It is fairly difficult to go head-to-head with any successful gaming franchise, especially one that is synonymous with a sport. EA Sports is attempting to do just that with NBA Live 19. The biggest challenge for EA will be getting people to give the game a shot over NBA 2K19. Due to a few less-than-stellar releases, many hardcore hoop gamers are highly apprehensive about giving a new Live a chance.
Becoming The One
The game begins with a full court 3-on-3 scrimmage, which is meant to show the player top examples of a wing, guard and big man. The user controls Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal as examples of each player type. This is for novices, while those who know the game can skip ahead to begin their journey as "The One."
The One is the mode that EA Sports is pushing the most, a create-a-player driven storyline that sees your character working his way from streetball courts to the NBA. The user has full control over many expected create-a-player aspects including player type, height, the look of the player, school, and even hometown. Like previous games, you can also use the NBA Live face scan app.
There's been a lot of noise made on social media about the pros and cons of the face scan app. The app-which is available on iOS and Android-allows users to not only scan their face, but also input created player info. Once completed, all of the info transfers over to the user's EA account and appears in the game.
The app is easy to use, but the facial recognition software is average at best. I scanned my face in similar lighting three times and each scan looked fairly different. The scan didn't look much like me, but it was closer to my likeness than the preset faces in the create-a-player menu. It did however take three times of logging in and out of NBA Live 19 before the server recognized and picked up my scan and player info.
Once the look is locked in, players choose the ICON ability and fill in player traits, which can be built upon as the user achieves certain milestones. These milestones include winning online games versus other players or beating the CPU in streetball games, Pro-Am leagues, overseas, and the NBA.
The One features several different components to help build your player up, including "The Rise." This sub-mode runs players through a number of challenges within the game including getting points for rebounds, blocks, dunks, and 3-point shots. This keeps the 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 games fresh. As the user racks up wins and achievements, different players and attributes are unlocked, which can be added to your squad.
Another aspect of The Rise that is pretty cool (at least through the first run) are the news breaks from Complex News. Granted, the partnership that Live has with ESPN provides great video content from the network's personalities, but adding Complex and a variety of tweets from social media influencers gives the game a more millennial-friendly feel.
The video clips give a realistic look to The One-created player's rise to the league, but sometimes, the content doesn't reflect the games played. For instance, my player put up 18-points in a winning effort and had a good rating of 100 for his gameplay in the NBA Combine scrimmage. Following the game, a clip from Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman of ESPN's First Take played with the hosts commenting on how poorly my created player had competed, even going as far as to say he choked. I encountered this a couple times.
Real Player Motion
For the latest iteration of Live, the developers added a new mechanic to gameplay. Real Player Motion isn't actually all that new to basketball games overall. It is essentially tech that improves (at least for Live) player movement on and off of the ball. It is now easier to pull off dribble moves, cut and create space on offense, or crowd a player on defense.
On-the-ball defense specifically has a fun mini-game element. In any isolation play, an icon appears green when you accurately guess which way an offensive player is going and red when you guess wrong. When the icon is green, it's easier to get a steal and if not, you get embarrassed, just like in a real hoop game. In the words of the legend Michael Jordan, "you reach, I teach."
Overall gameplay in NBA Live 19 is good, but nowhere near great. Player movement doesn't feel natural a lot of the time, responsiveness is a tick slow and needs to be polished. Passing is also an issue. It's shaky, especially on the fast break and although there are buttons designated for lob and bounce pass, they only work in certain circumstances. This is actually one of the very few downers in an otherwise surprisingly fun and well-put-together title.
Women love ball and play ball as much as guys, so it's good to see that the WNBA is still a big part of the game. Not only can players compete with all of the WNBA franchises or East and West All-Star teams, WNBA players are also a major part of the teams competing in The Rise games as well. The gameplay here is true to women's basketball and it doesn't feel like the men's game at all. The movements look and feel like that of a women's basketball game, from the layups and shot form to off the ball movement.
Be sure to mix and match squads properly during inter-gender play though. This is basketball, so size matters; as great as Diana Taurasi is, put her up against a good player who is bigger and taller and she'll get cooked.
This is My House
More options are never a bad thing in gaming, and with the all-new Create-Your-Court function, users can put together a fully customizable hoop court. Court design is purely aesthetic, but it's a cool feature that gives gamers more control over every aspect of the court's look from type of wood to colors. You can also conquer other player's courts or defend your own. EA has even set up limited-time live games against other athletes and celebrities on their courts.
Be the Boss
Although The One is the most highlighted mode of NBA Live 19, Franchise is a mode that is definitely worth putting time into. Users have more control over their franchises this year with expanded salary options including Bird Rights and mid-level exceptions. You can also simulate by day now, to expedite long seasons a bit faster. The draft logic and injury reporting are a bit smarter this year as well. EA Sports says they plan to continue to improve franchise mode with patches throughout the year based on community feedback.
For those players who enjoy the fantasy sports/card game aspect of Ultimate Team play that EA Sports has been inputting into their sports games for awhile, you'll be happy to know that the mode is still present. However, not many changes were made to UT from Live 18.
NBA Live 19 is currently chasing NBA 2K19 as far as relevance is concerned, but it's also paving a path all its own. Live’s addition of real streetball/pro-am courts, leagues like Dykman and Drew League, as well as the WNBA presence are a welcome addition to the hoops simulator world. With improved gameplay mechanics, a future version of NBA Live could actually compete for the crown.
The biggest challenge for EA is getting people to give NBA Live 19 a shot over NBA 2K19. Overall gameplay in NBA Live 19 is good, but nowhere near great. Live’s addition of real streetball/pro-am courts, leagues like Dykman and Drew League, as well as the WNBA presence are a welcome addition to the hoops simulator world. With improved gameplay mechanics, a future version of NBA Live could actually compete for the crown.