November 17, 2006 - It can be tricky to make a good game even better. If you're trying to improve on the best there is, it's much harder. Take NBA 2K7, for example. Easily the best basketball title released this year (and arguably of recent years as well), NBA 2K7 upped the gameplay, the AI and the number of options that players could access. Not really a lot of room for improvement, right? Enter the PS3 version, which provides a new way to fire off free throws and places much more emphasis on the controller and the shot stick.
One thing that 2K7 spent a ton of work on for this year's title is the Signature Shooting style for every single player. Everything that goes into a player's movements for a jumper or a low post move has been accurately captured, ranging from little hops when a player lands to how they turn their feet during a shot. Whether it's Paul Pierce's lingering follow through or the quick snap from Steve Nash, the detail that was put into capturing the individual quirks of every player as they take a shot is simply incredible. What's more, the detail carries over to free throw shooting, where every player's particular shooting rituals and stroke is taken into account.
Now, with the other versions of 2K7, you relied on the right analog stick to make your free throws, which involved timing the release of that stick with the release of the person at the line. Slower shooters, like Shaq, would require a much longer hold on the stick to accurately make a bucket. What makes the PS3 version of the game stand out is the reassignment of this feature to the SIXAXIS Controller. No longer will you rely on stick work to make free throws; instead, you'll pull the SIXAXIS back towards you, and then push it forward at the right time to release the ball from your player's hand. In effect, you're "physically" making a free throw, and you may even find yourself gripping the controller in the same manner that you would if you were shooting the ball itself. While you always needed to pay attention to when you released a shot before (too early or too late versus a perfect release), you now have to contend with how exactly you wind up pushing the controller forward as well. A slight twist to your hand in either direction may place some extra rotation on the ball that you don't want or send it sailing to the left or right of the rim.
Now, just because you're physically moving the controller to take the shot doesn't mean that you don't have to pay attention to the players at the line. In fact, you have to know how each player on your team shoots even more this time around, because you'll need to hold the controller back much more before you push forward. Fortunately, good free throw shooters have a larger window that they can cleanly make a basket in compared to average ones. You may also wind up waiting a bit longer before you fire off a shot if you're playing with against human opponents. Defenders can shake their SIXAXIS controller in an effort to rattle the timing of the athlete taking the free throw shot. There are still some mild balancing issues with using the Controller to influence a shot on defense, particularly if you happen to be the visiting team. (There's no way that the visiting team should have as much influence as they do, unless they've got a massive lead during a game, and even then it's a stretch.) But for the most part, the new focus on the SIXAXIS is an excellent use of the motion sensing controller. It may take some extra practice during the game, but once you've got it down, you'll love the feature.
Although the motion sensitivity isn't used at any other point during the game, I'm sure players accustomed to the right analog stick are wondering if they can use that instead to fire off their free throws. Well, I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can't switch off the SIXAXIS feature for free throws during game situations (you will still use the right analog stick to fire off free throws during 24/7 mode, however). While you may not be able to use the right stick, you may find yourself compensating for the loss at the free throw line by using it more for the shot stick functionality. In fact, because you'll probably pay more attention to how players shoot free throws, you'll find the shot stick to be much easier because you'll learn their timing for jump shots.