I’ve not had much experience with the NBA Live series in the past, with much of that basketball gaming time spent with 2K’s NBA 2K series. Of course, after some recent events, it was only fair to give it a chance. NBA Live 18 has been a staple of my gaming time over the past week and while EA’s latest entry to the series isn’t a slam dunk it does show a series that has potential to dominate in future.
The headline game mode in NBA Live 18 is The One, which is essentially an expanded ‘create a player’ mode. The mode begins with your player coming back from an injury and having to work to gain the attention of NBA scouts ahead of the draft. This is done through a series of street matches at iconic locations across the US. Unlike 2K’s MyCareer mode, there aren’t cutscenes that follow your player as they live the life but instead short videos giving a history of the court you’re playing on, and a pundit show where your player’s return is discussed.
Once you’ve created your player you’ll build two types of hype, one for the league and one for the streets. These hype meters have their own levels and as each level unlocks you can acquire new loot. This is confined to accessories and clothing, and does not feed into player improvement.
Instead your player will start off with two skill traits to focus on that increasing as your player levels up. As you play games your player earns experience which in turn earns skill points that can unlock the next tier in a trait, so you can choose to improve passing or layups for example. The points awarded depend upon your player’s actions and ratings in matches with the highest being 100. Scoring, assisting, stealing, and blocking all up a player’s match rating while losing the ball, taking a bad shot, throwing a bad pass knocks that rating.
Throughout The One, I found that points were awarded quite generously and my player attributes could be improved regularly, with their overall rating going up at a good pace. The mode does feel pared back compared to 2K’s MyCareer, but that also gives the advantage of letting you upgrade and get back to playing in moments. It’s also a lot simpler to take your player online in NBA Live 18 compared to its competitor in 2K18. Instead of having to run to a park and wait for players to decide to join you, you’re almost instantly put in to a team regardless of rating and are given a fair shot. You earn reputation and experience online in both competitive and co-op scenarios, so it’s definitely worth taking your player online.
The action on court does need some work though. In The One, for example, the default camera doesn’t follow your player but the action, so there are moments where you’re off screen, though you can thankfully change the camera. When playing with AI teammates in this mode you can instruct them to perform actions like shoot and pass, which does help when they won’t do so of their own volition. A lot of the time the AI is content to let the shot clock hit the final seconds before shooting instead of driving to the hoop early to nail a layup or dunk. The shot meter could also be better implemented to give a better indication of when it is best to release the ball on a shot.
When it comes to playing a full team, like in Franchise and Ultimate Team, the AI can be sluggish at times, especially when coming to defence. It’s odd that the AI waits for the shot clock to wind down when it is so easy to get past an AI defence and get to the basket. Defending can be pretty easy when doing it yourself, as opposing AI doesn’t really pull of moves to get past your player, outside of passes or barging into them.
Both Franchise mode and Ultimate Team come across as basic imitations when judged against EA’s other sports titles, be it FIFA or Madden. In Franchise you can choose the team you want to guide to glory and can improve individual players in your team roster. There’s also the ability to trade players with other teams. There isn’t much else to do here though and the menu presentation could be clearer. In Ultimate Team you have the same issues. Sure you can build your team from earning packs and buy players from auctions, but compare it to FIFA and there’s fewer things to do. It’s likely due to the fact that the pool of players is so small compared to FIFA and things like chemistry just wouldn’t work as well here.
NBA Live 18’s presentation looks sharp, but the menus could be better organised, especially when you delve further into the modes. On the court the action, character models and courts all look decent, but they just don’t stand out as great. Match commentary though is very mediocre, ranking among the low end of the sports games I’ve played. You’ll hear phrases repeated often and the delivery can sound a bit flat at times as well.
NBA Live 18 is a good basketball game. It’s not something that will blow you away, but good enough if you’re looking for an alternative. The One is a solid create a player mode that is easy to get into, with levelling up the player far from being a chore, but NBA Live 18 lacks depth in the other modes and the AI could do with improving. EA has work to do if it wants NBA Live to reach the reputation it once had, but that goal seems to be in reach.
Version tested: PS4