NBA Live 07
Reviewed September 2007 by Jacob Spindel
Although the NBA Live series certainly has its share of arcade-style action, it also incorporates a more realistic element of strategy that ensures you'll have to do a lot more than mash the buttons to smash the Pistons. The PSP edition of the series' latest installment, NBA Live 07, combines that "semi-realistic" gameplay with a wide variety of modes, options, and unlockable bonuses, enriching the overall experience. Although the game has some rough edges and the A.I. can be questionable at times, NBA Live 07's fast-paced basketball action will impress casual fans and jump-ball junkies alike.
NBA Live 07 includes digital versions of all 30 NBA teams, each complete with its own home stadium and star players. Game modes include single game, full season, and even a Dynasty mode that lets you play multiple seasons and transfer your progress back and forth with the PS2 version of the game. The game's interface is geared toward gamers who are already fans of the series, even placing a "New!" icon on features that have been added since the previous edition of the game, but newbies needn't worry since the basics of the game are easy to learn.
The game enables you to customize a wide variety of options, including game length, camera style, and whether the players should simulate becoming injured. (You can also make adjustments to rules and foul limits, although most rules of official basketball are faithfully enforced in the game as well.) Just choose a team and select your desired options, and you're ready to go - in season or Dynasty modes, your team's schedule is displayed on an on-screen calendar, including all upcoming home and away games and trading deadlines, as you swish your way toward the NBA Finals. You can simulate up to any date you choose, or you can jump in and play any of the games yourself, with the option of changing configurations, or even teams, along the way.
By default, your control on the court automatically shifts to whichever player has the ball (on offense) or whichever player is most appropriate (on defense), but you can switch control to other players manually at any time, and the system for automatically selecting your player can also be reconfigured. Although the game's basic controls are easy to learn, it also features an extensive range of advanced maneuvers you can learn to adjust your technique or involve your teammates. The game cleverly displays control guides during loading delays and also pops up suggestions during game play for special moves that might be appropriate, but in spite of the extensive hints, the sheer volume of tricks to learn may overwhelm some gamers. Still, it is possible to play the game and develop winning strategies without using all of the available special moves.
One of the game's more unique features is "X-Factor Players." At the beginning of a game, one player on each team will be designated as the X-Factor player. Once this player has been sufficiently involved in your team's offense, he will become unlocked, and he can temporarily become a Freestyle Superstar, with enhanced abilities (most players have their own individual types of super-skills) by pressing the L button twice while you are controlling him. Although this idea adds a cool new twist to your overall strategy, in many cases I found that players in Freestyle Superstar mode were only a modest improvement over their "regular" selves.
Strangely, the game does not incorporate any form of auto-save. Your progress is only saved when you do so manually within the game's menu system. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the game is stable and never crashed during testing (so forgetting to save won't cost you), but under the circumstances, it would be nice if the game had an option to replay a match instead of accepting the outcome. Although this would give you an arguably unfair advantage, it doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to see that you can simply revert, instead of saving, if you want a rematch.
Like many PSP games, NBA Live 07 includes a multiplayer mode over ad-hoc WiFi - but unlike most PSP games, it also includes an infrastructure WiFi mode, enabling you to play against others over the Internet. This is a nice touch that many games don't bother to include.
So what's not to like? In short, the A.I. and the minigames. Computer players often make basket after basket, even from seemingly impossible places, while your own players will be much less likely to make difficult shots, especially free throws. Although there is a certain amount of strategy involved in making your players more likely to hit on a particular shot, at times it still feels like the computer is just "cheating."
Additionally, if computer players are trailing near the end of a close game, they will simply start fouling you and calling time-outs, over and over... and over. Although this "strategy" rarely succeeds at changing the outcome of the game, it is still annoying and almost makes you wish there were stronger penalties for excessive fouling, especially since it is so hard to make free throws.
The game includes minigames, such as a slam-dunk contest and a 1-on-1 game reminiscent of NBA Jam, but the minigames seem a bit uninspired. Although the unlockable bonuses are cool (vintage jerseys, all-star teams, and NBA highlight videos, for example), the minigames themselves use difficult control schemes that are too different from the main game's controls, and the computer opponents in the minigames tend to be much more aggravating than the players in the main game. The result is that the minigames seem more like a disruption to the main game than a preparation for it.
NBA Live 07's graphics look good. As with many sports games, there aren't many eye-popping bells and whistles, but instead the players are smoothly animated and move realistically on a 3D court. One minor gripe is that the circle under the player you're controlling is always blue - even if you step onto an area of the court that is also blue, making it hard to see. However, overall the graphics create a convincing atmosphere without any glitches or polygon break-ups to diminish the effect.
Marv Albert and Steve Kerr provide in-game commentary that sounds like... commentary. You won't have to worry about robotic, synthesized speech or sound recordings whose quality has been compressed to the point that the commentators sound like they are speaking into a tin can while reporting from somewhere on the moon. Although they can occasionally be slightly repetitive or "change their minds" rather abruptly, these commentators are impressively authentic.
The game also includes "real" songs like "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley (there is even a soundtrack album available on iTunes), but these songs pretty much only play during the menu screens. Although this may seem like a bit of a waste, background music during sports games is often more of a distraction than an addition, so sticking to the on-court sounds and commentary during gameplay was probably a wise choice in this case.
Speaking of which, the sound effects also work well, including not just "ball" and "shoes" sounds but also nice touches like the home crowd chanting for their specific team and the players yelling at the ref. Overall, the game's audio is rich and well balanced.
With the possible exception of the mini-games, NBA Live 07 has the kind of polish that proves just how well Sony knows both basketball and video games. The graphics and sound work well and make the game fun to play. Although the computer players can occasionally be frustrating, any PSP gamers who have even a mild interest in basketball won’t be disappointed if they add NBA Live 07 to their library.