College Hoops 2K7 Review
In all honesty, 2K Sports has slid a bit since producing some of the most memorable sports titles in recent memory. Their last few installments haven't quite been up to snuff, and unfortunately, EA hasn't exactly been burning up the charts, either. In other words, sports fans are no longer selecting between which football, baseball, basketball, or hockey game is better, they're simply forced to choose the version that is...well, the least mediocre. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that we entered into our play time with College Hoops 2K7 for the PS3, as we desperately hoped we hadn't gotten our hands on yet another ho-hum b-ball title. Thankfully, we weren't disappointed, although 2K still has a ways to go before it reclaims its former glory.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the graphics are the least impressive part of the game. The players maintain this shiny, plastic-y veneer throughout all close-ups - which is a bizarre visual we've noticed in many next-gen sports titles - and there's a good amount of clipping going on. There's some solid detail and color, though, and most fans won't find a lot to seriously complain about. For the most part, the court looks very much as it would on the TV, with the exception of some of the sillier graphical glitches and inconsistencies, so that's a definite plus. For a PS3 game, it's not stellar, but it works. We're just wondering when a development team will come along and offer some refinements and polish, but when we say "polish," we are not referring to the characters. They're shiny enough, thanks.
The sound is slightly better, complete with a decent soundtrack (although not great for non-hip-hop fans) and a complete set of excellent sound effects. The squeak of the sneakers, thud of the ball against the wood and rim, charismatic broadcast crew, and sharp menu and other off-the-court effects are very well implemented. The crowd really gets into the game as well, which only adds to the immersion factor. There are several miscues, however, as we heard a "...and Cincinnati will get the ball back." It may sound like a normal call, but sadly, we were playing as UConn at the time. The announcers are frequently behind the plays as well, which can get pretty comical during a fast-paced, run ‘n gun game. But these are only rare occurrences and thus, minor complaints, so don't believe for a second that College Hoops doesn't have some great sound. It's there, it's just not as consistent as we would've liked.
The key to a top-notch sports game almost always revolves around control, and College Hoops offers some of the best control for a basketball game we've seen in quite some time. Whether you're attempting a spin move, crossover, lead pass, or massive dunk, you generally feel as if you're in full control of the player. You do have the option of utilizing the "shot stick" (right analog) or the square button for shooting the ball, and you also have the option of using the R2 button along with the left analog for specially crafted crossovers. Yes indeed, options are always good. Getting tied up under the hoop or getting hemmed in along the sidelines is problematic, but then again, it's problematic in real life, too. And the AI complements that good control, as setting and calling defenses, issuing orders to specific players in terms of defensive pressure, etc. is all easily accomplished and reflected nicely on the court.
Of course, speaking of options, there are plenty of game modes to select from. You can either jump right into a quick game or even a tournament, or hone your skills by practicing free throws and fastbreaks, and playing dribble and shoot, knockout, and monkey in the middle. One of the best features is the "insta-NCAA tournament," where you can select your favorite team and go after the crown March Madness-style whenever you wish. This way, you don't have to go through an entire season to reach the popular and exciting 64-team tournament, which is a fantastic option for those of us who don't have the time to handle a full college season and thirty-some-odd basketball games. But for the truly hardcore, 2K Sports has you covered, too: it's called the Legacy mode, and it's got everything the fanatical fan could possibly ask for...and believe it or not, it's surprisingly accessible to boot.
You can take two routes with Legacy. You can go for the Career Legacy and choose from a certain set of small programs; once you've made your selection, you'll have to establish yourself as a winning coach before you can move up to bigger and more recognizable teams. In other words, you can't just leap on board the Gators; you're gonna have to start with a program like Alcorn State or Central Connecticut. But if you don't want to work quite that hard, you can always select Open Legacy, where you simply pick your favorite team and go to town. Both options have you deeply entrenched in the daily operations of a collegiate basketball team: hiring and firing coaches, recruiting, training, scheduling, and a brand new feature called "Hoopcast" that lets you really coach. You can check out the action, substitute players, and set the game plan from the bench, and while it's still more fun to actually play the game, it's a nice little option to have.
As for the action itself, most all games move at a great pace, lending the sport the excitement and unpredictability it deserves. When you fail, it's because you did something wrong (most times) and when you succeed, it's because you buckled down and performed admirably. You can't sit behind the three-point arc and bomb away all day, you can't crash the boards non-stop, you can't always go for the steal, you can't always press, and in general, you can't always do the same thing. And that's one of the first things we look for when grading a simulator- the existence of realism and zero video game eccentricities to exploit. A player's skills are nicely depicted on the court as well, as you'll usually fare better with the stars of the sport, and topping 10 points with a bench player is a tough task. The foundation of the gameplay, on the whole, is very, very good, from top to bottom.
But unfortunately, it doesn't end there. For whatever reason, there are several significant errors, and they can adversely influence the action on the court. For example, the shot stick is an erratic and seemingly trivial add-on that only serves to make the gameplay more difficult than it needs to be. You can't really master it to the point where it's any more accurate than simply pressing the square button, and during times of super-fast ballin', the shot stick is just annoying. It's also the only control that centers on the right analog stick, which can totally throw off your groove. On top of this, players have the outrageously frustrating tendency to miss lay-ups and two-foot jumpers with downright absurd frequency. In fact, there are times when your shooting percentage from two feet and twenty feet will be the same, and that's just plain wrong. The only good side to this is that the computer fails at the easy shots almost as often as you do. Almost.
There are also a few major technical issues. At one point when the ball went out of bounds, the game completely froze while our selected player fidgeted along the sidelines and the referee got stuck running into chairs along the sideline. We had to call a Time Out to get back to the game. There are also lengthy delays when the ball goes out of bounds, as the game strangely struggles to get back to the action. Then, during play, we watched as a player got stuck in a guarding pose and slid down the sideline away from the ball; we could only fix it by manually selecting him. This, along with the shooting inconsistency, drops this particular title significantly, and makes it more of a "good" game than a "great" game. It's too bad, because the presentation, depth, fun factor, and control is all there. But at least it's a step in the right direction for 2K Sports and Visual Concepts, so we're looking forward to the 2008 installment.
We're giving it the benefit of the doubt, simply because it really is a lot of fun (and that's what ultimately matters). College Hoops 2K7 has a lot going for it, including Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg along for the ride and a sharp presentation that captures the college basketball environment almost perfectly. The lip-synching for those anchormen is just horrid, but hey, you don't see it that often, and their voices play a major role in that aforementioned environment. The Legacy mode will satisfy even the most rabid fan, and those quick game and tournament modes will satisfy anyone who simply wants to pick it up and play. Yeah, there's some slowdown and other problems on the court, but they're not enough to kill the experience, which remains entertaining and worth the time.
To put it briefly- for college basketball fans, there's really no better option, even though it's hardly the best basketball game in history. College Hoops 2K7 isn't amazing enough to appeal to everyone, but it nails its target audience, and therefore, this production is a success.
4/26/2007 Ben Dutka