NOTE: This is a combined review of the NHL and NBA games from 2K Sports. They are games on multiple platforms, but this review was conducted on a Sony PlayStation 3. The ratings given are for the NBA2K7 game only.
Sports games on videogames consoles have, we think, become an interesting proposition over the years. One of the first, an ice hockey game on Sega’s Mega Drive in the early 90s, was a superb example that was so good, with ‘pick up and play’ controls and fast, fun action, most players had no idea about ice hockey but played it and loved it just the same. It was a game that appealed to hardcore sports fans and the most casual of gamers, and that?s quite an achievement with a game based on such a relatively low profile sport.
In the intervening 15 years or more, sports videogames have mostly become more sophisticated, better looking and, well, much more complicated, frankly. Every button on the controller gets used: one way on defence, to do something different on offence, often again in a different situation, and if you’re not used to the system, it can be pretty confusing. Along with that, the simulation aspect of gaming often means that you need to have a fairly good idea about the real-life sport, if not actually be a good player of that sport, to really get the most out of the games and achieve success.
So, playing the latest incarnations of these basketball and ice hockey sports games from 2K Games is an invigorating experience. On the one hand, they’re both incredible simulations of their real-life counterpart sports, with extremely realistic character movement, spot-on ball (or puck) physics and deep ‘franchise’ (team management) modes that would keep you busy for a decade. But on the other, the design is so good that anyone, sports fan or not, can pick up the controller and start playing effectively right away. More importantly, they can have fun right away. Using just two buttons and one of the sticks on the controller, you can be up and running, passing, shooting and dodging round the defence in seconds and you’ll swear it looks as real as a TV broadcast.
One element nailed perfectly in both games is the default ‘camera’ – basically, how you, the player, views the action. In NHL2K7 you’re close enough to the ice that you feel really involved, but giving you enough ‘space’ to see what’s going on, the camera handling in the game adds to the excitement and the commentary (or music, if you choose to switch the game callers off) completes the experience perfectly.
Another great element of both games is the inclusion of less serious game play modes – for example, in NHL2K7, you can go for the full-blown stadium experience of the professional ice hockey game, with fast, brutal on-ice moves, reactive audiences, great commentary and all the team management options available to you on the fly, or you can choose a more sedate, but equally fun, version of the game. ‘Mini Rink’, for instance, makes the game a 2-on-2 (plus goalie and ref) for a quick down and dirty showdown instead, or there’s the ‘Pond Hockey’ version, with a full size rink but only 4-on-4, fewer rules (or maybe the ref’s just taking it easier too!)Ã‚ and a more sedate pace. Both these modes exhibit the great physics and player animations of the ‘full’ game, but are great places to start if you don’t want to jump right into the more structured professional competition. The basketball game, NBA2K7 does this equally well.
On the downside, really hardcore aficionados of the sport will be disappointed with certain elements – the lacklustre attempts at defence by your own team mates & too many layups in the basketball, or the ease of scoring with the ‘one-timer’ in hockey – and the motion-sensitive control options with the PlayStation 3 ‘SIXAXIS’ controller are really still more gimmick than true innovation or enhancement but these are relatively unimportant issues.
What 2K games have done here is faithfully recreate two exciting sports that will appeal both to complete beginners and serious sports enthusiasts at the same time. They have all the game play and accessibility that made the old games so much fun but, scratch the surface and there’s an immersive, accurate sports simulation beneath, ready to suck you in and keep you playing the whole year round.