|Developer: EA Canada||Publisher: Electronic Arts|
|Release Date: September 27, 2006||Also On: PC, PS2, Xbox & Xbox 360|
In too many ways, last year’s version of NBA Live was a disappointment. The current-generation version featured slippery controls and unrealistic gameplay, complete with the new Freestyle Control system that served as an “I Win!” button. The handheld (PSP) version was dark and lacked any sort of depth, missing out on any sort of Dynasty or Franchise mode. And the Xbox 360 version was the least impressive, lacking any special gameplay modes and featuring the worst camera I’ve ever seen in a basketball game.
EA Canada felt that it was time to recreate the basketball experience. They scrapped the entire engine for all three versions and worked from the ground up. NBA Live 2007, in all three of its relatively complete forms, was impressive. Whether you’re experiencing the physicality of the current-gen version, the complete experience of the PSP version, or the stunning graphics and ESPN integration of the next-gen version, you’ll be having a darn good time. That’s what I’m talkin’ aboot.
EA and its Canadian studio invited Game Freaks 365 to their NBA Live 2007 Community Day event, which was held August 9th-11th in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Over the course of the trip, ten other gamers and I got to play NBA Live in all three of its iterations and interrogate the developers until we couldn’t possibly ask another question. It was a unanimous reaction: NBA Live 2007 rocks.
Friday morning, August 10th, the current-gen team brought out an Xbox and PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 2007. The build was nearly complete, and featured everything from last year’s game–Freestyle Superstars, a deep Dynasty Mode, and All-Star Weekend. This year, the team wanted to redo everything: make the game feel realistic, make it look smooth, and flesh out the Freestyle Superstar style. They’ve done all of these things.
NBA Live 2007's core gameplay feels more realistic because for the first time in the series, players react to each other realistically, it’s as simple as that. The pressure and physical elements of the game have been captured well: try to drive the lane against Shaq as Iverson, and you’re going to end up on the bench sucking your thumb. The animations that accompany this physical style are fantastic, and on top of that, no longer will you see players “warp around” like they did in previous versions of the game (for more of an idea about this “warping,” read my review of last year’s game).
Next, no longer do you have to play favorites with each player’s Freestyle Superstar types: now, players will have different levels of these types, depending on their real-life skill and in-game rating. For example, all-stars like Tracy McGrady (the cover star) will have multiple Freestyle types, like Highflyer and Scorer. These types can be switched to and used with relative ease at any time.
Last of all, the intensity of the game is applied through a self-explanatory “Intensity” feature. Similar to NCAA Football’s “Momentum,” Intensity affects the on-court players and also causes the crowd to react differently. As an example, a first-quarter blow-out will be much less intense than a fourth-quarter comeback. As you (or your opponent) battle it out, the players will control and react differently depending on the intensity level of the game.
The PSP version of the game was up next, and it was easily the most surprising of the three versions. It features all of the gameplay modes from current-gen NBA Live 2007, but features a few standalone elements as well. First of all, players have the ability to connect their PSPs to their PlayStation 2's and continue their Dynasty mode on the road. More importantly, the PSP version features exclusive mini-games. Normally, I’d shrug off mini-games as an afterthought, but after playing these mini-games, I can tell that EA Canada aimed for a multiplayer appeal and a lot of thought went into the games. The most fun game is a game called 2-Ball, which made me and my fellow Community Day gamers absolutely speechless. This mini-game is essentially a game of Knockout with a twist: during the multiplayer game, you can knock your opponent’s ball away, find power-ups that increase your ability to shoot, and also pick up power-ups that will make it a nuisance for your opponent to do anything. This game, and all of the other PSP gameplay modes, can be played online via the PSP’s Infrastructure WiFi mode.
NBA Live 2007 for the Xbox 360 was the last thing showed off after a long day at EA Canada. The next-gen team was especially excited to announce that all of the current-gen features (gameplay modes) were included in this year’s version of the game. Dynasty Mode is as deep as ever and All-Star Weekend is especially flashy and explosive in high definition. In fact, the only thing excluded from next-gen NBA Live 2007 is the physical feel of the gameplay from the current-gen version.
Anyway, one of the most exciting announcements was when we talked ESPN. ESPN has been integrated into this basketball game like you’d never believe. Now, automatically, you’ll be connected to an ESPN network where you can receive automatic updates, radio clips, and highlights from the Worldwide Leader in Sports. You even have the option to listen to ESPN Radio Shows while playing through your Dynasty!
I spent the last few minutes blurting out exclusive features for each version, but I’d like to hit on a few random notes about the game. The Dynasty Mode, as I’ve said a few times, is exceptionally deep. This year, you’ll work your staff to the bone as you send scouts out to investigate the ESPN Mock Draft for the following year and even have your assistant coach report on rumors throughout the league. You’ll work with your team through a Team Chemistry system. By balancing wants and needs of each of your players, you’ll form a team with great chemistry and the effects will be reflected on the court throughout the season.
All-Star Weekend mode features four different gameplay types this year: the Rookie and All-Star Games, a 3-Point Contest, and a Dunk Contest. On all three versions of the game, All-Star Weekend is fun and looks good, but the experience really comes alive on the Xbox 360 version, which puts the presentation over the top.
In terms of animation and visuals, each player looks more realistic than ever. Hundreds of signature jump shots were recorded and put into the game, as well as signature free throws. Name a specific free throw from real-life, and you’ll see it in the game. Little touches like this got the Community Day guys excited, and hardcore NBA fans will pick up on them instantly. Also, as I mentioned earlier, players don’t “warp around” like they did last year. If you’re running down the lane and want to pull out and take a shot, you won’t simply spin around and lock onto the basket–you’ll see your player stop, square up to the basket, and jump into the air. This animation not only looks better than the wacky animations from before, but makes the game feel a lot more realistic than ever before.
After spending time with the development team and hearing what they had to say about the game, I can’t go another minute without feeling unfair if I don’t mention how amazing NBA Live 2007 sounds. The crowds react dynamically and explosively, especially on the next-gen version, with its “Intensity” feature. And the commentary has evidently received a lot of work as well, with Marv Albert and Steve Kerr being the commentators for regular games and Ernie Johnson and Greg Anthony will call the shots for All-Star Weekend.
All in all, NBA Live 2007 does what sports games should do every year: work on and improve any problems from the previous year. I put down NBA Live 2006 with a bad taste in my mouth but this year’s version was surprising in every way. Whether you’re playing the current-gen for its realistic feel, the handheld version for its portability, or the next-gen version for its pretty graphics, you’ll have a better time this year than you ever could have hoped for from last year’s game. Check out NBA Live 2007 when it ships this September and see for yourself how improved the game is. Better yet, check back for our review next month.