NBA 2K7 Review (Xbox 360)

NBA 2K7 is here and I don’t think I’ve seen the sports gaming community anticipate a game this much since NFL 2K5. This has to do with a number of things. First, last year’s version was one the best reviewed and rated titles of 2005. Second, for the first time ever, 2K Sports decided to go all out with their promotion. The number of videos and screenshots for NBA 2K7 was staggering. Finally, all of the videos looked incredible and that along with the promised additions made me extremely excited to get this game. So much so that I drove three hours just to get the game a few days early. Yes, I know I have a problem.

I’ve played every basketball game ever released in the United States. I’ve also played every “great” sports title ever released in this country and I say the following statement without hesitation: The animations in NBA 2K7 are the best I have ever seen. Last year, when I saw that NBA LIVE 06 had signature jumpshots and realized that NBA 2K6 did not, I thought that the NBA 2K team would maybe add ten to twenty jumpshot animations this year just to keep up with the “Joneses”. Then at E3, when I was told that there would be hundreds of new animations in this year’s game, I listened but in the back of my mind I was doubtful. I can’t even count the number of times a game company has promised a new animation engine or “Hundreds of New Animations!” only to realize when the game was released that the hundreds of new animations turned into about ten.

Not only does the game have individual jumpshot animations for every major NBA star (and plenty of minor stars and bench players) but individual dribbling and celebration animations. I knew before playing this game that Kobe Bryant’s jumpshot was in the game but I didn’t know his celebratory fist pump was also in the game. Same thing goes for Lebron James and his “Rocafella” pose after a big basket. Also, the animations aren’t over done. The last thing I want to see is Kobe fist pumping after every made basket. In NBA 2K7, the players save the big celebrations for big moments and big shots.

The day of cutscenes is officially over. In past basketball video games, coach, bench and some crowd reactions were always shown in canned repetitive cutscenes. NBA 2K7 features no cutscenes meaning that every action is shown within the flow of the game. Now when I say every action…I mean every action. During substitutions, subs walk to the scorer’s table and players being subbed for walk straight to the bench. During the game, you will notice that the coaches respond to the on court action. Coaches also seem to have their own personality. For example, Doc Rivers was way more active on the sidelines than Phil Jackson. Another small thing that adds so much to the game is the bench interaction. If you are in the last two minutes of a close game, you will notice that everyone on your bench is standing and reacting to everything that happens on the court.

Since the inclusion of sliders in sports games there has always been a group of gamers that feel that sliders have actually made the game worse. The group claims that developers have become lazy and will rely on the user to make the game play realistically through sliders. While I never agreed with that opinion, I think that NBA 2K7 disproves the theory. Here is a game that features more sliders than I’ve ever seen in a game but plays a fun and realistic game straight out of the box. For obsessive sim ballers like myself, there are not only user and CPU sliders but individual team sliders. If you think Phoenix isn’t looking to run the break enough, a couple clicks to the left will change that.

The number of camera angles is absolutely mind-boggling. There are thirty standard cameras and most of them can be adjusted a number of ways. I can’t believe there will be one person who will have a camera angle problem. The number of camera angles does lead to a small problem though. I’m a stickler for authentic arenas and while 2K Sports did add a few more authentic arenas this year like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center, there are plenty that still have the generic treatment. Many arenas are cookie cutter buildings with the exception of the scoreboard (NBA 2K7 is pretty accurate when it comes to the scoreboards) and tunnel placement so this shouldn’t be a big problem. However, there are some glaring errors with some of the arenas. The Verizon Center (the Washington Wizards’ home court) is missing an entire section of seats behind both backboards. Now this isn’t something that anyone would notice from the default camera angle but anyone playing from a high angle will notice and huge empty space behind each backboard. It’s not a major issue but definitely something that should have been caught before release.

Lets get down to the gameplay, OK? I could make this section very short by just summarizing the following paragraph with one sentence: After well over thirty games, NBA 2K7 has the best gameplay I’ve ever seen in a basketball game, maybe in any sports game. That’s not enough? OK, I’ll go a little deeper. People can see from my past basketball reviews that I’m a lot more anal about basketball games than I am about other sports titles. I don’t get excited if the AI does stuff it’s supposed to do. I don’t think it’s a great achievement if the CPU is smart enough to go to Tim Duncan if it’s controlling the Spurs. I’ve always felt that’s what the AI is supposed to do. The smaller things always impress me. For example, the thing that impressed me most in this game wasn’t Shawn Marion’s awkward jumpshot or Antione Walker’s shimmy up court. It was Tony Parker absolutely ripping my team apart and playing exactly as he does in real life. I tried every thing and I could not stop Parker from driving and finishing or driving and kicking out to an open Bowen or Ginobili. The best thing about it was that it didn’t feel cheap. Parker wasn’t driving and dunking over my center or making miracle passes to open men. He was just making the plays he was supposed to.

It’s also little things like the CPU knowing when to call timeouts. Case in point: I’m controlling the Magic against the Knicks and Channing Frye is running me out of the Garden. I’m down by sixteen until J.J. Redick gets red hot and starts making every shot and cuts the lead to seven. Now the CPU on most basketball games would wait until I took the lead before it called a timeout, if it did at all. In NBA 2K7, the CPU called a timeout when I cut the lead to 7 and it pretty much killed my momentum. I lost the game but I loved that the CPU realized it was in trouble and was smart enough to call a timeout and regroup.

Last year’s game was an absolute mess online. It was an unadulterated dunk fest and didn’t resemble NBA basketball in anyway. The 2K team took serious strides to make the online experience more realistic and it seems to be a success. With that said, if you don’t play solid defense and make strategic adjustments, some online games can turn into dunk contests. However, if you play against someone who plays “sim” basketball, you should have realistic and fun games.

"Association" mode is definitely deeper and I’m glad to see that the NBA 2K7 team took my advice. They decided to add progressive fatigue to franchise mode. OK, maybe they didn’t get the idea from me but I suggested it in previous reviews and forum posts and I’m glad 2K decided to add it. You can no longer play your superstar forty eight minutes a game and expect it to affect his play in subsequent games. I also love that back to back games affect players in this game the same way they do in real life. Also new to the series are pre-draft scouting workouts and multi-user franchise mode. I’m a little disappointed that the mode only allows you to control up to 8 teams but it is a step in the right direction.

CPU Trade AI is much improved but it does have a few faults. In my franchise, there were some trades that made sense (Tinsley for Posey) and others that made no sense at all (Larry Hughes for Joe Johnson, Damon Stoudamire for Devin Harris and Marko Jaric for Sam Cassell). Now I understand that the point of a franchise is to create your own reality but shouldn’t it recognize the past a little? For example, there is no way that the Mavs or the Hawks would trade two young players (Harris and Johnson) for two aging and expensive players like Stoudamire and Hughes. The problem seems to be that the trade engine does not take in consideration the age and team importance of a player when making a trade between two CPU teams. The good news is that there is a trade override option and you can always reverse any bad trade. This is still a disappointment and undoing CPU trades does effect the ability to immerse yourself in the season.

Let me be clear: the game isn’t perfect. The sound is probably the worst aspect of NBA 2K7. The crowd isn’t as responsive as I would like it to be. For example, I’ve seen instances where the home team hit a big shot that tied or took the lead in a game and the home crowd will give a lukewarm reaction to the play. I’ve also seen the crowd go crazy for a lay-up that gave the home team a 4-0 lead. It just seems to be sort of random. Also, on certain occasions the crowd will cheer for the away team when they score a basket. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen.

Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith are once again doing play by play and I’m very disappointed in their work. It’s a shame because they are two of my favorite television personalities but their commentary is extremely repetitive. There were several occasions where I heard the same line three or four times in the same game. Players such as Sarunus Jasikevicius are still called by their number even though they have been in the league for more than a year. The PA announcer is sometimes silent after a score or will get halfway through a players name and stop before finishing.

Graphically, there are still a few issues too. The player faces still need serious work. Some of the major players like Dwyane Wade and Kobe look like their real life counterparts however, many aren’t even close. Most of the rookies look horrible and some of them don’t even have the right skin tone (See: Rodney Carney and Quincy Douby). Collision detection and some clipping issues are present but they aren’t perfect. I’ve played almost thirty games and I have seen two dunks where the player went through another player. Still two times out of thirty games isn’t that bad. The clothing malfunction bug found in NBA 2K6 is still present in NBA 2K7 as you will see player’s jerseys and shorts rip and tear for a few plays. This bug happens much less in this year’s version. Finally, there are some small ball physics and sliding issues. The ball doesn't seem to touch a player’s hand when shooting. It floats a few centimeters above his hand. Also, sliding is still present but its no where near the NBA Live amount of sliding.

Player spacing is another issue that crops up in NBA 2K7. Occasionally, you will see players get in each other’s way and while it doesn’t happen with much regularity it can be annoying. The biggest on court issue is the defensive ability of big men. One thing this game is great at is mismatches. If you have Gilbert Arenas guarding Shaq in the post off of a switch, it’s easy to back Arenas down and score an easy bucket. The AI is also smart enough to quickly double team if there is a mismatch. The issue arises when a quick guard like Arenas is guarded by a big man like Shaq on the perimeter. In real life, Arenas should blast past Shaq with no problem but in NBA 2K7 that’s not the case. It takes several dribble moves to get past a player like Erick Dampier and that should not be the case. I’m sure that this is something that can be fixed with sliders but out of the box this part of the game is really frustrating.

Finally, I think its time to put the "24/7" mode to rest. This is 2K’s third try at making this mode an interesting part of this game and it’s the third year they have failed. This year, your goal is to raise your rep and get an opportunity to play in the Legends Charity Tournament at Rucker Park. It’s structured similar to previous years as you play with and against NBA players in order to build your reputation. The main difference is there are now cutscenes that document the storyline and instead of being mostly a mode focused on one on one play, this year’s mode focuses on five on five play. Its still a big waste of time and as much work has been done on the NBA aspect of this game, I’m sure they could use the resources spent on this mode for something else like authentic arenas or an All Star Weekend.

I’m going to make this really simple: this is the greatest basketball game I’ve ever played. This is also the greatest one year leap I’ve ever seen in a series. I wasn’t as crazy about NBA 2K6 as many of the fans and other reviewers were. I felt it was a decent but flawed game and it looked great when compared to the competition but average on its own. NBA 2K7, however, fixed almost every single flaw in last year’s game and add an unbelievable amount of animations and features. Due to this, I’m awarding this game my first ever 10 out of 10. Now before some of you go crazy and yell “How can you give this game a 10 out of 10 when you acknowledge it has flaws?!” understand what a 10 out of 10 really means. According to the Operation Sports ratings system a 10 out of 10 is a “A rare and singular achievement in sports gaming. A 'must-buy' for any serious gamer.” I cant think of a better way to describe NBA 2K7.

Note to the development team: You can’t go back from this. The fans of this series (especially the ones who frequent this site) will not accept future versions of this series that aren’t as deep or as enjoyable as this year’s version. I would hate to see an NBA 2K8 or future version that had less animations or not as deep as this year’s game. For now, I’ll just enjoy the best basketball game I’ve ever played.

NBA 2K7 Score
out of 10