When NBA Live made its next generation debut on the PS4 and Xbox One with NBA Live 14, it was a complete disaster.
It was followed up with another disappointment in Live 15, and a slight improvement with Live 16. But after Live 16’s horrendous sales numbers, EA decide to pull the plug on the series again. After taking a year off, and using almost two years of development time, EA is trying to resurrect the series with NBA Live 18.
And to get fans excited before release, they also decided to give everyone a demo to dive into. With a bit of hype and a lot of hope, I jumped the NBA Live 18 demo without being sure of what exactly to expect.
Setting up your “The One” mode player and getting right into a Drew League game, I noticed right away that the graphics and presentation have received a substantial upgrade. This is especially apparent once you get into the 5 on 5 Warriors at Cavs game 7 rematch. The ESPN presentation is top notch. The announcers seem to be very aware of what’s going on in the game. There is a good amount of individual player commentary as well.
What’s also noticeable is the crowd sound and reaction. The crowd sounds great and knows when to cheer and when to boo. This has always been a strength of the series and it doesn’t disappoint in Live 18.
The overall graphical experience of the game is hit or miss. But I believe there are more hits than misses. Some of the player models and faces just don’t seem to match up with their real life counterparts. But the good news is most of them are pretty darn close. LeBron’s model and face is spectacular. The jerseys are also very nice this year. You get a sense of real movement with the cloth not seen in the most recent NBA Live games.
The colors and lighting of the uniforms and courts really show off the NBA Live team’s ability when it comes to art. The game is just nice to look at.
Where I think this game will shine the most is “The One” mode. The goal is obviously to make it to the NBA, but the path is probably more fun that getting there. The leveling up system is done very well. Earning XP isn’t overly complicated and grabbing a bunch of swag from the loot boxes is fun as hell.
Leveling up your attributes is also well done. With all the XP you earn you can upgrade skills in certain areas like 3-point shooting rating. And let’s not forget the trait system. I nice way to grant you in-game bonuses without feeling cheap or too arcadey.
I feel like “The One” mode will sell copies of this game, and if you are even remotely interested in that type of mode, for $40 you better pre-order it!
Now to the reason why this game was shelved not once, but twice over the last decade: gameplay.
How much has it changed? And has it changed for the better? The answer is a lot, and yes.
Starting with player control and the overall feel you get, it’s much improved. Players have more weight and momentum now. Some have called this sluggish, but I feel it’s a good medium between too loose and too rigid. One of the things that impresses me the most is player contact. There are a plethora of new body contact animations, and this shines brightest while playing defense. Guarding your man is now auto assisted by holding down L2/LT. You then have to make sure to match your man step for step or he could blow right by you. But when you do keep up with them, the body contact animations are great.
This also carried over into post play, which was arguably the weakest aspect of previous versions of NBA Live. You can actually defend your man in the post and force him/her to take a bad shot, or time it just right and get the block. Along with defense in the post, there are a number of new offensive post moves which are animated very well. Overall the post game needed and received a nice overhaul.
Let’s talk about the new dribbling system. In my opinion, I like it. I still haven’t been able to string together sets of moves that would break my opponent’s ankles, but there is a learning curve. Step-backs and spins are very effective, and very nice to look at. I like the dribbling animations, and animations in general are just flat out better this go around.
Shooting seems to be ok. Nothing groundbreaking, but definitely not bad. It’s all about timing and getting that little dot into the perfect spot at the top. If you do, you will hit the shot 100% of the time. But don’t worry, even with the best shooters on the planet it’s not easy. This is actually a good way to mix user input with real player shooting percentages.
Average shooters need to be open to hit shots. Only the great and elite shooters are gonna be making shots that are contested well. Layups are somewhat easy, but I don’t see that as a problem. NBA players should be making 95% of their layup attempts. Driving the lane with superstars like LeBron, and throwing down huge dunks is amazingly rewarding and euphoric. The drive and dunk animations are great, and make for great short clips or screenshots to share.
Touching on the CPU AI, it’s also received an upgrade. It’s hard to tell how much better it truly is without being to play more minutes or just a certain mode. But the CPU seems to know what they are doing. They play good defense, and rebound well. The AI also knows game situations, and won’t lollygag when time is running out in the half or the end of the game. This was a huge issue in NBA Live 16, so this is a welcome fix. Overall, at this point, I would say it’s much improved.
If you haven’t yet played the demo, and have any interest in what NBA Live 18 is bringing to the table this year, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. I can see how the game won’t be for everyone, but with the fantastically fun “The One” mode, and improvements to gameplay across the board, NBA Live 18 is easy to pick up and play and I feel it caters to more casual gamers, but also has something for the hardcore at the same time.
I think EA has finally gotten out of the grave they were buried in, and have turned in what seems to be a competent NBA game with a solid foundation on which to build.
NBA Live 18 launches on September 15 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It was recently announced that Houston Rockets guard James Harden will be the featured cover athlete.