NBA Live 19 review16/09/2018
When you think of Basketball games, you automatically think of the NBA 2K series, and for a good reason. 2K Games have consistently provided an accurate, unique and enjoyable experience year after year. EA’s NBA Live series, has been somewhat hit or miss, the first reincarnation on current-gen systems didn’t fare too well, NBA Live 14 was plagued with bugs, lack of game modes and stiff animations to name a few. They’ve improved year upon year, but never managed to reach the heights of their competition. NBA Live 19 is by far the best entry into the franchise, but EA still has a stiff challenge ahead of them to become the go-to basketball sim on the market.
NBA Live 19 is developed by the same studio that has been at the reigns of the franchise since 2010, EA Tiburon. They’re probably most well-known as the studio behind the fantastic NFL Madden series. NBA Live 19 includes gameplay improvements, with the introduction of real-player motion and the expansion of one-on-one features. One feature EA is keen to highlight is that NBA Live 19 is the first Basketball game that includes the option to create a female player.
Customization certainly isn’t lacking this year. One of the very first things you’re tasked with is creating your player; this is the player you’ll take into the games “The One” mode, which I’ll get into later in the review. When creating your player, you’ll need to select height and weight, but these don’t mean just visual differences, they also affect your in-game stats. For example, a shorter player will mean more speed and agility, but for that, you’ll sacrifice strength. If you choose to go for more height, you’ll lose agility and speed, so this depends on your position and playstyle. I like to play PG so I went with a slightly smaller player so I could make quick cuts and drive to the basket quicker.
Upon creation of your character, you’re then told to select an Icon Path. This is a dominant trait that you can upgrade throughout your playthrough by completing specific in-game challenges. I chose the Chef Icon Path, and this granted me with a boost to my finishing and passing abilities upon a successful three-point shot. More are available as you level up your player, for example when I hit level 40, I unlocked the Sniper Icon Path, this made my jump shot more accurate the longer I stayed open. You’ll also have three slots for less dominant traits. You’ll start with one and unlock the remaining two as you level up. You can combine these to become an unstoppable machine, requiring double teams to contain. I chose Pick & Shoot, which gave a slight boost to shooting when using a pick to attempt to open up a shot, and I combined it with Late Release, which slightly reduced the accuracy penalty when releasing a ball too late. I found these two to be an excellent combination.
Then you’ve got visual customisation, including tattoos, hairstyles, sneakers, jerseys and socks, to mention a few. A lot of this is purchased using currency you earn in-game by completing personal challenges. This includes objectives such as, assist a teammate five times or score three field goals. The problems differ in difficulty, with the higher difficulty ones such as score eight field goals, awarding you with a lot more currency and hype. Hype is used to advance your players league status, you’ll start as a rookie, and with time and dedication, you’ll be able to move up the tiers and eventually obtain Icon status. Periodically throughout your “The One” playthrough, you’ll be contacted by reporters, your head coach and other Icons through a text message system, sometimes it’s just for a casual talk, but majority of the time you’ll be asked questions about the upcoming game, depending how you answer, you’ll be awarded different levels of currency and hype.
The game modes on offer in NBA Live 19 are a massive improvement upon last years entry, you’ve got your usual franchise mode, quick play and ultimate team, but where the game shines is with the different modes available to your “The One” player. You’ve got The League, which is as you’d expect, is your players’ career in the NBA. You’ll start as a prospect, and slowly build your reputation before taking part in the NBA combine. Here you’ll take part in a five on five scrimmages, each pass, block, assist, and a basket will increase your chances of being picked earlier in the draft, tracked by a number in the top left of the screen. I was the #10 pick and drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, but I was disappointed to find out that it didn’t matter, as the very first thing offered to you in your career is a trade, and every team was available. I picked the Lakers so that I could play alongside LeBron James aka The GOAT. Majority of my time spent with NBA Live 19 has been with this mode, I enjoy chasing down that Legend status, slowly improving my characteristics so I could play the way I felt most comfortable.
Another standout game mode is Court Battles. This mode allows you to create your court, including customising the colours, icons, balls, backboards, location and name. More customisation options are available in the in-game store, with the currency as mentioned earlier. Once you’ve created your dream court, you’ll build your squad, create your own rules and take your team online to battle against other players’ squads in an attempt to become a legend on the court.
The presentation is stunning this year, with each court recreated with complete accuracy. Playing on the PS4 Pro with 4K visuals and HDR enabled, I really can’t find any faults. Sticking with typical EA fashion, each player has been scanned into the game, which made for superb player likeness. I’d argue it’s the most stunning, lifelike and accurate game EA has ever developed, something that I’m sure was no easy feat.
NBA Live 19 includes a new commentary team, drafting in Ed Cohen and Jay Williams. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed, and their delivery is fantastic, the primary issue that lets down this new team are the lines of dialogue recorded. Throughout a single game, around 15 minutes, you’ll hear the same line of commentary multiple times. Not only that, but you’ll also hear commentary that doesn’t relate to the on-screen action. It’s an improvement over last years, but still has a long way to go to compete with the likes of 2K and even EA’s very own FIFA series.
Unfortunately, animations really could do it a complete overhaul; it’s the most disappointing feature in this years entry. Free throws can look awkward and stiff, sometimes bounce pass animations don’t finish the motion before releasing the ball. The most frustrating and glaring animation issue, however, occurs when you attempt a dunk while under the basket. Rather than creating space, stepping into the shot, your character will glide into position. It’s something that stands out and completely ruins the immersion. As far as I know, EA is aware of this and are looking to patch it, but it may be something we need to wait until next year to see if it’s been corrected.
This is something I was internally debating as to whether I should include it in this review, but after speaking to the NBA Live community, it seems to be the one major issue the whole community continues to complain about. The menu system is a complete mess; sure you’ll eventually learn to navigate it, but up until that point it can be frustrating. Early in my “The One” league playthrough, I had no idea how many skill points I had available to me, at no point did the game tell me where to find this information. I would select the upgrades I wanted and wait until it said I had none left to spend. Hopefully, now we’re on the right track with the franchise, they’ll be able to focus on other areas with the next instalment and iron out these frustrating issues.
The 2K series has, without a doubt, had the best soundtrack of any sports game for the past five years and unfortunately, NBA Live 19 does not buck that trend. That doesn’t mean the soundtrack for Live is terrible, actually far from it, it’s a superb soundtrack, but they’ve still got a long way to go before we can start arguing about quality among the two big players.
I’m genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed NBA Live 19. It’s been a long time since I last picked up an entry in the Live series and had such an enjoyable experience with it. Has it managed to knock 2K off the Basketball sim throne? No, and it still has some work to do before it can start competing at the top.but NBA Live 19 is a massive step forward and a good insight into what the future may hold for the franchise.