Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: September 25, 2006
Slow. Tired. Sluggish. These are the adjectives that kept coming to mind while playing NBA Live '07 for the X360. Last year's edition was rough around the edges but played well enough, introducing some great conventions that we assumed would be built upon in this year's offering. Somehow, things went horribly awry, as the most important aspect of the title has fallen to the wayside: physics. As you struggle to play NBA Live '07, most every aspect seems to be an exercise in futility rather than a component of a next-generation video game.
Live '07's physics make it seem like you're playing on the moon instead of a hardwood court. The rock crawls along the ground when knocked out, is a struggle to dribble for the in-game players, and floats around, inconsistently rimming no matter what type of shot you make. Players move in a similar fashion, with their bodies apparently being cumbersome vessels that they merely drag around the court.
The graphics work well enough (more on this later), but the animations are a bit jerky. In fact, it seems as if frames are actually missing when you play, making it nearly impossible to time a shot. The game will also leave you scratching your head as, in the name of "realism," big-time superstars miss multiple easy lay-ups that feeble codgers could regularly make.
This year's new control scheme is called Total Freestyle Control (TFC), and it achieves sub-standard results. Players are rated and given levels dependent on their ability. Level 1s have one special feature (future stars), 2s have two (up-and-comers), and 3s are full up (Iversons of the world). Special features range from high flyer to sharpshooter, and the TFC portion comes in as players are given the option to change control schemes using the bumper buttons. This allows you to decide how your player will work during crunch time. When the team is hot, the sharpshooter can stay out, but at other times, he'll need to pass more and be a team player. The idea sounds great, but the implementation doesn't quite live up to the potential. Very rarely does the control scheme need to be changed, as they are all similar, and even when changed, gameplay is not too heavily affected. It is a novel idea, but one that is not quite ready for prime time yet, even if it is in the game.
In an attempt to bring players into the game, the free-throw features no meter and instead must be timed by watching the player. Pulling backward on the right analog stick raises the ball, and as it gets closer to the player's head, push it forward to shoot. Of course, the problem is similar to the jump-shot timing: occasionally jerky animation. Physics also make the ball roll around the rim unrealistically during these shots. Visually, there are similarities between the basic idea of shooting free throws in both Live '07 and 2K7, but in one of the few legs up for this franchise, Live '07's feels much better. Even with jerky animations and strange physics, somehow it just feels far better, which matters quite a bit when you're going for immersion.
Graphically, some players look better than others, with big stars looking closest to their real-life counterparts. For whatever reason, some players look completely unlike themselves, instead resembling digital doppelgangers of scary impersonations. For instance, Andre Igodoula (who looks ridiculous in both of this year's titles) looks less like a ball player and more like someone who might beg you for some heroin, with the dark circles under his eyes belying his star potential. Tyrone Lue looks as if he should be playing in the WNBA based upon his player model. It's a shame that the graphics meant to bring people into a next-gen game would really hurt its success so badly. The one saving grace is the court design, which looks great again this year. An issue EA has always had is with the crowds, and this year's offering is somewhat better, but not much. They will writhe, cheer and react, but they still mostly look like unrealistic mannequins in the crowd.
Live '07 tries to bring back some of the components left out of last year's next-gen debut. The All Star Weekend returns, with the same options as the regular Xbox version, and with mixed results. The slam dunk contest returns, with the same options to link multiple spins and styles of dunks into chains. This is the most competitive and interesting mini-game you'll have a chance to play, especially when compared to the glaring faults of some others, such as the three-point contest. Animation and physics issues remove all enjoyment from the three-point competition because it's too exceedingly difficult at times to make multiple shots in a row. Through no fault of the player, they are continually forced to suffer from these issues in every area of the game. A Rookie Challenge and All-Star Game are also available here, but they play exactly like the regular game (badly).
The online portion is exactly like other EA Sports titles in that there are a lot of shared similar features. This is not necessarily a positive thing, as EA's servers are consistently choppy and experience frequent disconnects. It was a struggle to find a game with someone that had decent latency in relation to myself, only to be disconnected twice in a row, which is frustrating, to say the very least.
The best feature in NBA Live '07 is the ability to download podcasts from ESPN. Sports updates hit you from the main menu, and it's also possible to download video straight from ESPN.com, along with listening to other great original sports shows. Unfortunately, even this is executed poorly; instead of being able to download and listen during games or any time you like, it's relegated to merely being menu fodder.
The return of last year's clever menu system, which allows you to shoot around with cover star Tracy Mcgrady, lets you hear enough of the updates, but it's really a shame that it wasn't more integrated into the full game experience. EA Trax consists of the same type of music that EA has been compiling and re-issuing for the past few years. In-game announcing is decent this year as well, but the gameplay faults seem to be far more noticeable when a commentator is telling you what was supposed to have happened.
NBA Live '07 is the second iteration of the storied franchise to appear on the X360, and even with the new features, it's just not up to snuff yet. The entire control scheme and physics engine need to go back to the drawing board before next year's release in order to remove that constant feeling of dread that lingers during a typical game. Live '07 is a seriously flawed basketball title with a lot of innovations, but not a lot of depth to them. This would not be such a big problem if another superior game did not exist, but NBA 2K7 does, and it does everything far better. NBA Live's foundation is strong, but the concrete used to hold it together remains too weak. Hopefully by next year's offering, EA will capitalize on all of NBA Live's strong points, in addition to solidifying existing problem areas.
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