NBA Live 07 Review (Xbox 360)
The journey to the NBA Live 07 release day has been a strange trip, indeed. It's perhaps the strangest pre-release story I’ve ever seen from a sports game. First, the game was a no-show at E3, with only a pre-rendered video shown. Then, I saw a number of impressions from the Electronic Arts (EA) NBA Live Community Day; all praising the next-generation version and stating that it was much improved. Weeks later, I saw the first videos from Gamespot and IGN, and they looked horrible. A day later, EA released a few videos that looked better, but not enough to get me excited about the game. Then there was nothing for the entire month before release. No previews, reviews, videos or screenshots for the entire month before release. Now this may not be strange for most companies, but it was really strange for EA. If there is one thing EA does right, it's promotion. Even with the lack of promotion, I wasn’t willing to write off NBA Live 07 based on a few ugly videos. After playing the game, I think I should have.
I want to make one thing clear: I review games without slider changes. While I am willing to make a massive amount of changes to make a basketball game more realistic, most people aren’t. Most expect a basketball game to be fun and realistic out of the box. People expecting that from NBA Live 07 will be greatly disappointed. Last year’s game was the same way, though. Out of the box, last year’s Live was too fast and very disjointed. NBA Live 07 isn’t as fast as last year’s game, but it’s just as disjointed. Most of that can be attributed to the new foot-planting technology.
For years, the NBA Live series had a large amount of sliding. So much sliding that at times, the basketball action resembled hockey. EA attempted to fix this issue in NBA Live 07 with it's brand new foot-planting technology. While I commend EA for fixing this issue for the next generation, the new technology causes a few new problems. The first thing you will notice when playing this game is that some of the animations look downright weird. For example, the dribble animation while walking looks great, but when holding the turbo button, the dribble animation looks horrible. The animation reminds me of when my seven-year-old cousin first learned how to dribble. When dribbling at full speed, the player will stick his arm straight out and dribble as if he is following the ball and can't control it. This would be a small thing if there weren’t so many other animation issues, from awkward looking lay-ups to dunks that go through the backboard.
The new foot-planting technology also affects the way the players shoot the ball. Now players gather themselves and actually plant their feet before shooting the ball. While this is realistic, it’s extremely overdone. The foot planting before the shot actually causes a hitch in most jumpshots and makes the jumpshot feel very stiff. It also slightly slows down the jumpshot and makes it feel less natural. I agree with the developers that sliding was a huge problem in the current-gen version and in last year’s Xbox 360 version, and I'm glad that they attempted to fix it. I just wish that for once, EA could introduce a new feature for NBA Live and have it work correctly the first time. In past versions, every new feature, from the hop-step to Freestyle Superstar moves have been overdone and unrealistic in their first iteration. The foot-planting technology is no different.
One thing about the Live series is that out of the box, its always extremely fast and arcade-like. Usually after a few slider tweaks, ratings tweaks and playbook adjustments, you can change the game into a pretty realistic "sim". This year, that is not the case. First, the game is slow and stuttery out of the box. The user will have to increase the speed slider to 100 to get a realistic speed and to decrease the stutter. This completely confuses me from a business perspective. I always understood why previous versions of Live were high-speed track meets out of the box. EA knows that most people just pick up the game and play and could care less about tweaking sliders or creating a NBA sim. That is one of the reasons why this game is the highest-selling basketball game year-in and year-out. However ,this year, anyone who plays the game without slider tweaks may immediately run to the competition, because out of the box, the game is neither fun nor realistic.
Some of the new features need a lot of work, too. The new Total Freestyle Control feature is very clunky and adds a fourth button that can be used to shoot the ball. With certain star players, you can shoot or pass the ball with the right stick. The type of shot or pass depends on the level of Superstar the player is (Star players tend to have a higher Superstar level and multiple Superstar abilities) and how you move the right stick. For me, it is just a little too much. In order to use the superstar moves, you have to press three buttons, the left stick to control the player, the LB button to initiate the superstar moves and the left stick to determine which move you make. That is in addition to the new separate dunk, lay-up and jumpshot buttons, and its all a little overwhelming. I like the idea of more control, but I was happy with just two shoot buttons in previous versions of the series.
One other big issue is that players do not adjust their shots depending on where they are positioned. The number of rainbow jumpshots from five feet away, attempted dunks from under the rim and behind the backboard and dunks through the back boards is horrendous. The collision detection is still very poor and there is a ton of clipping when contact occurs in the post. One of the best features in last year’s game was the player-specific jumpshots. The NBA Live series was the first to include this feature, and coming into the new version, I expected a ton of new signature jumpshots. The game features a few more individual jumpshots, but nowhere near the number that the competition offers. I don’t have a problem with a game leaving out Nazr Mohammed’s jumpshot, but stars like Gilbert Arenas should have theirs.
The user will also have to make changes to each team’s playbooks in order to get the CPU to use its star players. While the game play needs a lot of work, NBA Live 07 does do certain things better than the competition. The substitution patterns are the best that Ive seen in a game. This is the first game that I’ve seen Lebron James play at the point and it seems to do a good job at using only the players that the real-life team uses (No Peter John Ramos in 20-minute appearances). It also features small things that aren’t in other games, like 20 second timeouts and inbound plays.
I don’t want it to seem as if this game doesn’t have any positives. The arenas and player faces are top-notch. EA added the missing authentic arenas from last year’s game, and each arena is close to perfect. There are some small issues, such as missing sections in the Washington Wizards’ Verizon Center, but by far, NBA Live has the best looking arenas this year. The player faces are still a bit hit-or-miss, but the faces EA gets right are incredible. Tracy McGrady’s and Kobe Bryant’s faces look very much like their real-life counterparts, but the faces of lesser-known players like Bonzi Wells need a lot of work.
For years, I felt that the best sound, atmosphere and commentary went to the NCAA Football series, but this year, my opinion has changed. NBA Live 07 has the best sound I’ve heard in a basketball game. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr are back handling the play-by-play and color commentary and do a great job. EA came up with a great idea - rather than feeding Albert and Kerr a script to read from, they decided to just show them clips from actual on-court action and having them call it on the spot. This leads to perhaps the most natural-sounding commentary I’ve heard in a video game. I expect most video game commentaries to have little blurbs about star players, but imagine my surprise when Steve Kerr went on a one minute uninterrupted rant about Kwame Brown. The crowd sound is pretty much perfect and glitch-free. The crowd gets loud when the home team is on a run and turns quiet when the visting team hits a big shot. One great part about the crowd sound is that it gets louder and more intense during the fourth quarter.
EA’s definition of ESPN Integration doesn’t seem to be what many expected, but it's still nice nevertheless. When EA first made the announcement of its exclusive agreement with ESPN, many people instantly thought that EA would implement the EA license similar to how Konami and 2K Sports did. We had dreams of pre-game, halftime and post game shows with ESPN talent. Boy, were we wrong. It now appears that the EA-ESPN deal is nothing more than a promotional arrangement. In NBA Live 07, you can access clips from ESPN radio programs, sports updates from ESPN.com and video clips from ESPN Motion. It’s a neat feature, but it doesn’t add much to the game, and I don’t know why this would entice someone to buy this game when you can access most of those clips over the internet already.
EA did the right thing this year and offered the same amount of features for the Xbox 360 version and the current-gen version. Dynasty mode is back, and there are a number of improvements to it. First, the game offers you the opportunity to relive the 2006 NBA Draft. Not happy that the Knicks passed over Marcus Williams for Renaldo Balkman? You can change all of that and make the Knicks' pick yourself. You can also plan activities for your team in between game days, but you have to be mindful of your team’s fatigue. Trade AI is improved, but not perfect. After simming a few seasons, every trade made by CPU teams seemed fair, but few major players were traded. I saw a ton of Aaron Owens-for-DeShawn Stevenson trades, but none involving star players. My biggest disappointment in the Season and Dynasty modes is that neither mode has multiplayer. Previous versions of Live featured a season mode that let you control every team, but for some reason, in the Xbox 360 version, you can only control one team.
NBA Live 07 features one of the worst online experiences that I have ever played on Xbox Live. It was a laggy mess, and because you cannot adjust sliders online, you have to play the out of the box version - and that is horrible. No one wants to play a stuttery and slow game with lag, and with no online league options, there is pretty much no reason to play this game online.
I really haven’t been this disappointed in a basketball release in years. After last year’s game, I thought this year’s Xbox 360 version had the potential to be - at least - a solid game. If EA would have stuck to its usual plan of never addressing the sliding and adding new gameplay features, the game would probably be well received. However, it appears that the new foot-planting technology destroys the flow and look of the game when in motion. That said, EA must be applauded for stepping out of their normal box and trying to make a significant improvement. Hopefully, next year’s version will work out the bugs, ugly animations and stiff gameplay, because NBA Live 07 isn’t worth thirty dollars, much less sixty.