Now we get it - this is that whole "next generation" thing we keep hearing so much about. The newest hardwood hoops sim from 2K Sports is simply the sweetest looking and sounding b-ball game we've ever played, the kind that makes people stop what they're doing and watch in wonder when it's on the screen (assuming, that is, you've finally dropped some cash on an HDTV). It may not be perfect, but any faults can be forgiven because, well, it's just so damn pretty you can't stay mad for long.
From the moment it dropped into our Xbox 360, we were floored by the visuals. Player movements and mannerisms are almost as lifelike as those of their real world alter egos. OK, so up close some of the guys look a little, um, disturbing (did Steve Nash have some bad plastic surgery in the offseason?), but they sure do run, move, and shoot like real cagers. Yes, sadly, there's some inevitable "gliding" going on at times - not to mention some weird running-in-place animation when invisible walls are hit - but the rock-solid gameplay renders mild annoyances unimportant.
The arenas are alive like nothing we've ever seen before - it's truly the most living, breathing audience ever. Members of the crowd mill around, team-specific mascots interact with the attendees (by the way, just what the heck is that thing in Miami supposed to be?), and coaches and benchwarmers react to the action on the court realistically based on the situation - crunchtime baskets get big ups, while mid-period layups barely garner notice. Hell, we almost tried to buy a couple of $9 beers from a vendor. Even the courts are spectacular visual feats, reflecting the player shadows, wraparound scoreboards, and rotating billboards as if you were sitting in the stands.
Controlling the action on the court is based on two main tenets - the Shot Stick and Isomotion. In theory, the X button also handles shooting, but there were plenty of occasions where we had to mash that thing a few times before our guys would finally take it to the hoop. The Stick can be tricky (especially for those who aren't vets of the series), but ultimately it is the finest way to get those points on the scoreboard. Utilizing Isomotion is the only path to true domination, since it'll let you crossover with Kobe, half-spin with D-Wade, and hop-step with Stevie Franchise. Just like the Shot Stick, it'll take some time to master, but it's a necessity if you're looking to win some championships offline or on Xbox Live.
Speaking of Live, 2K Sports continues its tradition of online excellence this year, especially the custom league options with accompanying web sites that totally kick the ass of any other competitors. The Dynasty, er, Association mode is also ridiculously deep, almost to the point of setting the arena maintenance plans. Wanna-be GM's get to hire staff, assign practice schedules for non-gamedays (we can hear Allen Iverson screaming "Practice?!?!" all the way from here), and try almost futilely to execute a trade in the salary-cap addled NBA of today.
While other game modes like Streetball and 24:7 Next (a single-player tale starring a self-created character) offer decent enough diversions, the heart and soul of NBA 2K7 lies in the NBA buildings across the country and the hands of the best players in the world. This year, there's no finer hoops experience to be had on the 360.