The demo of EA Sports’ NBA Live 19 dropped this past weekend, and like anybody else mildly interested in what EA has done to improve their basketball sim, I downloaded it and played it over the weekend.
Just like last year’s demo, NBA Live 19 gives us a taste of what is to come. But those curious about the gameplay won’t get mere crumbs (unlike 2K18’s last year), but a real sampler of what’s on the menu. While most other modes are locked, you will still get a good look at the gameplay.
The main mode in this demo is “The One” which is the story campaign of sorts where you create your own player. A good feature this year is the ability to change genders so if you fancy creating a female Stephen Curry (or fem-Steph) or a female Vince Carter (fem-Vince), you are free to do so. However, this early we know that choosing genders limits the modes you will be able to play. For example, male obviously allows you to get into the NBA, while female gets you most other modes besides NBA (I don’t know if there is a WNBA mode, but their players are there).
For all their faults, EA certainly knows how to make a story campaign mode if they really want to. Despite my preference of 2K for basketball sims, I play them mostly for their Franchise Mode (now called offline MyLeague). I disliked their execution of the MyCareer mode especially the hard marketing, the increasing reliance on microtransactions, and some annoying stuff in the story. NBA Live’s The One is much more fluid, much more engaging, and easy to get into.
NBA Live has always had the better graphics and Live 19 is no different. In fact, I would say that the face-capture of the players is better (at least for the top ones), and the court visuals are eye candy. Whether it may be the clean courts of a gym, or the dusty Tenement Court in Taguig (yes, there’s a Philippine court this year), the attention to detail is top-notch.
The animations have improved this year, making their movements much-much more fluid and less stiff than last year. Passing and shooting feels much more natural, and I always loved the dedicated buttons for defense. The ball physics seem better, and the lay-up and dunk animations are much improved and more natural looking.
The downside is that collision detection is still pretty problematic, and sometimes the players seem move on their own. The latter is due to the lag-time between your button inputs and the animation happening on the screen: a phenomenon that is also present in previous 2K games and which 2K is said to have fixed this year. The cross-overs seem sharper though, and driving to the basket seems to be much harder this year. But sometimes I find it difficult to pull a driving lay-up or dunk because a slight bump puts me out of momentum instantly especially if your dunk/lay-up rating is in the mid-70s level.
Moving on, the Live 19 demo shows a game that places even more emphasis on doing set-plays than ever before, and playing defense is also rewarding. A vast improvement over past Live’s dunk-ridden, arcade-like gameplay. This year, simple pick-and-roll plays are easy to execute, and passing the ball around gives you scoring opportunities. The same is true with the AI when I played. They pass the ball to the open man enough times, they play in-your-face defense especially when they’re about to lose, and they punish lousy defending.
So, at this point, is NBA Live 19 going to be the game that break EA’s back? In my opinion, that’s still a NO. Live 19 has a better story campaign mode, vastly improved gameplay, animations and maintain their grip on being the prettiest NBA game of the two. But comparing it with 2K18 (because the 2K19 demo is yet to come), the latter is still the better “basketball simulation” over-all. I would say that this year, it will be a close competition, and if that is what will move 2K to get off their couches and make significant improvements to their series, then it will be a good thing for basketball sim gamers out there.
At this point, everything will boil down to preference: if you want a better sim with a lot more customization options in the Franchise mode, 2K19 is probably the game for you. But if you want the flash, a better story campaign mode that does not rely on microtransactions, and is a visually beautiful game, then Live 19 might be the game for you.
NBA Live 19 will launch on PS4 and Xbox One on September 7, 2018.