|System: PS4, Xbox One|
|Release: September 15, 2017|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Content is generally suitable for all ages.|
by Lucas White
NBA Live is back. After a two-year absence, EA Sports is jumping back in the basketball game and looking to once again take on the NBA 2K monster in deadly, slamming, and jamming combat. Or something. I got my hands on NBA Live 18 ahead of its launch, playing the demo that will either be shortly in the hands of the public or already out, depending on when you’re reading this. The demo gave me a taste of the campaign/career mode called The One. This includes the character creation suite as well as a look at some of the pro players as they appear in the game, including cover athlete James Harden. From what I played, I can say that while I enjoyed the character creation, visuals, and even the loot system of all things, I left the experience scratching my head a little at the controls.
First, let’s look at the fun stuff. I love character creation, especially in sports games when developers have the chance to make it really count for something. The face-scanning tech wasn’t live when I played the demo, so I couldn’t mess with that, but I did have access to the extent of everything else, as far as the progression limit of the demo anyway. I was able to make my character, customize his background, hair, face, and so on and so forth. Then I was able to try out The One, and hit my first snag.
NBA Live 18 doesn’t let you access anything else available until you get to chapter two in The One. Which is odd, because you’d think a game would want its tutorial sections available right from the beginning for new players, especially since this is NBA Live’s first outing in two years. So you’re thrust right into the game, forced to (if you don’t know what you’re doing) figure it out on your own for two games, until you can actually go in and figure out how it works.
Once you do, it’s generally a relief to discover that NBA Live 18 is actually pretty simple compared to other EA Sports titles. There are a couple of pass buttons, a sprint button, and a shoot button. When you’re on offense, NBA Live 18 feels the most like a Real Video Game compared to its sports simulator peers. The only complaint I have here is the ostensible RNG involved with making shots. Charging the meter increases your odds of making a shot, but unless there’s a green strip at the top, there’s no way of knowing what will happen. Chance takes over. That can be frustrating, especially when the AI seems to be way better at sinking shots in general.
Defense, unfortunately, is kind of confusing and awkward. There’s a “Defense Aid” function that’s supposed to help you track the player you’re attached to, but pressing it at the wrong time sort of locks your player into a slower moving speed and can open you up to getting dunked on. Additionally, the tutorial does a poor job explaining the best practice for moving and blocking shots, giving you more prompts in the training than exist in the game proper, so there’s ultimately still fumbling involved. It doesn’t make a lot of ergonomic sense in general, and it can be frustrating when the AI shows you up constantly early on.
That said, NBA Live 18 is manageable and I figured with more time and practice, I would have been able to get used to it and figure it out. There’s still visual information in place to keep you aware of your situation at any given moment, and that’s handy in games like these. Moving around, passing, and everything else feels good and responsive otherwise, making this a fun game to mess around with even on a casual level.
Earlier I mentioned loot. And yes, NBA Live 18 has loot boxes in the vein of online shooters, mobas, and other microtransaction-y tomfoolery. But oddly enough, I liked it? NBA Live 18’s loot boxes are based on your level and progression through the game; as you level up, more and more options are available to you. You can even go through each box and see what’s available, and there are tons of options. With the different settings in NBA Live 18 (Streets and League, which are pretty self-explanatory), it even makes sense to design multiple outfits for your player. But the real kicker here is frequency. NBA Live 18 vomits in-game currency at you as you play, so odds are if you care, you can be in a position to constantly have chances to open loot boxes without worrying about real money. It ends up being fun that way.
Thus are my initial impressions of NBA Live 18. It’s a fun game, and basketball lends itself to the position of “Being a Video Game” in a natural way compared to other sports in the first place. Defense is tougher when you aren’t Mario in Mario Hoops 3-on-3 and are allowed to throw turtle shells and literally punch dudes in the head, so what EA has in place is a bit of an uphill battle. But everything else makes visual and physical sense, and the character customization and career mode seem like they will provide hours of quality content with lots of player agency. Check it out for yourself with the demo, ahead of NBA Live 18’s full release late this year.