NBA Live has had more downs than ups so far this generation. With NBA live 14,15, and 16 receiving terrible reviews – and overall bad sales – it’s safe to say that the Live team are on notice. Once you compare them to the competition, NBA 2K, from the animations to the character models, Live just couldn’t cut it. Most gamers who’ve played NBA Live 16 thought that the EA Sports team would turn it around, but the game’s first month sales were atrocious. However, there were some good things like the Pro Aim mode called “LIVE RUN”, which I thought was very promising.
Back in the day, NBA Live was king, but we also had other choices within the basketball genre. Over the years, these games died out, and after NBA LIVE Elite 11 was canceled, NBA 2K took over and never looked back. Now in 2018, NBA 2K is the standard for most sports games and NBA Live 18 is playing catch up. Fast forward to current day, the NBA Live team brought sports fans a hefty demo attempting to prove that they can compete, but also to show those of us who have been burned in the past, improvement in their product. NBA Live 18 is officially out and let’s just say the foundation is there and it’s a great start.
Gameplay & Graphics Woes
The Foundation is Laid Out But Could Use Some Improvements
Taking some time off always seems to help push the development teams to try new things or improve on proven formulas. With a two year hiatus, the gameplay shows the most notable improvement. NBA Live 18 isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a step up. NBA Live’s player movement isn’t perfect, but it’s getting better. On the offensive side of things, dribbling and pulling off moves are pretty easy to do. They are very fluid and that’s a plus for most gamers who love to break ankles. New animations were added for more natural body movements when heading for the basket and attempting dunks or layups. Fluidity is way more prevalent on the offensive side of the ball than defense. The defensive side of the ball is where I’m seeing a lot of stiffness. The L2 cheese that plagued 2K this generation has revealed itself in NBA Live. It’s not a huge downer since in NBA Live 16 there wasn’t any defense at all. At least now you can stop a player from going toward the hole so easily.
Passing the ball around the court just doesn’t feel smooth. Balls float sometimes or just flat out miss there marks even though you are using direct passing. If you miss too many jump shots, it’s extremely hard to regain your momentum and hit a shot. With my career mode player, I went cold often and no matter what I did I would miss shots quite often. Sometimes I would be so cold that I wouldn’t even be able to make an easy break away layup. If I was was hot and killing it on the floor, my jumper did not want to miss. The infamous shot meter is back and improved for better accurate timing. The meter is color coded with green being the ultimate goal point. Everything from shooting a contested shot, driving and kicking, to good passes are rewarded with grades during the game and are added into a player score shown at the end of the game.
When it comes to graphics, it’s a “glass half full” predicament. In some ways, the faces of the players have gotten a lot better detailed, but some still need work. The basketball courts and environments have gained way more of the dev team’s attention. The players this year look closer to their real life counter parts and that gives me hope that they can build upon the character models. The Street Ball courts look and feel amazing. The atmosphere and commentary all give you a real feel for each venue that you play in. When it comes to playing with big men, NBA Live falls short with animations and lack physics when you block a shot. Sometimes on the defensive end, the game displays wonky animations of players that seem unrealistic at times. Overall, there’s good and bad in the gameplay department for NBA Live 18 but for the most part, the gameplay has improved. What is there can definitely be a foundation to work from in the next few titles.
Presentation & Commentary
One thing that NBA Live can tip it’s hat on is presentation. From the small, but competent, soundtrack to the roar of the crowds, presentation for NBA Live 18 is top notch and definitely competes with NBA 2K18. Jalen Rose gives players need to know stats, highlights, and also fills you in on what player is cold during the half time show. In regards to commentary, Jalen Rose isn’t my cup of tea, but for the most part, it still works and easily beats out the competition. During league games, commentary is well done, but it lacks interesting dialogue. This can also be said for the WNBA mode. The commentary is lazy and doesn’t mention any of the player’s names. There are too many one liners that get redundant after playing multiple matches. In The One/MyCareer mode, EA has done a fantastic job bringing street ball to life. Every real life court looks detailed and doesn’t have the cartoonish look of NBA 2K. Playing in places like the The Drew League, Dykeman, and Rucker Park really pulls you into the street ball atmosphere. The Streets is where NBA Live 18 shines the most graphically. I just wish the feeling that I got from playing in the streets transferred into playing In the League.
The it comes to sports games, competent game modes are probably the top 5 things that players demand. In this day and age, most gamers don’t just play versus matches. With franchises like FIFA and Madden, deep ultimate team and franchise modes, are usually expected day one. Live is following that trend with Franchise Mode, Ultimate Team, and Head to Head matches on day one. Last year, FIFA was the first out of the big sports franchises to add a career mode, which pleased sports fans globally. This year, Madden 18 did the same with The Longshot. This year, NBA Live is following the steps of its predecessors with a game mode called The One. Another revered mode that EA added this year is all about the WNBA. This is the first time that the Women’s National Basketball Association would be featured in a video game. This is a big deal for female basketball players and female sports lovers in general. Even though some of these new modes are well intended, they are lacking substance and depth, but we’ll get to that later.
The League Vs The Streets
The EA team has finally given us a MyCareer-styled mode with some depth in the form of The One. The One is a career mode that focuses on two aspects of basketball – The League and The Streets. Both work hand in hand to develop your created player into what you strive to be. The mode starts off with creating your character, which is very limited if you don’t use the NBA Live companion app, before ultimately leading you to The Streets. In The Streets, your created character plays approximately 5 street ball games and becomes a “comeback kid” type of figure who’s ultimately drafted to the NBA. The Streets is where I feel NBA Live 18 shines brightest.
Within The One, players can create different archetypes and open different traits to customize their players. The trait system is what sets this game apart from others. In the trait system, you can only have 3 active traits at a time and at different levels the trait slots will unlock. Traits are categorized into offense, defense, and miscellaneous. You can only use them in The League or The Streets. Each trait has a second or third tier and also require you to do certain things to unlock them. Unlike previous titles, Live 18 shows you exactly what you have to do to unlock each tier, which is helpful. Players can also receive something called Hype throughout this mode which helps with unlocking higher ranked loot crates. Loot crates are split into 2 tiers when it comes to Hype, The Streets, and The League. Both carry their own hype which means players have to spend time in both modes to unlock all of the crates. The loot crate system I feel is easy and to the point. Each crate has a certain amount of currency you must spend to receive one item out of the crate at random. You can also check each crate to see whats inside. Once you build up enough hype, players can unlock loot crates and gain access to items for their players. Some loot crates can only be unlocked with only one hype total and others will only open with level.
Within The Streets there’s mini modes that give gamers more things to do. The Street’s live events are a series of 5v5 games that give players the opportunity to gain in-game currency and to open up special loot crates featuring accessories. The live events change daily and also give the game more replay ability. Pro Aim Tour shows off your Hype Brother story with a guy named Nick. In Pro Aim you and Nick participate in different street tournaments around the United States in some of the most historically accurate basketball courts. From the Drew League to Dykeman, players face stiff competition form NBA players in a 5 game tournament. The goal is to win each tournament to receive special loot crates. Within each game, players can also do objectives which open up a secondary loot crate with special items for your player. From loot crates, players can receive anything from new celebration animations to shoes and jerseys. There’s also five throwback challenges within each tournament which allow you to open up exclusive crate items for that specific challenge. Live Run’s Pick Up is nothing more than a 5v5 mode for your The One players. It’s fun to get four of your friends together or just pick up some randoms and play against other players. Modes within The League are so much fun to do and for me gives this game some soul. Along the way, you can gain lots of in-game currency which is easily attainable by just playing the game. One problem I do have with the loot system is that it does seem that I upgraded my player way too easily. In 2 weeks of playing, I got to a 97 in almost half that time.
Once your player gets drafted to the NBA and you finally start a game in the The League, the soul that The Street made you feel wears off immediately. After that, it begins to feels like more of a chore to play through. Playing in The League feels more like playing Franchise Mode than an actual NBA player’s story in the making. The phone conversations with reporters, your agent, and random NBA players don’t seem to do much except give you objectives to receive hype and currency. As a side note, I had some issues with NBA Live 18 crashing due to some of these conversation within the The League, but after a few patches the issue was fixed.
The WNBA, Franchise Mode, & Ultimate Team
The Fly Over Modes
The WNBA makes it’s debut this year with NBA Live 18, but it’s inclusion falls quite short. The fundamentals of basketball shine with the ladies and its more about the “X’s and O’s” rather than the grit and glamour of dunking and isolation basketball – which is prevalent in the NBA. That said, it’s also where you notice NBA Live’s ball physics errors; gameplay down falls creep into the open and it’s disheartening. Most annoyingly, there’s no Season Mode for the WNBA. With such a monumental mode being the first of it’s kind in sports video games, the Live team should have made it more of a priority by adding some depth and not leaving the mode so bare bones and unfinished.
The WNBA additions aren’t the only things here that are half-baked. NBA Live 18’s Ultimate Team mode should be much stronger than what it is. It’s boring and doesn’t possess anything worthy of putting time into. This is troublesome since EA Sports titles usually have fantastic Ultimate Teams modes. FIFA and Madden have much deeper modes with loads of content and better situational play. The franchise mode is lacking in customization as well. You can’t edit existing teams, players, nor can you create your own.
The Wrap Up
I have always wanted both NBA 2K and NBA Live to do well in the sports gaming market. Competition is always great for the consumer, and without it in any genre, can be detrimental in many ways. Every game needs another to push it and fight for our time and money. I can confidently say that with NBA Live 18, they have finally found their footing and it seems they are figuring it out. Don’t get me wrong, Live 18 still has problems from its gameplay woes to bare bones Ultimate Team and Franchise modes, but NBA Live 18 does have a lot of bright points that they can build upon moving forward. The One has potential, but within that mode, EA really needs to flesh out league play and give players much more to do. The Streets is where this game shines and the traits and loot crate system are very well done and could improve the next time around. The lack of a virtual currency option is also a huge welcome to players who just want to play the game the old fashioned way. It felt good to play pick up games day one and not have players with crazy overalls because they had money to buy virtual currency.
Overall, NBA Live 18 is a playable basketball game that’s worth giving a shot this year. It may not be perfect, but it’s a start of something greater to come. And that should be great for all basketball game fans.