You really can't help but be impressed with what Visual Concepts has done over the years with the NBA 2K series. Even though the franchise has remained fundamentally the same year-after-year, with minor adjustments made to warrant the price tag each fall, the 2K series continues to be the go-to-game for basketball aficionados, especially when compared to EA's jaded Live series. But who needs a major makeover when you've got gameplay as authentic as this? Toss in some improved defensive AI, and a sprinkle of enhanced IsoMotion and you've got yourself one satisfying ball game.

If you pop in 2K7 expecting a complete revamp of the series, you'll be about as disappointed as the city of Toronto when Vince left the Raptors, and that wasn't pretty. That being said, 2K7 sports a few subtle improvements over its predecessor worth putting in the spotlight.

Take a look at the defence for example. You've got the play all mapped out in your head; you've got the ball in your hands; the lane is all yours and it's an easy drive to the basket for the J. Hey, if you can do it in NBA Live, what's to say you can't do it in 2K? You execute the play just as you did in your head and within the first five seconds the lanes close off, you're double teamed, and before you know it, you're down by two. If that scenario doesn't sound all that familiar, after playing 2K for a few minutes, it no doubt will.

That's right, 2K7 requires players to actually perform and execute real plays. I know, it's a wild concept; I mean, having to actually play a sport the way it's meant to be played sounds a bit frightening at first, but pump in the hours and you'll be pulling off give-and-goes, pick-and-rolls and handling the ball like the pros in no time.

Needless to say though, 2K7 isn't your average pick-up-and-play kind of game. Newcomers to the series especially are bound to be pulling their hair out handfuls at a time during the first few hours of play, but hard work and patience prevail, oh, and help from the tremendously deep control system doesn't hurt either. Like I mentioned above, this isn't a game about driving to the basket, it's a game about smart play calling, after all, that's what basketball is all about, and using the D-pad to effectively call plays will keep the lanes open and the scores high.

Luckily for you, simplified play calling isn't the only weapon at your disposal as you'll have access to an arsenal of moves to help beat the D. Along with the hop-step button, which you can use to spin, juke, and cross over around anyone unlucky enough to be guarding you, you have the superior shot stick at your disposal. Veteran 2K fans will feel right at home using the stick to pull off Kobe-esque jams, or if lay-ups are more up your alley, using the stick to navigate around defenders in mid-air. So if you're Lebron James driving to the left of the basket and Yao Ming is closing in ready to smack that ball of yours back into the 12th row, you can utilize the shot stick to choose which arm makes the shot to get around Yao's spaghetti-like arms. Granted, if Yao is on you like a pimple on prom night, there's not a whole lot you can do, shot stick or not.

Having these moves at your disposal is one thing, but actually getting the ball into the basket is a whole different story. Case in point, the number of easy point shots missed, and the occasional flopped dunk reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins' All-Star game blunder, if you can remember that far back. Missed opportunities like these peek their ugly heads up from time-to-time, but not as frequently as seen in NBA Live 07, where executing a successful dunk is as likely as getting the Grizzles to come back to Vancouver.

On the defensive side of things, you can now flick the stick in the direction of a pass to knock the ball away. It's actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. If you see a pass coming within reasonable distance of your player, just flick the stick in the direction of the ball, swipe it, and return it to the opposing team's basket. Simple enough, and after a few tries, getting that steal is easy peasy - almost too easy for its own good - resulting in some seriously inflated numbers at the end of a game.

But let's back up a second and talk about the features, something 2K has plenty of. You've got Quickplay, 24-7 mode (think NBA Street), tournaments-a-plenty and the deeper-than-ever-before Association mode. A deeper Association mode? Is that even possible? You bet. Scouting, which has always taken a back seat in sports titles, appears in the front row here, even going so far as to allow you to put players through drills before the draft. And if that's not enough for all you wannabe GMs out there, you can also hire coaches, set up practices (be sure to watch your players' fatigue levels) and perform just about any GM duty you can muster up in that head of yours.

If there's one thing that truly stands out in 2K it would have to be its stellar presentation. And I'm not just talking about the awesome half time show, dozens of customizable sliders - something 2K is known for - or the sharp menu designs, but the signature style moves. Player styles have been integrated into basketball games for years now, but never to this degree. Superstars from Kobe and Shaq, and even some lesser-knowns, have their own signature animations - how friggin cool is that? Of course, not every NBA player has been given the same preferential treatment. Don't expect to see T.J. Ford or Chris Duhon pulling off anything other than a generic jumper, but either way, NBA devotees will certainly cheer when they see their favourite players performing like their real-life counterparts.

Although not as much effort was put into the game's visuals this year, with the jump to next-gen happening in the 2K6 season, 2K7 hardly disappoints. Animations are superb, the frame rate is silky smooth and the player models are accurately rendered right down to the latest NBA hair styles. Jerseys swing about when players dash for the ball, and sweat, an often overused feature in next-gen sports titles (much like that often misused blur effect), has been toned down from last year's perspiration-fest.

While player models are top-notch for the most part, there are instances where the players look down-right atrocious. Take Steve Nash for example; he looks like the result of a plastic surgery session gone awry. And even some star players like Duncan have seen better days.

When all is said and done, NBA 2K7 is as well-rounded a basketball game as you can get. 2K7 really isn't a huge improvement over last year's effort, but I doubt anyone will bother to care. Lone players could spend months in the Association mode, and the online options are excellent for players wanting some human-on-human play. At the moment there's only one basketball series worth caring about, and that's NBA 2K.