As much as EA has tried to break into the basketball market in recent years, they have completely failed to stop the domination of the 2K series. With NBA Live 19 they seek to end the reign of that series. There is plenty of work to do but can EA get anywhere close to toppling the 2K basketball empire?
For anyone new to basketball games or those who are unfamiliar with how NBA Live does things, there is an extensive tutorial available from the main menu. This section gives an excellent run down of every gameplay mechanic in the game and provides plenty of opportunities for you to practice them.
There are countless drills as well as 1v1 sessions to hone those skills. After a short period training, you should have a good understanding of everything you need to know on the court. It is a welcome addition and done in a more subtle way than many other tutorials.
So, just how good is the gameplay? For one thing, it is fairly intuitive. Even without the in-depth “Learn how to play” section, it is possible to pick up and get going in a basketball match without any real issues.
Without the complexities of the 2K series, NBA Live 19 can simply let loose with the fun. This mentality works well considering how fast basketball actually is.
However, A.I. opponents do have their problems occasionally and make decisions that seem downright odd. Seeing a defender foul constantly is not uncommon and it can take away from the flow. Yet there is still a fluidity to the teams moving up and down the court as defense is constantly being turned into attack. In that respect, this title has nailed that aspect of its real-life counterpart.
Perhaps the best example of the authenticity is how EA has focused on getting player movement up to par. The animations of these athletes is replicated in-game in such fine detail that it is sometimes difficult to tell that these are character models at times.
Everything from running to jockeying opponents to gain position looks and feels authentic. Player moves are even copied so that each basketball star has their own signature behavior that you’d expect to see during a real-life event.
Having such great animation is a double-edged sword, though, and it is clear that the developers have sacrificed some performance and visual fidelity to achieve it. The frame rate occasionally drops during some of the more intense moments, for example. That’s not to say that the visuals are bad, they can just seem a bit grainy at times. Although, the players themselves have all been rendered incredibly well. Even during the chaos of a game it is easy to spot the star players like LeBron or Curry.
The audio is also pretty good for the most part. The squeak of sneakers on the hardwood floor and the swish of the net when you score are all authentically recreated, Also the choice of music in the menus fits right in with the tone of the title.
One gripe I have, though, is with the commentary. Everything just gets far too repetitive after playing the game for just a short amount of time. What has been recorded is great, but there is just a lack of variety. It’s as if EA only gave the commentators one recording session. Although this is far from a major problem, it can be frustrating to hear the same lines said multiple times during the course of a quarter.
EA has introduced a single-player campaign into most of its sport franchises. And with the 2K series having its own career mode, it is not surprising to see one in NBA Live 19. Called The One, it sees players having to take a rookie from nobody to global superstar. It is not as story driven as some other notable examples, but is still a great addition to the overall experience.
Playing through The One is a mixture of building up your skills, playing basketball, and making narrative choices that have an effect on your journey. Playing through tournaments will build Hype and Skill that you can spend on upgrading your own ability or in a new feature called Custom Courts.
This lets you build your own basketball court and customize it to your liking. You can truly make this your own distinctive home. But be aware, you have to defend it against other players online through Court Battles. Winning these provides extra rewards, although they do carry some risk if you lose.
Building up your roster is another important and fun element of The One. The more successful you are, the more opportunities you will have to add NBA stars to your own team. EA has even included WNBA as well so that the women of the sport can be represented for the first time.
In terms of the other modes, it is the usual that you would expect to find in an EA title. Ultimate Team makes a return, as does Franchise. Just don’t expect to find too many upgrades or changes to what you would have played in last year’s installment. It’s something of a disappointment considering the enhancements made in other areas.
The truth is that NBA Live 19 is a huge step in the right direction for EA as it chases the top spot that the 2K series currently occupies. NBA Live 19 gets an awful lot right, from the great presentation and beautiful animations to the story mode that feels far more interesting this time around. But it still lags behind the 2K series in terms of replicating the sport of basketball down to its finest details.