We've all got our guilty pleasures. Perhaps it's that Kelly Clarkson song on your iPod (stupid, catchy chorus...), or maybe the complete first season of 7th Heaven is sitting in your television cabinet. Whatever your well-kept secret treats may be, we've discovered a new one in NBA '07 Featuring The Life: Vol. 2. The on-court action is pretty vanilla - especially compared with the other current-gen hoops titles - but, like an open bag of Doritos sitting next to you on the couch, the stories told in The Life keep us reaching in for more.
The "regular" part of the game - meaning the basketball played in exhibition, season and online matches - is a decent enough affair. While it won't win any visual achievement awards, and the lack of any in-game commentary is also curious (what, Mike Breen wasn't available?), it is an improvement on last year's effort. The controls aren't too bad, though, as it's easy to recognize the shot timing with the help of an indicator that'll hit green when it's the best moment to let 'er rip. And a white splooch will now flash at a player's feet to clue you in to a great shot or rebound opportunity.
Overall, though, much of the gameplay remains unpolished. For reasons unknown, dunkers will magically teleport from underneath the basket clear to the other side of the hardwood after a slam, but weirdly shimmy back to play defense when they miss. Fast breaks can turn sour quickly too, since there's a pause during the passing animation. There's nothing clunkier than seeing Kobe bust down the court, Showtime-style, when someone snags a defensive rebound, only to see him slow down mid-sprint when the ball arrives in his hands.
With all that said, The Life: Vol. 2 isn't really about the standard hoops fare - drop a copy into your PS2, put the popcorn in the microwave, then settle in for a tale worthy of its own HBO show. In the "Life" mode, you lead parallel lives, taking control of two characters who, naturally, have got lots of problems dogging them as they try to make it in the NBA. Right off the bat there are conflicts introduced - an evil, win-at-all-costs owner, a sick child, a potential career-threatening injury, just for starters - and it's your job to help your fellas get back on their feet. Go on, try not to get hooked - we dare you.
As the story unfolds through surprisingly slick cutscenes, there are plenty of short basketball-based missions for your heroes to accomplish. Take care of business on the court by scoring the winning basket and helping preserve a lead, and you'll move on. Don't fret failing, since a quick and easy retry will show right up. We won't give too much away, but you can rest assured that you and rival baller Big W's paths will eventually collide, with plenty of good times along the way.
Even if The Life isn't perfect, what with gobs of unbearably long load times, it's a unique twist that no other hoops title offers. So it doesn't have much, if any, true replay value - that's OK. It's compelling, and the best part of a game that is otherwise mostly overshadowed by its counterparts.