NBA Live 19 Review

The NBA Live series has slowly been making strides to once again be seen as a serious competitor for basketball fans. Live 18 made a huge leap over its predecessor and showed gamers they were going in the right direction. So, does NBA Live 19 match the rising expectations of the franchise or does it take a step back?

The World-Wide Leader?

When you start a game of NBA Live 19, you’re once again greeted with the ESPN broadcast package and nothing has really changed. The intros remain the same with same starting lineup graphics and scoreboard.  So, if you were a fan of those, you’re in luck. But I must say the wide angle camera shots of the stadiums after made baskets are a thing of beauty.

A nitpick I would bring up right away is the lack of stat overlays during dead ball periods. It’s especially glaring in franchise mode games. I want to be constantly reminded of what’s going on around the NBA as you can never have enough stats shown during games. 

Now, I had high expectations for the new commentary team heading into Live 19 as I was a fan of Jay Williams, and the team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy didn’t exactly have me waiting for each word they said. I figured the only way to go was up. While I’ll say that  it’s a step up from 18, let’s just say we’re taking baby steps here.

So far Ed Cohen, more so than Jay Williams, seems really robotic in his delivery, and often times comes out of nowhere with his play-by-play after five seconds of dead air.  While I repeat that I do like Jay Williams and he has a natural flow, unless it’s a blocked shot, both fail to bring the emotion in key moments. I did like a little moment where Williams talks about Joel Embiid and The Process and saying he’s this generations Shaq (which I mean he’s more Hakeem if we want to get into specifics). Unfortunately, just two games later I heard the same lines repeated.

Is The Process really the modern day Shaq?

But let’s be real, the improvement of player likenesses from Live 18 to 19 is the first thing you will notice about the game. The art team deserves a lot of credit for their work. Sure some guys you can pick out and go that doesn’t quite look like them, but the accuracy of majority of the players faces, along with the lighting, will have you in instant replay just starting at some of the teams amazing work.

It’s How You Play The Game

Through the game’s buildup much has been made about Real Player Motion making its way over to NBA Live 19. It doesn’t disappoint. The responsiveness to chaining moves together, and dribbling into shots is noticeable as soon as you tip off.

And as a result, dribbling has definitely become a major strength and the most enjoyable part of gameplay to me as I’ve never had more fun using some of the best ball handlers in the league. Just trying to come up with whatever move I wanted to attempt at that moment and have it all come together so cleanly is so rewarding that I don’t even care that I bricked the shot.

And I’m again a fan of the little arrow visual on defense that tells you if you successfully walled off a ball handler or not, and that window that allows you to then try to steal the ball. I’m sure that some aren’t too fond of it though as I can see it being labeled as arcade-ish.

Post play is as enjoyable as ever with the moves you can do and counters the defender can do to you. Wait until you pull off your first successful up and under this year on somebody, then you will have truly seen the light. And something subtle that was changed but makes a huge difference is the fact that we don’t have to hold the screen button all the way through the pick and roll anymore. It’s simply one click and he’s coming towards you. I love it.

Now there are issues with the gameplay, which, luckily, can seemingly be fixed via patches down the line.

To start, while the dribbling is top notch, the frequency at which defenders still fall over from even the most basic of dribble moves is simply ridiculous. It does everybody a disservice when ankle breakers are triggered so easily. Am I really supposed to get hyped when my dude fell like he tore his ACL from a simple right-left?

Teams also appear to rebound like Brook Lopez, at least on the offensive end, because offensive boards come few and far between, and only seem to happen when I can immediately transition them into a put-back dunk.

Also what I feared the most with this game, and is true so far are contested jump shots going in way too much. It’s still an issue and players are constantly finishing at the rim like they’re LeBron James.

NBA Live 19 Kevin Durant
Be ready for Kevin Durant to take over a game at any time

Now while I just said finishing at the rim is too easy, it seems you always either hit a shot over a defender who’s heavily guarding you, or get it blocked into the stands. The amount of block shots I’m able to pile up in a five-minute quarter game can rival most teams outputs in real life. I feel the contested layups and blocks, especially the blocks that happen on dunk attempts should be converted more into fouls and misses. The animations that trigger on layups in particular do such a good job of automatically avoiding contact it’s rare you will even see fouls.

I feel the NBA Street-esque gameplay of the other modes seeps into the 5-on-5 simulation gameplay a lot here.

As far as playing the computer, many problems I’ve had with them in the past is…well, quite frankly…they cheat. If I get up by 20, you can be sure by the time the fourth quarter rolls around that game is going to be tied.  So it was to my surprise I felt the computer offers a fair challenge. They have their fair share of making garbage shots, but, like I said earlier, that’s evident in every mode. I felt the computer, even on the highest difficulty, wasn’t some unfair challenge as, even though they would bury a heavy contested shot, they would miss open ones as well. In addition, I loved that their shot tendencies varied a lot better this year.

The computer does have a tendency to have one player take over a little too much, and it’s not even like he’s hot sometimes. Generally their best, or one of their best players, will just take all the shots for a long stretch.

When strategy comes into play, I feel It could be better. I can still spam a pick-and-roll and their defensive strategy won’t change.

Then there’s the odd substitution at weird times as well as questionable decisions in crunch times that can take you out of the game, and have you remember you are playing a computer. But other than that, I’m pleased with how enjoyable it is to play against the AI so far. If only the mode dedication to playing the computer was better.

If It’s In The Game…

As a longtime Sports fans one of my favorite things to do back in the PS2 days was controlling every team in whatever sport I was playing that day and simming seasons, checking out the stats, standings, and all that good stuff. I take accuracy in this area very seriously, and sadly, NBA Live 19 fails again in this department.

Before I talk further on that, I want to say I do love the upgradable trait system that has been added. Your player can obtain and upgrade different traits just by reaching certain rating or stat total benchmarks, and you can improve using your upgrade points that you earn. It’s also pretty cool that you’re able to swap out different traits depending on the matchup that game, taking a page from The One mode there.

Aside from that, where do I start. I touched on this briefly, but they really could do a better job of utilizing stat overlays in-game to inform us of the happenings around the league, league leaders, best record last week, or even who leads in minute-per-game this year.

Now we’re about to get into stats guy. I’ve simmed the first season of a Philadelphia 76ers franchise five times, and the general consensus is the simulation engine still needs work.

For the second-straight year, Rudy Gobert is apparently a combination of Prime Ben Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal to the sim engine. Another problem is the individual leaders in three-point attempts and free throws are nowhere near what the real life leaders attempts are despite the team amounts being on par. And another concerning trend is team total shot attempt leaders would also over around the Bottom 10 if this was real life as well. This directly effects the amount of rebounds teams get which is also evident in the Top 10 leaders in boards placing in the Bottom 10 if this was real life.

…the simulation engine still needs work

But despite the lower shot attempts going around, points per game for teams are usually higher than real life because of the higher field goal percentages. It’s funny because team -poiny shooting percentage are always consistently lower than they should be, which tells me sims heavily favor guys who shoot inside. It’s why we got Marc Gasol suddenly becoming a 26-point-per-game scorer, and Rudy Shaquille O’Neal Gobert being an elite scorer.

This also has a slight side effect on teams having crazy high assist totals, which means individuals have crazy high assist totals.

The three-point shooting issue also turns a non-user controlled Houston Rockets team into an average ball club as their record in my sims always borders around .500 because they’re not taking the 150 three pointers they do every game. With the three-point shooting percentages already being out of wack, money ball just isn’t possible.

Free agency is an adventure

And I have no comment on why the second-best record in the league is at 47 wins. I just did another sim before finalizing this review, and the second-best was at 54. But the majority of the league is always swimming in the sub 50 wins area when six hit that milestone this past season and eight the year before.

The draft experience again is pretty lackluster. You basically stare at a draft board, pick a player, see him on the screen in the background for a bit, and then your back to starting at your draft board.

There’s again really no build up, except a tab dedicated to the prospects where you can check out their stats throughout the year.

Free agency on the other hand is an adventure. I won’t discuss the fact that Ben Simmons for some reason had a Player Option despite being a rookie and opted out…no I won’t do that.  But the Ben Simmons thing highlights a larger issue I have in Franchise modes in basketball games. It’s when players who have player options in their contract opt out just because they could. And yes it’s more of the same here as every player who has a chance to hit free agency will hit free agency. The bright spot is at least their preferred destinations and who they end up signing with make sense. I’ll never forget last year when I was able to grab Andrew Wiggins and DeMarcus Cousins, who I was upset was allowed to sign with me as I already had Joel Embiid at Center. 

Be The One

The crown jewel of the NBA Live series is The One Mode where you rise to ultimately make it to the NBA.

New to it this year is an icon system that, on top of picking the play style we want for our character, lets us model our game after basketball stars and legends with different rewards the more you play. The new system adds a lot more variety between player’s characters.

The Streets World Tour gives us the chance to play on some beautifully designed courts from all over the world with our The One character and become a global icon.

Live Run is the best of the bunch, and is a lot of fun playing with your friends or strangers who pass the ball. They offer the more streetball focused 3-vs-3 and the 5-vs-5 that leans more on the competitive side of things with five-minute quarters and fouls.

Lastly, Court Battles is a new unique mode that offers long term playability with the amount of customization it offers with courts that gamers create themselves that are able to be stolen and defended. The different combinations of rules, rosters and restrictions are endless and should keep gamers busy well into the lean months.

Verdict

NBA Live 19 is a game that does a number of things right. Their focus on The One mode has not been for naught as I feel it’s a solid alternative to another basketball game’s RPG-based mode, and Real Player Motion was a much-needed addition to the franchise.

While it may have some issues like the lack of attention to Franchise mode and some gameplay problems — that are fixable –, one thing you can’t deny is the overall package of NBA Live 19 nails what video games are supposed to be all about and that’s delivering a fun experience for the gamer.

**Note: We have updated our review policy. For more on how we review and score games, please give it a read.**

  • Gameplay
  • Game Modes
  • Presentation
  • Longevity

Summary

While it may have some issues like the lack of attention to Franchise mode and some gameplay problems — that are fixable –, one thing you can’t deny is the overall package of NBA Live 19 nails what video games are supposed to be all about and that’s delivering a fun experience for the gamer.

Overall
3.5
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Michael Straw
Michael Straw is a gamer who just happens to be an experienced journalist. In his near decade-long career, Mike has traveled across the United States to cover some of the biggest events in gaming and sports, including E3, PAX, as well as the NFL and NHL Drafts. His work covering gaming and sports led his content being featured on Fox Sports 1, SI.com and others. He was once the second-ranked player in the world in NHL 09 on Xbox Live, and is a huge pro wrestling junkie.