Saturday, February 17, 2007

360 review: NBA 2K7 (4/10)

Well, it's that time of year: the NFL has been ushered firmly from the room, with its post-conference-championship lampshade on its head, still crying out for your attention ("But the Pro Bowl does matter! And I liked the Taco Bell lions! Hey, anybody ready for Mel Kiper's mock draft?"); MLB has carefully crapped all over the upcoming "pitchers and catchers report" magic by announcing that non-DirecTV customers don't need to watch out-of-market games; and the NHL is rolling along just fine, as you'd know if you're one of the five people who can find not-Outdoor-Life-Network-anymore on your cable or satellite system. (Nice job, Gary.) So if you're a pro sports fan, that leaves the NBA. No, the on-court action.

2K Sports has been a faithful entrant in the field for a while now. If you didn't know that before, you'll wish you did the first time you put 2K7 in the drive. Two reasons:

-- You won't know what it was like when it was good, and
-- You won't know what's going on.

Basically, if you haven't played NBA 2K before, this is not the time to learn. NBA 2K7 is the hoops equivalent of Civ IV: you're better off digging up an older copy and learning the basics first. If you don't know what you're doing, even on the lower levels, you'll get schooled. Superstars will miss dunks and layups, commit charging fouls, and throw passes off teammates' backs and sideline chairs. Yawn.

Kevin Harlan does a credible job with the play-by-play, which is probably the best part of the game. He does have this funny habit of referring to point guards by their first names most of the time, but other than that, he's good. Kenny Smith provides the same tired analysis you get in pretty much every game these days.

The one redeeming aspect of the game play is that a regulation game (12-minute quarters) produces reasonable stats, at least at my skill level. It bothers me to no end to have to play shorter quarters/periods/halves to get the right team and individual stats.

Like EA, 2K is pretty deep in the advertising trough, forcing the Gatorade Cooler something-or-other upon us in the middle of the action, sometimes even when you've got the ball. Hey, Craig Sager's voice is nice, but keep the damn graphics off the screen when the game's going on, okay? I don't need this to be like real life.

Notice that trend? More commercial sponsorship in games, mostly in the form of annoying pieces that you can't skip through (like the drive summaries in NCAA 2Kx). And, like in real life, I didn't notice the price of the games going down. Hope you're spending the money wisely, because that part of the game sucks. I don't care about the halftime "show" or the fancy graphics. I want to play.

Yeah, fancy graphics. For example, instead of bringing up a simple menu, when you want to play a quick game, the camera zooms down a city street to reveal two buildings with team logos on them, representing the current matchup. Whose idea was this, and why do they still have a job? (It's an even worse idea if you're relatively unfamiliar with the NBA. There is absolutely nothing other than the logo that tells you what team you've selected.)

Menus? Well, rather than the usual Start menu, 2K decided that it would be a good idea to bring up a context menu when you move the right stick. Yeah, that makes sense. Use a different control scheme than pretty much every other game made for every console with two-stick controllers in history. Great call. What's worse is that it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes you use the right stick to back up, sometimes the B button, and sometimes something completely different. Counterintuitive doesn't even begin to describe it.

24/7 mode, where you took a character and built it up by playing against active and retired NBA players, the mode that was completely ruined in 2K6, is no better this time. They did change it, so now it's more of a story than simple games. Great. Essentially, you get even less information about what you're supposed to do. I didn't bother much with this.

The one thing 2K did right was upgrade the achievements. In 2K6, they did a half-ass job (well, less than half-ass) and had only 5, 200 points each, with accomplishments that could be achieved in one game. Lame. This time, they have a pleasant mix of historic player, active player, and team achievements, as well as some online achievements. Examples: one active player achievement is to get a 5x5 with Andrei Kirilenko (points, assists, blocks, rebounds, steals). One historic player achievement is to get 10 blocks in a game with any player – it's historic because it's called the Kareem (rebounds = Bill Russell, points = Wilt, etc.). One team achievement is to have a rebound margin of +15 or greater. The only downside is that there are no season or career achievements - all of the offline ones are single-game achievements.

The game play is extremely frustrating if you're not familiar with 2K hoops, as I'm not. Players near the basket toss up fadeaways, hit the back of the backboard, or drive all the way under the rim to throw up a weak reverse, while the AI-controlled players dunk as expected. Tipping a ball away from an AI-controlled player usually means he gets it back; if you lose the ball, fast break and two points. If the AI is on a fast break, it's pretty much a guaranteed two; if you have a fast break, the AI is pretty much guaranteed to catch up with you.

One thing I definitely don't understand is free-throw shooting. They've adopted the right-analog-stick method that everyone wants to use now (down to start, up when the player's hand moves forward), but it's awful if you're not an NBA fan, because the game gives you no cue as to when to shoot, and if you don't know the player's release point, you'll miss. Kind of. Even with realistic FT% on, I could make Ben Wallace hit free throws even if I didn't have a perfect release, or have Allen Iverson or Steve Nash miss even if I did.

The game is pretty, and I'm sure it's a lot of fun if you know what you're doing, but if you don't, I really can't recommend it. Too much of the game feels awkward – it's like being an intelligent person at a W press conference.

zlionsfan's rating: 4 steps out of 10. (You know, this season, I think they'd call traveling.)

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