with realism. It isn’t perfect; Kirk Heinrich (get ready for tons of Bulls references in this review) looks even more like a 12 year old than he does in real life, and Kobe doesn’t even look right on most angles. The biggest buzz-kill is after every score when players reset to “default” positions. The point guard will cover the inbound on the opposing side, and the rest of the team will be on their side of the court. This occurs after every single point and there is no transition. You don’t get to watch your team run back on defense after a score; they just “appear” there. With as much that went into presentation for this game, seeing this was a total disappointment.
Having said that, there is plenty here to see visually. The court itself gleans under the lights and the crowd is surprisingly well detailed. Clothes flow with realism that isn’t noticeable at first glance. You have to slow the game down in replays to realize just how detailed SCE San Diego has modeled the players. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say NBA 07 has the best replay mode with excellent detail in the players and clothing combined with super-easy camera controls. Watching the ball go into the net in slow mo has never been as satisfying.
It’s really too bad that the rest of the title couldn’t have been updated as well as the graphics. At the Sony press event just before launch in October, the developer on hand told me that they spent so much time working on the visuals that they had to use the AI scripts from the PS2 version with minor tweaks. These tweaks must have been very minor as there are still pretty bad hiccups, particularly on defense and rebounds. When your opponent drives to the hoop, players will rarely swing over to help on defense. Wide-open slam dunks will happen five or six times in any given game. What’s worse is the AI’s inability to decide how it exactly wants to play defense. If you are covering a point guard, for instance, and you are picked, you and your other player will often get confused on who is covering who. Wide open pick-and-rolls were also commonplace. The worst is the computer’s complete inability to defend against the low-post. Ben Wallace averaged 18 points a game in my season on All-Star, NBA 07’s second-highest difficulty setting. It was entirely too easy for big men to score in the low post because you never get double-teamed.
To NBA 07’s credit, part of the reason why the low-post play was so easy was the excellent shooting mechanic. Carrying the overhead meter that builds as you hold a button to shoot, the PS3 version has tweaked it to account for every type of shot possible. Shooting from the three-point line, for instance, has a different timing than a low-post shot. With enough practice, it’s nearly impossible to miss a low-post shot since the player moves very fluidly and the timing is always the same. Like I said, Wallace averaged 18 a game. He’s not Shaq or Yao people, but the shooting works like a dream.
The SIXAXIS controller thus far in the PS3’s life, from what we’ve seen, has not gotten enough development time. No game better exemplifies this fact than NBA 07. Using the motion sensor to perform jukes and crossovers sounds like a fantastic idea that would make excellent use of the function, but in practice it’s very tough to perform these moves. Spin moves and jukes don’t register unless you make a very drastic jerk. We predict that there will be some sprained wrists out there before too long. There’s no way to get this function to perform accurately.
The sounds on the court are more than adequate, lending a definite authenticity to the experience. When you turn the ball over, for instance, you’ll hear the coach yell “Take care of the ball!” Crowd ups and downs will also occur during the game based on the score and the events on the court. The lack of announcers leaves a huge void that a PA announcer simply cannot fill. It doesn’t work for Madden on next gen, and it doesn’t work for NBA 07 here.
Gone from the PS3 version is The Life, the PS2 single-player “story mode” and instead the outstanding NBA Replay mode takes its place. 50 different scenarios have been ripped from the headlines of the 㤍-㤎 season, like Kobe’s comeback performance in overtime scoring 8 points without turning the ball over, or Big Ben’s 21 rebound game. Many of these are pretty challenging too, especially those that require assists to advance. It’s pretty tough to score on this AI right after a dish. Cooler than these scenarios is the prospect of downloading scenarios via the Playstation Network that are based on last week’s greatest games. Say Ben Gordon goes off for 14 against those pesky Pistons on a random Thursday. More than likely, you’ll see that scenario available when Sony updates the download service weekly. The stats for every scenario are insanely accurate, keeping both b-ball hardcore and stat nerds as happy as possible.
NBA 07 as a standalone title is a decent diversion from both the Live and 2K franchises. Knowing that the San Diego team behind this title will have an entire year to improve on this framework gives us hope for the future because they have taken care of most of the tough stuff. The game looks excellent and the online potential has been realized; all that’s left is to handle the AI and SIXAXIS hiccups and this one is ready to head to the pros.