The first time I fell I love (with a video game) was NBA Live 95.
My dad bought it for me just because the Rockets were on the cover (watching their championship run was our version of father/son bonding), and once I fired it up for the first time my life changed forever.
I was a fairly religious Live gamer for the next 15 years. Then NBA Elite 11 happened, and EA decided to take a break. So did I. After a bit of a gaming hiatus, in 2014 I decided to give NBA 2K a try and never looked back.
Until last year, when virtual James Harden recited that famous phrase, “EA Sports…it’s in the game.”
I couldn’t help but stand up and take notice, and not just because my favorite player was on the cover. It was an enjoyable, yet flawed game. There was also a ton of potential, mainly surrounding the different take on the tried-and-true career mode called The One.
So the question is, does Live 19 reach that potential with a catch-and-shoot three over 2K’s outstretched arm, or does the ball slip through EA’s fingers and hit them in the face?
I think the answer lies somewhere in middle. (To continue my above metaphor, I think that would mean getting fouled while throwing up a contested shot from deep, and maybe hitting 2 of the 3 free throws.)
Okay, on with the review!
I could write a ton more about gameplay than I am about to, but I actually think at its core it’s a pretty easy game to explain this year.
Yes, it’s clear EA has put a lot of work into the gameplay and it’s much improved over last year. The addition of Real Player Motion has created smoother movement and a more realistic basketball experience. The controls are intuitive and simple, and I especially love the feeling of a Harden step-back jumper (on PS4, hold R2 and hold down on the right stick).
I only wish there were more moves like this.
It seems like you’re always doing the same canned crossover or spin move, and that’s about it. There doesn’t seem to be as many layers to chaining moves together as I would like, or at least I can’t figure out how to do them with any consistency. Other basic basketball stuff like rebounds and passes (especially alley-oops) also seem wonky at times. If EA can expand and deliver on these areas of the game, I do think it will be in a wonderful place moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong, Live 19 is still fun to play, but sometimes it just feels like the game is helping you do things you maybe weren’t intending. Usually it works out in your favor, but it doesn’t always feel earned.
However if you take the ball out of the equation, the movement away from the action is quite enjoyable. Flicking the right stick to cut and shake a defender is a fun mini-game, as is setting screens. My created player is a wing defender, so I’m either running around setting screens and trying to get open while my point guard works his or her magic, or I’m wreaking havoc on the defensive end and the glass.
This is how I play in real life, and it translates well to Live 19, which is probably the best compliment I can give the game.
The One is the signature mode of NBA Live 19, and it’s easily the main reason to recommend the game.
Once you create a player, you take him (or her, yes, you can create a female player) overseas to make a name for yourself. The “story” is a little cheesy, but you can try to get drafted into the NBA and win a championship, or stay on the streets and keep dominating. Or both!
But The Street/Pro-Am is really where the game shines. I’ll try and quickly run down the different ways you can utilize your player outside of the actual NBA.
In Live Run, you play 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 online games with and against human players. This might be my favorite thing the game has to offer, as each game feels very different depending on your teammates. I really enjoy trying to adapt to new players and figuring out the best way I can fit in to help us win — you know, as one does when playing real basketball.
In The Streets World Tour, you play on famous courts across America and abroad. As you build your reputation, you also add members to your squad. Yes, when you beat certain players (like Allen Iverson), you can recruit them. Then when you move on to another court, you can tweak your team from a stable of NBA, WNBA and street players.
It’s probably the coolest and most addictive feature of The One.
Then there are Live Events where you can play limited-time challenges that reward you with clothes or gear, or also new players for your team. I just did one featuring street-ball legend The Professor, who is now part of my crew.
If you like jerseys, and shoes and custom tattoos, then you’re going to love this mode.
There is such a large variety of gear from different brands to earn, so you could customize your player forever. And the way NBA Live 19 embraces the street-ball culture really differentiates itself from the pack and gives The One a unique identity.
I love it.
Court Battles let you try to take over other player’s courts utilizing a custom squad of your best players. (You aren’t just limited to controlling your created player either, you can control the whole team here.) But while you’re out trying to take other courts, an AI team you left behind will have to defend your court based on rules you designed.
Like, for example, you could make dunks and blocks worth 5 points each. Or 3-pointers are only worth one point, while layups are worth three.
Then after the rules are established, you pick Attacker Handicaps to limit your opponent’s team. For example, they might have to have “three or more players in their lineup with an overall rating of 75 or lower.” That’s just one of many options, with more coming throughout the year.
And finally you choose a strategy based on the defensive lineup you put together. For example, “Two Bigs” is a “post-heavy game plan that relies on two big men inside.” Part of what keeps me playing is trying to find new players to take and defend courts.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, you get to create your own custom court in NBA Live 19. There are a lot of base options like color and materials for the floor, but you can also earn artwork as you play through The One to add to your masterpiece.
Options are the name of the game with The One.
You choose your own destiny and can focus on whatever interests you in the moment, earning rewards and upgrading your player along the way. It’s crazy and fun all at the same time.
Speaking of options…
As you can see, EA’s card-collecting mode has a zillion ways to earn content.
The little kid that lives inside me just wants to keep playing, as you’re constantly collecting new players to try out or completing objectives to earn currency. I also imagine that new challenges and cards will pop up throughout the year, so there’s always a reason to come back.
Back to the currency for a second, so you do have the option to spend real world money, but honestly I don’t think you’d need to in order to enjoy this mode. There are tons of cards, and multiple versions of players, so you could go deeeeeeep down the fantasy rabbit hole. One strange thing though, is that apparently your inventory can only hold 500 cards? I guess you have to choose wisely.
In addition, as a 2K player as well, I was thrilled to learn there are no contracts in Live 19.
So I’m going to play my awesome 81-rated Hakeem Olajuwon in every lineup for every game, no matter how easy the matchup. Just because I can.
Franchise Mode And So On…
You’re not going to play the franchise mode. It’s just not ready for the big stage.
If that’s the main thing that interests you about a basketball video game, I feel the need to direct you elsewhere. Live 19 does have more options than last year for dealing with rosters, etc. — plus you can even start in the offseason and participate in the draft and free agency. This is all a step in the right direction, but again, it’s not worth your time when there are better options available.
Now, perhaps if Live 19 had a WNBA franchise mode, that could be a game changer. Or maybe the studio could do what 2K hasn’t recently, and include European teams and other leagues. If EA is serious about improving the mode, hopefully we’ll see more innovation like The One and last year’s inclusion of WNBA players, and less replication.
Speaking of which, I’d like to see Cynthia Cooper and other historic WNBA players pop up in The One, franchise mode and definitely Ultimate Team. If you’re going to lead the charge here EA, you might as well go all in. But for now, we can utilize the current WNBA players (or their NBA counterparts) in separate Play Now modes, which I think is pretty self-explanatory.
Then there’s an online head-to-head mode that is basically just Play Now, but online. It has rankings and leaderboards, and you can play a best-of-seven series against your friends.
You’ve also got your basic practice drills, or a scrimmage option in 1-on-1 or 5-on-5 flavors.
Let’s start with the menus, which are well designed, inviting and easy to navigate. Everything just feels “hip” for lack of a better word. And I dig it.
Moving onto the game itself, everything really looks great. Player models seem improved so you can definitely tell who’s who, and I personally enjoy the attention to detail paid to all the venues. Learning a bit about the courts and the Pro-Am leagues adds a nice level of authenticity to the game.
I know I brought up some issues with the passing earlier, but I also have to praise the passing arrow. You can always see where your pass is about to go, which is helpful when there’s a lot of chaos happening on the court.
Want to know what wasn’t chaotic this year?
My face scan experience. So easy. And I can definitely (unfortunately) tell it’s me, so if you love looking at yourself in the mirror, you’ll love NBA Live 19. And compared to that “other game,” Live does a much better job with my blonde hair. So kudos, EA.
Oh, and seeing myself in a Rockets jersey definitely gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside every single time.
The aural aspect of the game is also solid. Whether you’re playing in a gym or on an outdoor court in France, everything sounds as expected. Though I do feel like the “music” that plays during street games gets pretty repetitive. Obviously that’s not a deal breaker, but still a bit odd.
If you are playing in a gym, the commentary has a secret weapon in Jay Williams. His nuggets of wisdom are enjoyable, especially when you’ve heard them for the tenth time — and I do mean that sincerely. (Side note: check out Best Shot on YouTube if you haven’t seen it already. It will make you fall in love with Jay, guaranteed.)
Last but not least, something that really bothers me about the game is the camera. When you’re playing through the majority of The One mode, you have access to camera options called “The One” and “Player Lock” that are pretty good. Player Lock is what I typically use.
But in the other modes like Ultimate Team or even Court Battles, you can’t use those for some reason. And none of the other camera options work for me. I actually find myself getting frustrated the longer I play like that because I feel like I can’t get a good sense of the depth of the court. Due to this issue, it makes it tough to drive or pass sometimes because I can’t tell how close I am to the basket or other players.
So EA, maybe I can get “The One” and “Player Lock” added to the other modes at some point? Please?
The Bottom Line
Okay, so if you’re still with me, you’re probably asking yourself, “should I buy NBA Live 19?” Well, that depends.
Are you someone who has never actually seen or played NBA 2K, but want to try video game basketball? Then you’ll find a lot to love with Live without the burden of knowing that the grass is probably greener on the other side of the outdoor court.
Do you play NBA 2K but hate the online modes? Definitely give Live a try, as playing online in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 games is a lot of fun. Plus, the Court Battle mode is an inspired addition to a basketball game.
Do you hate how 2K’s MyCareer and MyTeam are so VC dependent? Well guess what, to become “The One” you actually have to put in the time and earn your way to the top. Crazy, right? And in Ultimate Team, you don’t have to worry about contracts, which is fantastic. Plus there is tons of content to unlock just by playing the game, so no extra cash is required to keep up with the Joneses (or James’).
Do you like the idea of healthy competition? Then get the game and just sporadically fire up Live Run or Court Battles when you need a fun diversion. And feel good about betting on the underdog while feeling like the future is bright.
Who knows, maybe with more experience under its belt, the Live team could ultimately craft a game that meets or exceeds NBA 2K on every level. I hope so, as I would personally love to see two basketball games throwing down again. After all, while that Process (trust it) plays out over the next however many years, 2K will feel those footsteps creeping up and keep bringing their ‘A+’ game. It’s truly a win-win.
That is probably where I fall on the spectrum.
I have both games and am happy with my purchases, as both have areas I gravitate toward. Plus if last year is any indication, you’ll eventually find a nice sale (30-50 percent off) to make Live 19 even more of a great value.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and at least try out the free demo so you can experience a franchise that’s on the rise.