NBA Live 18 is attempting a comeback.
Much like in it’s “The One” mode where you take control of a former college player whose career was cut short by a significant injury, you can make the case that the NBA Live franchise is also recovering from a significant injury. A blow caused by what could be seen as a poor effort by developers at EA Sports.
While this may or may not be the case, the fact of the matter is the game has not been good for a very long time.
While many people did like NBA Live 16, most thought it was mediocre at best. EA Sports seemed to agree. Subsequently, the company put the series on hiatus for a year so they could get a near two-year development cycle for NBA Live 18. But was it worth it?
Let’s start with the game’s biggest strengths. Right off the bat you will notice an improvement in the overall gameplay. Players move more deliberately thus, allowing more life-like physics. Foot planting is well done. Players can’t stop or turn on a dime. Quick out of position shots will cause you to shoot off-balance. The game makes you work hard for open shots.
The dribble moves are fantastic. The system it gives you to pull them off is simplistic and rewarding. Flicking the right stick in different directions gives you full control of where you want to place the ball. Breaking your opponent’s ankles has never felt better in an NBA Live game. Don’t mistake this for an easy way to blow past defenders. One of the biggest changes to NBA Live this year is the new and very much improved defensive mechanic.
Holding L2/LT for defensive assist keeps you on your man. However, it’s up to you to keep up with him. You have to keep pace with your man as he tries to cross you up by moving the directions he chooses. If you make the wrong move, he will blow by you for the easy drive to the hoop. If you keep up with your man, you will either force them to pass or take a bad shot. It’s a very intuitive system and one that this game needed badly considering you essentially had no way to stop your man in NBA Live 16.
Offensively, the game continues to use a shot meter. This year’s system is a bit more complicated. It’s not as easy to stop the meter exactly where you want it. You can, though, still make shots even if you don’t time it perfectly. Shooting, by default, is based on user input and real life shot percentage. Better shooters will have higher room for error. If you do happen to time it perfectly, the meter turns green and you are guaranteed to make the shot. I feel like this mechanic is well done and is a great improvement.
The post game has also improved. Backing down your man is better and there are plenty more post moves than before. This actually makes playing in the post fun. Layups and dunks are also a thing of beauty. Although heavily scripted, layups look great and I’ve seen a satisfactory amount of different types. Dunks are pretty cool too because there are more animations which include the defenders getting owned under the hoop. It’s a very good feeling smashing one down with your favorite superstar in NBA Live 18.
As far as the little things go, calling plays is pretty straight forward. They are easy to do. Alley oops are fun and timing a nice shot block is rewarding. Especially when you simply grab the ball out of your opponent’s hand as they go up for a dunk or a layup.
While the leaps in gameplay are noticeable and deserves much praise, it isn’t without its faults. The game still suffers from not enough and some bad animations. There are still some stiff and awkward movements. Passing still needs work. Sometimes the passes don’t look like they should ever get to your target. If the CPU player decided it actually wanted to steal the pass, it could on some occasions. Too many blocks also seems to be an issue. While it is better than the demo, it’s still something I feel needs to be toned down. Ball physics still come into question at times. Although there is an improvement, it still seems like there aren’t enough ball/rim interactions. And every now and again you will see some questionable ball movement on passes and dribbling.
Without much question, the main focus of the game this year is “The One” mode. As stated before, you begin with a created player whose college career was cut short and tries to eventually get drafted by an NBA team. You do this by playing in Pro-Am and pick up type games. These include games in the Drew League. Courts include Rucker Park, Venice Beach, Dyckman, Barry Farms, among others. The mode has a fair amount of interactivity where you will be able to text back and forth with your agent and friends. You will be given choices, but only a couple. Depending on your answers you can either earn points or loot. Loot includes outfits, shoes and accessories to jazz up your player.
When creating your player you will be able to select all your vitals, your look and your playstyle. Each playstyle has its own skills, traits and rewards. You can even scan your face into the game, which works great. Of course, you can upgrade your player by spending points to do so.
As you complete events, you will eventually get to the NBA Draft where you will be selected and get to continue playing on your adventure in the NBA.
You can also play in Live Events, which offers challenges and rewards. In addition, there’s Live Run where you can play with friends. Lastly, of course, there’s the PRO-AM tour.
Overall, I feel like EA has got something with this mode. I think it will sell games and bring in people who otherwise would have skipped it. Unfortunately, EA didn’t seem to use their extra development time to give us a fully fleshed out Franchise mode. While the basics are there as well as the play the moment seen in Madden, it has no other bells and whistles. One of the biggest concerns is that there is no player editing out of the box. This is a huge disappointment and could cost NBA Live 18 a few sales. It does seem like there is some hope that it will be patched later into the game.
While Franchise mode doesn’t really do anything wrong, per se, it just isn’t going to draw you in like some other games have been able to do. There is really nothing there to keep you engaged anymore than basic franchise features. Let’s hope this mode becomes a focal point going forward.
EA also added the WNBA league. Kudos to them for doing this. It’s a fun way to change up the pace of the core game. I enjoyed throwing in an occasional WNBA quick game.
Ultimate team is fine, but doesn’t break any molds. It’s not as feature rich as MUT, but if you like card collecting, it’s fun.
Graphics and Presentation
Visually, the game looks great. Colors really pop, the courts shine, and most of the player faces and models are well done save for a few here and there. Jerseys look and move well and players with tattoos seem to be well done. While NBA Live‘s graphics weren’t really bad in 15 and 16, they are much more next-generation ready. Like other games, the graphics have started to blur the lines between game and reality.
Presentation wise, it looks and feels like a real ESPN broadcast. Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen bring an authentic feel to the game and do a great job of not only calling the action, but keeping you engaged. In addition, Jalen Rose does a great job with what is still a great halftime show. The presentation is honestly one of the strongest points of the game. The crowds are hot at the right times and players show emotion at the right time organically. That is one of my favorite things about NBA Live 18.
A definite improvement over its predecessors, NBA Live 18 shines in a lot of areas. However, it still leaves room for many improvements. “The One” is its strongest suit and the action on the court a close second. Where the game starts to fail is in franchise mode and Ultimate Team. There just isn’t enough to keep you engaged.
Some questionable physics and occasionally poor animations also hinder what is overall an impressive leap ahead for EA and its basketball series. While it’s not gonna take over the competition, the game has its own strengths in which to build. NBA Live has finally become a worthy option for those looking for a change of pace.