A significant improvement for the franchise, but still short of the competition.
Everything that takes place between the hoops in a basketball game has a certain fluidity to it. Whether it’s James Harden rocketing past defenders in a fast break or LeBron James backing down a defender in the post, this is a game of style. And even though NBA Live 18 fails to establish a versatile set of modes to sustain interest, it’s able to mimic basketball’s style, fluidity, and intensity.
Relative to other NBA games, Live 18’s controls are pretty simplified, and it didn’t take longer than a game or two to get the hang of things. If a player hits the lane at full speed you can expect them to throw down a dunk or layup without more than a button press on your part. If you want to pull up for a three-pointer, the player will do just that, too. This grants a certain feeling of control over their motion, but once they’re in the air, they’ve also got minds of their own. Past that, NBA Live 18 won’t throw many surprises at you. Once you’ve pressed the command to do something, the players execute it.
Things get a little more complicated when dribbling.
Things get a little more complicated when dribbling, which uses the right analog stick for things like crossovers and spin moves. Even then, the moves don’t take very long to master and provide more of a sense of command over the players. If you’re able to get a handle on the right stick movements, you can eventually turn the dribble moves into fade-away shots, spin-back jumpers or floaters close to the basket.
Unfortunately, the lack of animations in NBA Live 18 prevent any kind of real transition game from taking place. Instead of players dealing with the contact and finding a way around it, they’ll stop in their tracks, halting any realistic momentum. It also results in some frustrating tendencies, like players losing the ball at the first sign of contact. There are other issues, too, including players frequently shooting from just inside the three-point line instead of taking a single step back for the extra point, pick-and-rolls being hard to execute, and tip-ins always working without ever missing.
Guys like James Harden especially resemble their real-life counterparts.
NBA Live 18 does a pretty good job of capturing the real-life feeling of some of the NBA’s biggest stars, though. For instance, it’s no problem to pull up in transition or blow past defenders with Russell Westbrook. Similarly, bigs like Andre Drummond can easily bully potential rebounders and create space in the post. And, unlike in NBA Live 16, most of the players actually look like themselves this time. Guys like James Harden especially resemble their real-life counterparts.
The presentation is downhill from there, however. The commentary begins to loop after just a handful of games and contains impressively boring back and forth between the analysts and the play-by-play announcer. By the sixth or seventh time Jeff Van Gundy told me about my poor execution I was looking the fastest way to mute him and his colleagues. There is a nice little ESPN graphic that helps track player stats throughout a game, but that’s about all we get in regards to context of the game. The rest of NBA Live 18’s presentation is noticeably barren.
The best mode, by far, is The One.
Similarly, while NBA Live 18 has a variety of game modes to choose from, there are only a few that are interesting. The best, by far, is The One, a career mode with role-playing elements that puts its focus on your created player and offers a combination of “street” and “league” games. As you track your player’s progress from the end of their college career through the beginning of their professional career in the NBA, you’re met with several options on how to level up his skills, play style, and even the clothing they wear before games. For instance, you can choose between dozens of unlockable skill traits, like extra endurance or a skill bump, in the moments at the end of a game. There’s also loot boxes that can only be purchased with in-game currency (real money option, thankfully) that give out a variety of accessories, including rare sneakers and whacky arm sleeves.
Of course, as far as story modes in sports games go, the writing in The One can’t even live up to the most modest of expectations, much less EA’s own Madden NFL 18’s The Longshot campaign. Occasional mini-episodes of ESPN’s First Take provide a nice distraction and some fun storytelling, but even the chemistry between Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman can’t make up for a lackluster plot. All the same, its role-playing elements are surprisingly nuanced, and if there is a game mode that’s worth sticking with, it’s The One.
But elsewhere, the modes are largely too shallow to invest much time in. The Franchise mode, for example, is a staple of the genre that allows us to assume a general manager-type role – but here, it’s hardly more than an 82-game season with a few small bonuses along the way. Live 18 lacks the ability to customize players, scout prospects ahead of the NBA Draft, or engage in any kind of complex contract negotiation.
NBA Live 18 is the first videogame to offer the ability to play as a WNBA team.
To its credit, NBA Live 18 is the first videogame to offer the ability to play as a WNBA team. You can play as any team on the WNBA roster, including the East and West All Star teams. While this mode is very similar mechanically to the NBA counterpart, I did find the court spacing to be a little better. It’s a wonderful addition that is, unfortunately, not used to its full potential. Instead of being able to play a franchise with the likes of the Los Angeles Sparks or New York Liberty or even go head-to-head with someone else online, the only way you can play with WNBA is in “play now,” which limits you to local play only. It’s too bad, as the ability to play as a different set of the world’s best athletes offers a much-needed change of pace.
Online play has a few different options (for the men), but again, most are pretty shallow. Instead of custom matches versus friends, you’re forced to play ranked games with predetermined settings. Veterans of EA Sports games will be pleased to hear that Ultimate Team is back and includes many of the same features as popular games like Madden NFL and FIFA, but at the same time brings nothing new to the table. If nothing else, Ultimate Team will provide a little replayability for a game that doesn’t have much of it.