Hot on the heels of 2K’s NBA 2K19 comes EA’s NBA Live 19, roughly a year after the series finally emerged with something fresh and exciting to play after going through years and years of being entirely forgettable. Does this year’s version continue down that path?
Where last year’s version succeeded was in not trying to beat 2K at their own game. NBA Live developed its own identity, with more room for fun, attitude and your own personality as opposed to 2K’s near-lifelike simulation. We’ve already seen that 2K19 has firmly cemented its dedication to the simulation end of the spectrum, so at least that leaves plenty of room for NBA LIve to step up again this year.
EA Tiburon sort of does this by expanding its The One mode, which allows you to play using your own custom character and build a career. This year, Court Battles adds a new dimension into the mix. Characters you’ve unlocked in The Street mode can now defend your home court, where you set the rules of the game. It’s quite a varied system, and can force players willing to take on your challenge to play very differently from what they’re used to. You can force them to try for long distance shots more than they would ideally want, or you can force them to not rely on their star player(s) as much by making it a requirements that every player on the team scores.
Of course, this concept works both ways. You can head on the road yourself as well and take on other players’ challenge courts as well, and successfully beating them nets you some nice rewards. It’s a mode that emphasizes fun and diverse gameplay – the kind of gameplay that sets NBA Live 19 apart from 2K19. Successfully so, but 2K’s recent acquisition of the NBA Playgrounds franchise makes me doubt how long the advantage will last.
Besides the action on various streets and courts, you can also go for an NBA career in the returning League mode. While very comparable to last year’s version, EA gave it an audiovisual boost with the aid of highlight reels that showcase what you’ve been doing so far while critics are discussing your career prospect. It’s a nice TV-style touch, even though the commentary and presentation in general still isn’t up to the same level as NBA 2K’s.
As with the commentary, other modes that aren’t street/court-oriented in NBA Live 19 also feel a little underdeveloped – from the so-so marketplace where you can buy (too generic) gear to wear right down to the franchise mode. The AI, especially where trades are concerned, often made very little sense to me. I don’t mean that in a “why did Lebron leave to go play for the Lakers?” kind of way, because there’s plenty of legacy there – but it’s like Lebron suddenly packs up his stuff and moves to play for the Nets. Similarly, it’s also possible to exploit draft pick trades when other teams offer you way more than they’re worth. Ultimate Team, one of EA’s most successful features in the FIFA franchise, also appears in NBA Live – but feels like way more of a grind than it does in FIFA.
Luckily, the on-court action is still solid. New animations were added to make the game appear to flow more smoothly and you can tell when dribbling, and you have more options when you’re not controlling the ball as well. Defensively this means you can obstruct a player from moving into space, and offensively you can quickly cut in between players and ask for a pass. Definitely improvements over last year, but nothing too impactful.
If you already have NBA Live 18 in your catalogue (and EA’s had some great deals on it over the past year), then the new edition offers marginal improvements for a full price ticket. If you really enjoy the streets and courts of the game’s The One mode then it’s got you covered, but I’m still waiting for the next big push forward in gameplay and presentation. Ironically, it’s the non-NBA parts that are NBA Live’s strongest suit at this point.