Developer: 2K Sports
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: November 20, 2006
Rivalries and rankings, buzzer-beaters, Cinderella squads, tournament ladders…there’s a unique culture that surrounds college basketball – some might say it leans toward being a cult, even. College hoops fans are among the most passionate and dedicated in sports; donning facepaint or spelling out their school name across bare chests, often chanting the seemingly endless “Oh” through an entire game. Extreme behaviors they may seem, these acts are expressions of the fans’ pure and focused “the love of the game,” something that gets lost in the realm of professional sports, sometimes.
2K Sports understands the serious emotional connection and dedication many college basketball fanatics have with their sport, and the studio continues to play toward the hardcore audience in College Hoops 2K7. Though they’ve tweaked a few features to help accommodate casual ball players, College Hoops remains tailored to those of us that spend hours setting up our tournament brackets, and while this makes it less accessible in some regards, overall it assures a solid amount of quality in the end experience.
You might wonder how many improvements a game can make in a mere eight months (2K6 was released in March), and while the developer has focused on building around the established core, you can’t fault them too much for not tampering with the well-polished parts of their series: 2K’s great graphics, deep Legacy mode, tight, realistic gameplay and overall convincing college hoops atmosphere. A couple new features help enhance the latter two qualities, namely the addition of a chant creator and the Team Unity factor that serves as an indicator of chemistry and compatibility for the kids on your squad.
Team Unity is compiled from a set of bars that denote your team’s performance and overall harmony. As your players build an understanding for one another on the court, they’ll begin to mesh as a unit and ultimately play better. Bringing in players off the bench isn’t always the best decision in this regard (even though the auto-substitution has a tendency to do it freely), as mixing up your starters, or bringing in fresh legs off the bench to save stamina can degrade your overall unity and player attributes. Either way, having to consider unity gives you another component to balance between a sea of others as you make your way through a season.
The chant creator is a nice little add-in that brings some customizability to the table for 2K7. Crafting a taunt to distract opponents or making an uplifting roar to boost your squad’s spirit is a novel process, and it helps that the chant creator’s design is very simple. You can string together common words, letters, simple phrases, or mascot names in a short sequence and back them with drums. It operates similarly to a basic music mixing program, and you’ll have fun constructing serious lines like “You like camels!” or “Fight, lets go, basketball, baby!” for your rabid fans to roar in the background.
For newcomers to the College Hoops franchise, be assured that the game gets a lot of the important points right. Though it borrows NBA 2K7’s engine, College Hoops does an excellent job of translating the gameplay from the more flashy, professional level to the more strategic, team-based style that college basketball displays. Charging through the lane for a dunk from the free-throw line, or trying a fade-away in traffic will have you looking silly in front of your home crowd, and unrealistic shots rarely execute smoothly. But this is how it should be. Success in college basketball is built on smart ball distribution, timely scoring, and teamwork, and College Hoops does a good job of encouraging this fundamental style of play, especially in simulation mode.
There are a few hiccups on the hardwood, though. Passing is difficult to pull off in some situations, particularly when you’re looking to lead a player down the court or coming off a screen. The right bumper helps you pass to specific teammates by allocating a button to each of them, but in fast-break situations, it just isn’t quick enough. Likewise, the omission of a lead pass button is much missed. In shooting, the only major stumble the game takes is the inordinate amount of lay-ups you can expect to miss.
Supposedly easy shots will regularly careen off the rim if an opposing player is near you, and your players don’t always opt for the best shot selection when under the rim – usually taking a short jumper when a one-handed lay-up would do the trick. Aside from these qualms, things feel pretty smooth, and the additional mapping of crossover buttons to the Y and B buttons helps gamers make the leap from older basketball games to 2K’s Isomotion control scheme, which favors the analog sticks.
Beyond the slow-paced, tactical gameplay you’ll find on the court, one of the more stunning qualities of College Hoops are its visuals, led primarily by some remarkable player animations. Though we’ve seen the 2000 new animations in NBA 2K7 as well, that doesn’t make them any less fluid and genuinely believable – some of the most impressive are showcased in unique situations, like when a player tumbles and loses the ball if they try to draw a charge. It’s really difficult to overstate the complexity and elegance that the animations demonstrate, and it helps that they’re coated in some beautiful skin textures and convincing, flowing jersey fabrics. Being able to choose between these animations in player creation is an added bonus. The crowds make the case for 2K7’s strong presentation as well, as they’ll jump out of their seats, wave their hands, and generally act randomly (though convincingly) throughout matches. Seeing your student section hop up and down in unison is a real treat.
Speaking of 2K7’s create-a-player suite, it’s fantastic, and brimming with facial customization options that rival those in Oblivion, even. Everything from nostril width, to eyebrow height, to the concavity of your jawline can be tweaked, along with adding tattoos and accessories, like armbands. You might even say that the number of sliders and options are overwhelming, and it would’ve been nice of 2K to include a few pre-made faces to choose from.
Audio-wise, College Hoops delivers nicely. Crowd reactions and chants are at the heart of what you’ll hear, and the low murmur from your fans (or your opponents) helps make the key contests you’ll encounter all the more appealing. Vern Lundquist and Bill Raftery dish out some great commentary throughout games, though you can’t help but roll your eyes from time to time when Raftery lets out lines like “That sure is some fancy footwork!” when you pull off a nice crossover.
One of the depressing qualities that doesn’t hamper the gameplay, but impacts your interfacing with the game is College Hoop’s dreadful menu layout. It’s designed in such a counter-intuitive way – there’s no “home” menu, and the game goes automatically to a “quick game” setup at startup. You have flip the right stick to bring up basic options, and old standbys like the start button and B button don’t function as expected. In this way, it’s easy to feel lost, especially in Legacy mode, where you’re navigating a wealth of information on your players and school, and trying to balance and interpret different data. It doesn’t help that the game’s text displays so poorly on standard-definition televisions as well, with letters looking anorexic and hard to read.
Crisp menu design has always been a strong suit of EA’s franchises though, and not 2K’s. Luckily, it’s a drop in the bucket against something of a pond-full of great, well-developed features in College Hoops. Though the game’s depth and detail caters to hardcore hoops fans, game after game, there are few moments that feel inauthentic in College Hoops, which is a difficult point to reach for any sports title.
Score: 8.1 / 10