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NBA Live 18

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'NBA Live 18'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 23, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

NBA Live 18 returns with an all-new and dynamic career journey. Create your individual player identity and become a legend in The League and The Streets.

Buy NBA Live 18

There's only so much rebuilding people can take before they want to see the result of all that work. After the disastrous debut of NBA Live 14 at the start of this console generation, EA Sports promised that it was going to work on the series to return it to its former glory. Both NBA Live 15 and 16 showed that some real progress was being made, but it was slow going while the competing NBA 2K series was going strong. When news came that NBA Live 17 was going to be a mobile-only title, many wondered if EA had surrendered the console basketball market to 2K Games. As a result, NBA Live 18 is the result of a two-year cycle. It also happens to be the series' best title to date, provided you temper your expectations.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, it's quite good for lapsed or casual fans. The right analog stick handles shots and fancy dribbling techniques, but the former can also be accomplished with a button for those who prefer the classic method. The shot meter is a little less cumbersome this time around, but it will still take a game or two to get used to the timing. Defense gets some love, as the box-out mechanic becomes a minigame of sorts as you're constantly trying to anticipate and match a left or right arrow on the screen to prevent your opponent from crossing you up or going for a drive to the basket. The game also lets you know who you should be guarding, so you aren't always chasing down the person with the ball. In short, give it a game, and you'll get the fundamentals enough to be more than just a pushover against seasoned players.

NBA Live 18 still needs some work in this area, though. The animations still lack smooth transitions from one action to another, so you'll see some abrupt stops when someone posts up on you, and although there are fewer situations where the ball magnetically reaches someone's hands after a pass, it still happens. The AI also needs some work both offensively and defensively. The game is pretty bad about letting turnovers occur on bad passes, and there are times when notable superstar players have really bad games when left to their own devices. There are still more positives than negatives in this regard, but it is far from the ideal gameplay experience.

The big mode this time around is The One, which is a version of story mode. You're a promising collegiate athlete who's been taken out early in his sophomore season due to a knee injury. You recover, but no NBA team seems interested in either you or your friend, who dropped out of college after a year to take a chance with the NBA draft. You both decide to get some name recognition in the street leagues so the NBA will take notice.

From the outset, two things work against the mode. The character creation mode is incomplete, so if you're only using in-game assets, you'll be just fine. If you opt to use the mobile app to put your face in the game, it doesn't work. The app does a good job of scanning your face, and while it states that it uploaded to the servers, the game can't seem to retrieve it when you're making a character. Sitting through the playback of a few songs did nothing, and neither did rebooting the game. As it stands, consider that feature to be nonexistent.

The second part that doesn't work is the story itself. Compared to what's been seen in Madden NFL 18 and FIFA 18, the story in NBA Live 18 is sparse. Most of the story is driven through Twitter conversations, where your choices are limited and only a few have an impact on the game. The other scenes are truncated episodes of ESPN's "First Take," where Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith talk about your progress. Unless you're a fan of the debate-style show, you'll wish you could skip this segment.

If you can get over those issues, you'll find this to be a very well-done mode and a welcome alternative to the usual career narrative. The split focus on the NBA and street leagues means that you're capable of getting ample playtime in other leagues and going against a bevy of past and present pro players. The RPG-like experience system lets you level up your character in meaningful ways by gating access to special animations while also letting you slowly increase your player's abilities. Your character starts off with decent stats, so the path to a level-99 player doesn't feel like a slog. The different positions and play styles give you an opportunity to go through the mode again and get a different experience. There are loot boxes that provide different cosmetic accessories, but the can be obtained with in-game money instead of real money. The pace at which players earn the virtual cash is fast enough that opening a loot box can be a very common occurrence. Be prepared to spend plenty of time in The One mode, and that's before taking into account the online multiplayer portion of it.

One of the bigger additions this year is the inclusion of the WNBA. For the first time, all 12 WNBA teams are present, and that includes the East and West All-Star teams. Subtle changes are also present, like the different ball that's used and the different banners that are specific to the WNBA, but otherwise, the game plays the same way as the regular version, right down to the taunts after a basket is made.

While the inclusion of the league makes NBA Live 18 distinct, the implementation feels rather incomplete. The commentary during WNBA games is reduced, with some generic phrases tossed around. Only the biggest WNBA stars are mentioned by their full names, while others are called by their last names if they're shared by NBA players. Coaches are nowhere to be seen, so timeout cinematics are odd since everyone is huddled around but the camera focuses on nothing in the center. The halftime report is also missing, so while its exclusion makes the game go by faster, it also makes it feel like an incomplete product compared to other NBA titles. More importantly, WNBA games are restricted to local play only, so those wanting to run a team like the Phoenix Mercury online or in Franchise mode will have no such luck. Hopefully, this is something that gets a major improvement in the next iteration.

That incomplete feeling permeates the rest of the modes. Season mode is out altogether, while Franchise feels just like a watered-down version of itself. You have drafts, but you can't get much of a scouting report for the players. You can't adjust players, and injuries never happen unless you simulate a game. Trades are also nonexistent unless you initiate them, so unless you enjoy the feeling that nothing ever happens to anyone until you say so, it can feel like an empty experience. Elsewhere, online play is limited to ranked-only matches, so all you'll find are serious players instead of a few who want to hoop it up for fun. Ultimate Team is back but has none of the features of other EA sports games. You have standard one-on-one matches and a few events where you play against certain AI configurations, but that's about it.

Graphically, NBA Live 18 is hit-or-miss. The various outdoor courts look outstanding thanks to the lighting and crowd presence. The players look authentic, and no major superstar looks completely "off." There's still an issue with clipping arms that's best seen in instant replays, and the hair for the WNBA players can look too stiff at times, but in still shots, this is a nice-looking game. In motion, however, it can feel rather chunky. The frame rate never goes higher than 30 fps, but it will stutter quite often. This is especially true when you see transitions from gameplay to replays and back again, as the graphics stutter along almost as if the game were struggling to handle the new camera angles.

Like the graphics, the audio is very good in some places but underwhelming in others. There's an all hip-hop soundtrack with Kendrick Lamar's DNA proving to be a perfect hype song to start the game, while all of the other songs also sound great. The sound effects are fine, and there are some nice touches, like hearing some of the players' voices on the court as they call things out. The commentary team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Jalen Rose is good, but the voice bank is limited and you'll hear them repeat phrases quite often. Considering that this is the fourth version of the game where you've heard the same phrases repeated, it seems like it's time to overhaul this area.

NBA Live 18 feels like it can be a competitor to the NBA 2K series. The game still needs some work in the presentation department, and while the streamlined modes may be pleasing for players who can feel overwhelmed with options, the available modes can feel pretty bare-bones. The gameplay is solid most of the time, and The One is a pretty good way to do a story mode, even if it doesn't have the writing depth. NBA Live 18 is now a decent alternative, and as long as EA Sports can keep up this momentum, it has a good chance of putting up a tighter fight next year.

Score: 7.0/10

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