While 2K Games’ NBA 2K franchise has a yearly stranglehold on basketball video games, EA is once again lacing its sneakers to have another crack at the virtual hardwood floor with NBA Live 18. Does it have a lottery bound game or one that’s ready for the playoffs?
With the NBA Live franchise taking a break to fix its core gameplay engine and iron out the visuals, I’m glad to say that the rest did the brand a lot of good. While the core gameplay of NBA Live 18 is super close to that of NBA 2K’s (why fix what ain’t broken, right?), EA Tiburon managed to add their own little bits and pieces to make it unique enough that you won’t feel like you’re playing NBA Live 2K.
In NBA LIve 18, gamers taking a jump shot will see a meter pop up that you need to hit at the exact peak to ensure a sure-ball. Mind, it’s not as easy as it sounds, and the better the shooter, the easier it is to nail down. If and when you’re guarded, it becomes significantly hard to make sure it reaches the little circle, and so far from the matches I’ve played, it doesn’t seem to be distracting.
Dribbling, doing crossovers, jukes and the like are all controlled by the right analog stick (same as in NBA 2K), and is intuitive enough that I was doing crossovers, fake outs with ease.
Stop and Pop
One welcome change in NBA Live from NBA 2K is the canned animations — or lack thereof. Players annoyed at how NBA 2K forces players to watch animations play out or in some cases, needing to finish cutscenes and inbound scenes, will be very happy that EA has taken all that stuff out. Want to inbound the ball? Just hit the pass button and you’re good to go.
This is the case when driving to the basket or dunking, too. It feels snappy and not drawn-out like how you watch a canned animation happen before your eyes.
Speaking of canned animations, one nice though EA did was add after-shot celebrations. Steph Curry did his little shimmy shake after draining a long three-pointer, LeBron flexes his muscle after a monster dunk and more. These things add to the NBA atmosphere but doesn’t interfere with the action. Either it happens automatically, or you can press a button to initiate it after an awesome play; this is the same for replays as well. No more auto replays of stuff you don’t want to see, nor do you have to go into the main menu to watch a replay of an awesome block, a game-winning shot, etc., now? You just press R3 (on the DualShock 4) and voila! Instant replay. It’s a small thing, but definitely a welcome quality-of-life thing that should have been implemented by other games ages ago.
NBA on ESPN
Another nice touch by EA Tiburon is having Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy to the color commentary. Now, I’m not sure whether it’s due to me being a fan of the duo, but the play-by-play audio is fantastic, with each analyst doing what they’re known for. Jeff talks about an in-depth strategy and numbers, while Breen gives the proceedings some color. Best of all, the voice-over work matches what we see on screen. Time will tell if the dialogue will get tiring but from what I played in the demo, it’s definitely a cut above what EA has done before.
The ESPN parternship doesn’t end there. even ESPN’s “First Take” talk show with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman are in NBA Live 18, too! While it seems to be reserved for the revamped career mode (more on that in a bit), I would love to see it for specific games or maybe during the playoffs.
Being The One
NBA Live 18 has a new career mode called “The One.” No, it doesn’t mean you can be Neo and kick the crap out of a hundred Agent Smiths, but think of it as your own ascension into the pros. Yeah, that’s how it usually is for all sports games, right? But in NBA Live 18. the process has been streamlined that it feels like an RPG. You won’t be able to cast spells, or craft weapons, but you will be able to tweak your abilities, get new gear, and even assign “special moves” for your created player.
I admit though, I’m not a big fan of career modes or these things, but seeing my own created character level up by playing pickup games is satisfying — more so since I want to get better stats, equip better gear (read: shoes, armbands, etc.) and have Curry’s jumpshot at my disposal more than anything. Will it be able to hold up the in-game drama for you to play it out completely? I can’t say for sure now. Fortunately. anything you earn in the demo will carry over to the final game when you get it, so there’s that at least.
With NBA 2K heavily embedded into a lot of basketball fans’ minds when it comes to video games, NBA Live 18 has a rough battle ahead of it. However, the good thing here is, it seems the game is actually good enough to stand on its own and not just as a substitute for NBA 2K18.
If EA can keep this momentum up, then NBA 2K might finally have some solid competition soon. For basketball fans on the fence, go give the demo a try and if you like it, you can pre-order it so the full price of the game is $40 (instead of $60).
NBA Live 18 seems to be back on track to not only play off the bench, but be a playoff contender. Will it be able to upset the current kings, though? That’s a question for another time, but for now, EA Tiburon can take comfort that this version of NBA Live might finally be the game that helps them bridge that gap that they so want to narrow down.
NBA Live 18 played on PS4. NBA Live 18 out this September 15 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC.