You really can’t help but be impressed by what Visual Concepts has done with the NBA 2K series over the years. Although the franchise has remained basically the same year after year, with minor improvements made every fall to justify the price, the 2K series continues to be the favorite game for basketball fans, especially compared to EA’s blunt LIVE series. But who needs a major makeover when you have gameplay as authentic as this one? Add an improved defensive AI and a pinch of improved Isomotion and you will have a satisfying ball game.

If you show up in 2K7 expecting a complete overhaul of the series, you’ll be about as disappointed as the city of Toronto was when Vince left the Raptors, and it wasn’t pleasant. That being said, 2K7 has some subtle improvements over its predecessor that deserve to be honored.

For example, look at the defense. You have foreshadowed the game in your head; you have the ball in your hands; the track is entirely up to you and it is easy to get into the basket for the J. Hey, if you do it in NBA Live, what about, you can’t do it in 2K? You run the game the way you did in your head, and in the first five seconds, the trajectories close, you are paired twice, and before you know it, you are back to two. If this scenario doesn’t sound so familiar after a few minutes of 2K playback, it will undoubtedly be.

That’s right, 2K7 requires players to run and run real games. I know it’s a wild concept; I mean, playing a Sport the way it’s supposed to be played seems a little scary at first, but if you put hours into it, you’ll be giving and gone in no time, playing Pick-and-Rolls and handling the ball like the pros.

Needless to say, 2K7 is not your average pick-up and play game. Beginners of the series have to undress again and again during the first hours of the game, but hard work and patience prevail, oh, and the help of the extremely deep control system does not hurt either. As I mentioned above, this is not a game about driving to the basket, this is a game about making a smart call, after all, this is basketball, and using the D-pad to effectively call plays keeps the tracks open and scores high.

Fortunately for you, the optimized game call is not the only weapon available, because you have access to an Arsenal of movements to help the D. With the Hop Step button that allows you to turn, juke and go through all those who are unlucky enough to push you forward, you have the upper baton at your disposal. Experienced 2K fans will feel right at home using the stick to clear Kobe-type traffic jams, or if there are more superstructures in your driveway, use the stick to navigate through the air for defenders. So if you are LeBron James rolling to the left of the basket and Yao Ming is ready to hit that ball from your 12th row, you can use the stick to select the arm with which the shot goes around Yao’s spaghetti arms. Of course, if Yao is like a pimple on you on prom night, there’s not much you can do, ball stick or not.

Having those moves available is one thing, but putting the ball in the basket is a whole other story. The point material, the number of missed one-point shots and the occasional flopped Dunk are reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins’ All-Star Game mistake, if you may remember it that far back. Missed opportunities like this take a look at their obnoxious heads from time to time, but not as frequently as in NBA Live 07, where a successful Dunk is just as likely as the Grizzles’ return to Vancouver.

On the defensive side of things, you can now hit the bat towards a pass to hit the ball. It’s actually quite simple once you get the hang of it. If you see a pass at a reasonable distance from your player, simply hit the bat towards the ball, slide it and return it to the opposing team’s basket. Simple enough, and after a few tries, you understand that stealing is simply foolproof – almost too easy for its own good – which leads to seriously inflated numbers at the end of a match.

But let’s save a second and talk about the features that 2K offers. You have a fast game, a 24-7 mode (think NBA Street), many tournaments and a deeper pairing mode than ever before. A deeper way of association? Is it possible? You can bet on it. Scouting, which has always been prioritized over sports titles, occurs here on the front line, even going so far as to guide the players through exercises before conception. And if that’s not enough for all future GM’s, you can also hire coaches, set up drills (be sure to monitor your players’ fatigue levels), and do almost any GM task you can do in your head.

If there is one thing that really stands out in 2K, it should be its excellent presentation. And I’m not just talking about the fantastic halftime show, the dozens of customizable sliders – something 2K is known for-or the crisp menu themes, but also the iconic style moves. Player styles have been incorporated into basketball games for years, but never to this extent. Kobe and Shaq’s Superstars, and even some lesser-known ones, have their own signature animations – how cool is that? Of course, not all NBA players have been treated the same. Don’t expect to see T.J.. Ford or Chris Duhon pull off something other than a generic sweater, but either way, NBA fans will surely applaud when they see their favorite players acting like their real counterparts.

Although there hasn’t been as much effort into the game’s graphics this year, 2K7 hardly disappoints when it moves to the next generation during the 2K6 Season. The animations are excellent, the frame rate is silky smooth and the player models are accurately rendered to the recent NBA hairstyles. The jerseys sway when players rush for the ball, and sweat, a feature often overused in new-generation sports titles (much like the often poorly formulated blur effect), was toned down by last year’s sweat festival.

While the player models are for the most part top-notch, there are matters when the players are cruelly looking down. Take Steve Nash, for example; it seems that the result of a plastic surgery session has gone wrong. And even some star players like Duncan have seen better days.

In the end, NBA 2K7 is as complete a basketball game as possible. 2K7 is really not a big improvement over last year’s efforts, but I doubt anyone cares. Individual players can spend months in association mode, and the online options are ideal for players who want to play person-to-person. At the moment, there is only one basketball series that deserves to be supported, and that is NBA 2K.

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