To mark the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, we’re taking a look back at every game in the series with retrospectives and other fun content! This also includes re-running some features from our 20th Anniversary celebrations, with a few revisions. Whether you’re a long-time basketball gamer who grew up with NBA Live and are keen on taking a trip down memory lane, or you’re new to the series and want to learn about its history, we hope that you enjoy celebrating the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live here at the NLSC! Today, it’s a retrospective of NBA Live 07.
After NBA Live 06 proved to be a shaky start to a new generation, long-time fans of the series hoped it would bounce back with NBA Live 07. PC gamers who had yet to experience the disappointment of the new gen version were also hoping that their port would remain a quality product. Unfortunately, there would be disappointment all around. NBA Live 07 is still widely considered to be the worst game in the series, and there are plenty of reasons why it has that reputation. Although it corrected course by addressing the lack of depth, the on-court product is generally considered to be very subpar. Let’s take a look back at one of the most infamous releases in the series.
I’ll begin with the last gen/PC version. As I noted in my NBA Live 06 retrospective, while the Xbox 360 version was a bust, the PC version was actually one of the best all-around games in the series. Unfortunately, with the launch of the 360, the last gen version was no longer a priority, which in turn affected PC gamers as it was the port the platform continued to receive. To the credit of the last gen dev team, they were still trying to make a good game and implement some of the creative ideas that had been devised for the new gen version. The result was a game that had some decent new features, but a myriad of problems when it came to the on-court experience.
There were some good ideas and improvements, however. Freestyle Superstars was revamped with expanded controls and two tiers of moves. There were now Star and Superstar level moves, which separated the elite players from the very good players, while still allowing the latter to have Freestyle Superstars movesets. Even among the elite players, it allowed the game to more accurately represent differing skill levels at both ends of the floor. It was now also possible to toggle movesets during gameplay, which allowed us to take advantage of all of a player’s moves and abilities. This was done by holding the FSS trigger and pressing the left stick button.
These controls also activated the X-Factor ability. The X-Factor mechanic was a logical extension of the Freestyle Superstars concept, representing key role players (the proverbial “X-Factors”) who could step up in key situations. By keeping an X-Factor player in rhythm – generally by racking up stats and shooting well with them – they were able to temporarily gain a Star level FSS moveset, specifically the one that they were closest to qualifying for. It was a good idea, and another step in the right direction as far as expanding player control and differentiation. As with Freestyle Superstars in general, it’s been done better since, but it was a commendable effort.
NBA Live 07 also saw some changes to the controls, and here, the results were mixed. Rather than the face buttons, FSS moves were now performed by holding the trigger and moving the right stick. This allowed for some more flexibility, but less accuracy if you weren’t precise with your stick movement. Pro hops and power dribbles were performed by holding the right stick up. This was due to the adoption of three shoot buttons: one for jumpshots, one for layups, and one for dunks. A new touch pass control was also implemented, making it easier to quickly swing the ball around. There was a learning curve involved, but the new controls were at least functional.
Of course, it quickly became apparent that three shooting buttons was overkill. Many gamers already felt that having separate shoot and dunk/layup buttons was too much, and the fact that future games have adopted a single shoot button along with sprint as a modifier is proof that it’s the preferred approach. Three was definitely too many, and it’s very easy to forget about the separate dunk and layup buttons when you go back and play NBA Live 07. For some reason, having three different pass buttons works so much better. I remember being sceptical of that because of the three shoot buttons in NBA Live 07, but three pass buttons have succeeded where three shoot buttons failed.
Unfortunately, the last gen version also copied the new gen approach to shooting free throws, replacing the reliable old T-Meter with the down-up right stick method. Not only did it feel imprecise, it was extremely buggy, as sometimes down-up wouldn’t work and you had to move the stick left-to-right instead. Fortunately, it was possible to have the player shoot automatically by pressing the jumpshot button, and trust in a dice roll based on their free throw rating; a feature that was also added on Xbox 360. That’s what I tended to do, as the right stick shooting just felt too cumbersome. Some new animations were added, and there were some slight graphical improvements.
Intensity and momentum mechanics were another interesting idea. Going on a run built momentum, and just as in real life, a team played better and was difficult to stop when they were clicking and on a roll. Calling a timeout was a way of cooling a team off and stifling momentum, which was a realistic touch. The level of intensity in a game determined whether the teams were playing loose, or locked in and playing their hardest. This was tied into the new rivalry mechanic, with teams having designated rivals based on their history. Whereas most games didn’t reach peak intensity until the fourth quarter of a tight contest, rivalry games were heated from the opening tip.
That’s where the good news ends, though. Gameplay in NBA Live 07 was hampered by several issues, notably fatigue and substitution bugs. Players didn’t tire, and thus the CPU wouldn’t sub them out unless they got into foul trouble. The lack of sliders and options for fatigue and substitutions made it impossible to fix ourselves, and even when the official patch added that functionality, we had to edit fatigue ratings for better results. On PC, the direct pass and switch text labels were incorrect, which led to confusion. CPU strategies tended to be cheap and generic. Overall, the PC and last gen versions of NBA Live 07 aren’t much fun, or a good representation of basketball.
Dynasty mode received a few enhancements, expanding the team staff to include an assistant head coach, while also adding a rumour mill, chemistry, progressive fatigue, off-day events, and team rotations. They didn’t all work as well as we would’ve liked though, especially the team rotations screen which replaced the usual reorder roster function. This made it impossible to set a specific bench order, and even changing the starters was fiddlier than it needed to be. It was nice to be able to assign minutes – even if it was a percentage rather than an exact number – but due to the substitution logic, it didn’t work very well anyway. They were good ideas, shakily implemented.
Sadly, good intentions and even an official patch for the PC version weren’t enough to make NBA Live 07 a worthy successor to NBA Live 06. The PC version also had a habit of crashing upon exiting a game, an issue that could only be fixed by reinstalling the game until it disappeared. Between the bugs, lacklustre gameplay, and problems with some of the new features in Dynasty, it was a flawed release. It was as moddable as its predecessors and we did our best with the game, as it saw some great releases including the Supreme Update Mod. It was disappointing and a sign that last gen was on its last legs, but in some ways the Xbox 360 version was actually even worse.
Indeed, it’s the Xbox 360 version of NBA Live 07 that earned the game its reputation as the worst in the series. Once again, I’ll begin with some positives. Following the barebones approach of NBA Live 06 on Xbox 360, NBA Live 07 would implement Freestyle Superstars, Dynasty mode, All-Star Weekend, and other missing features. Right out of the gate, this made it a more well-rounded game that was more or less on par with the last gen version in terms of depth and features. Visually, it was quite impressive for its time. It also implemented better foot planting to reduce skating, and improved procedural awareness, with players watching and tracking the basketball.
Freestyle Control had a slightly different approach on Xbox 360. Instead of Superstar and Star level movesets, players were either Level 1, 2, or 3 Freestyle Superstars, depending on their ratings. Moves were performed with the FSS modifier and face buttons as in NBA Live 06, but movesets could be changed on the fly. The X-Factor system is nowhere to be found, but Level 3 Superstars can get “In the Zone”, which gives them access to spectacular moves. It achieves its goal as far as differentiating players, though it was geared towards performing highlight plays and overpowering moves rather than being a balanced and realistic approach to expanded player control.
The Temple was retained with an updated design, as was the alibility to shoot around while the game loads. Historical content was still absent however, and while the All-Star Weekend made its debut on the platform, the Freestyle Challenge didn’t make the cut (though that admittedly wasn’t a tremendous loss). Thankfully, issues such as the substitution and fatigue bugs from the last gen version aren’t present on 360. Player introductions were also flashy and stylised with slow motion effects, though it’s a bit too “video game” for my tastes. Signature jumpshot animations also officially debuted in the series, and many of them look quite accurate for a game released in 2006.
However, while next gen NBA Live 07 avoided some of the pitfalls of the last gen/PC version, brought back important staples, and introduced some nifty features, it did have issues of its own. The new foot planting technology did reduce skating, but made the players less responsive with exaggerated movements. It’s too easy to get backcourt violations on inbounds passes, and there’s a slight delay going into jumpshots, which also feel a bit jerky. There are some awkward dunk and layup animations, mostly in the speed they play out, the way they’re transitioned into, and where the players take off from. They look slightly better in slow motion, but rather ugly in real time.
When I go back and play NBA Live 07 on 360, it’s not quite as bad as I remember it, though that’s not to say it’s good. In some ways, it did improve on NBA Live 06 next gen, and without the fatigue and substitution bugs, it has a better flow than the last gen version. The CPU’s strategy is about the same though, and the stiffness along with the exaggerated movements and very wonky dunk and layup animations do detract from the experience. The three shoot button approach doesn’t help matters, either. Paint play is quite frustrating, as it’s too easy to miss dunks, as well as clip through the backboard on inside shots and turn the ball over after hitting the back of the glass.
Mind you, that was an improvement on the build that I played at the NBA Live 07 community event. In that early build – which also didn’t have nets on the rims yet – players would often jump away from the basket on dunks and layups, only to warp or fly backwards through the backboard and finish at the rim. Speaking of that event, it was my first community day and very exciting to take part in, though we didn’t get enough hands-on time. As such, it stung when we were blamed for the issues with the game, but there wasn’t enough time to see everything in-depth, to say nothing of any subsequent changes in the build. Nevertheless, as my first event, it was still special.
EA Sports’ new deal with ESPN saw the debut of ESPN Integration in NBA Live 07. In the last gen version, it amounted to some ESPN branding in the stats menus and other Dynasty mode screens, such as the mock Draft Board and league news. On Xbox 360, it also included radio content from ESPN. The original plan was to have NBA Live serve as a hub for real NBA news and content, so that you could receive updates about the league while you played. It’s something that EA would try to build upon in subsequent games, but with the rise of YouTube and social media, the idea never really took off. Nevertheless, it marked the beginning of the ESPN partnership.
There are some other features worth noting. NBA Live 07 was the first title to offer the ability to redo the Draft upon starting a new Dynasty game. The only drawback was that players who hadn’t ended up being signed weren’t included in the roster, so holding the Draft again resulted in fictional players being placed in the league. It was also possible to edit dunk packages in the last gen version, and even preview the dunks and layups that were included in each set of animations. These are examples of how the developers were trying to innovate and improve NBA Live with minute details and nifty features, even if some of their ideas and tech weren’t panning out.
At the end of the day though, the game’s shortcomings stand out more than a cool detail here and there. Although there are sliders that can be used to tweak NBA Live 07’s gameplay, the overall experience is hampered by the way players move and transition into animations, issues with how many of the animations look, and ideas like three button shooting that just didn’t work out as well as planned. If you accept the game is flawed and try to compensate, then NBA Live 07 is playable, but that’s far from an ideal scenario. It’s no less sophisticated than its contemporaries, but it just doesn’t feel right on the sticks, and that’s the lasting impression it leaves gamers with.
Running through a couple of my pet peeves, the way the commentary breaks the fourth wall at times is annoying. It wasn’t the first time in the series that announcers referred to it being a video game, quipping about not knowing the controls when a mistake was made, but I no longer found it amusing. Given the learning curve of the new shooting controls and tendency to go out of bounds or over and back due to the motion system, the lines making fun of your errors now felt obnoxious. As I noted before, there are some cool effects on the player introductions, but they don’t capture the feel of an NBA broadcast. Things like that really break the immersion for me.
Getting back to some interesting trivia about NBA Live 07, the game features the synthetic basketball that was introduced prior to, and scrapped halfway through, the 2007 season. In fact, we (and other sites) were asked to pull a sneak preview that EA Sports sent us because it accidentally showed off the new ball before it was officially unveiled. These days, details like an outdated ball would be patched, as was the case with NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K14 when Adam Silver became the commissioner and his signature was added to the ball. Such updates were rare back then however, and so both versions of NBA Live 07 capture the short tenure of the synthetic basketball.
Is NBA Live 07 the worst game in the series? It’s still a candidate, especially for the way both versions of the game were disappointing, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s the undisputed rock bottom. It is playable, and the depth of the 360 version was a huge improvement on its predecessor. These days, I’m more inclined to nominate NBA Live 14 as holding the dubious distinction of being the worst NBA Live title, as it lacks the depth and feels even stiffer on the sticks than NBA Live 07. At the same time, neither version of NBA Live 07 is a game that I feel inclined to go back and play. All those years ago, I preferred to stick with the PC version of NBA Live 06.
All things considered, NBA Live 07 still ranks among the worst games in the series. It’s a contender for the worst of the worst and holds that distinction for many hoops gamers, but a couple of the games from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One era have been just as rough, and arguably even more disappointing. If nothing else though, NBA Live 07 continued the series’ fall from grace, and despite some good ideas, failed to live up to expectations. A lot of gamers still remained loyal to the brand, especially as NBA 2K wasn’t available on PC yet, but EA’s grip on the market was weakening. It was clear that there was still much work to be done in NBA Live 08.