Boy, NBA Live has come a long way over the last few seasons. After the abject failure of NBA Elite (which ended up never seeing the light of day) the entire franchise was rebooted, in hopes of competing with the consistently high quality NBA 2K series. It was a constant uphill climb, but it appears that there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel. Now whether that’s the light of the stadium on the horizon or the headlights of oncoming bus is still up in the air, but rest assured we will get to the bottom of it.
It somewhat goes without saying for yearly iterating sports franchises, but the theme of NBA Live 19 is evolution. Everything that was remarkable in last year’s bounce-back release is present, along with a few additional enhancements to boot. One area that continued to receive excessive amounts of TLC was The One mode. Where the previous installment only allowed for the creation and use of male characters, this has now been expanded to include the fairer sex as well. This is a welcome step in the right direction. However, it still feels like a bit of a half step considering that female created characters still cannot participate in The League’s branch of the campaign. That said, designing an entire WNBA career path might be a bit too much to ask in a single off season.
Another significant emphasis, at least in The Street mode, is recruiting players to join your squad. Trouncing marquee players like Joel Embiid or Allen Iverson on their home court unlocks them for use as teammates throughout the campaign. As the story progresses, additional players of both genders will join the stable of available options. According to EA, there will be hundreds of current and former ball players available, with more being added throughout the season.
Unlocking new squad mates are not just for use in the campaign, as they also play an integral role in the new Court Battle mode. After first designing a custom home court, players then define their location’s custom rules, handicaps, gameplan, and defensive lineup. Any baller that can be used within the narrative can also be assigned to defensive duty. Once a court has been posted online, other gamers can asynchronously invade and attempt expand their own hardwood empire, one jumpshot at a time.
Defend Your Den
Probably my favorite aspect of Court Battles are their unique match rules. New permutations continue to unlock throughout The One’s progression, so there will always be some new, fresh wrinkle to wreak havoc on the opposition. Early on I chose the “Attack of the Titans” mode where all baskets were only worth a single point, with the exception of dunks and alley-oops, which were worth 5 points apiece. Rule configurations like this fundamentally made me pivot my defensive roster’s strategy away from its traditionally guard-centric, jumpshot-heavy lineup, in favor of an aggressively-minded post game.
The new mode aside, The One’s experience mirrors what was available last season. The majority of the action happens on the court, with some cutscenes and interactive text conversations with a mentor or members of the press interspersed throughout. There are a certain number of branching threads during conversations, but nothing of real consequence. The only true differences brought about by these decisions will be whether there’s more hype or currency unlocked at the end of a chat. Oddly enough, the payoffs are entirely determined by the last dialog choice, so pick carefully.
While there were substantial improvements made to The One mode, it appears that Ultimate Team and the franchise mode haven’t been given anywhere near as much attention. There have been minor tweaks to franchise mode, but it would’ve been nice to finally see the introduction of online leagues or at least shared stats between other people on your friends list. Thankfully, if you’ve played Ultimate Team on any EA Sports game over the last year, you will know exactly what to expect in NBA Live 19. The mode has been barely touched from what I can tell, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The last major addition to NBA Live 19 was the introduction of the Real Player Motion technology. The groundbreaking new physics and reactive animation system has been the backbone of the Madden franchise for the last two seasons, and now makes the jump to the hardwood. The ability to adjust a player’s positioning either with or without possession of the ball is especially evident in modes where you control a single athlete for the entirety of a match. Being able to push off, juke, or even head fake the opposition into oblivion are all fantastic additions to the moveset. That said, just know that there are instances where animations can get a bit confused, resulting in odd physics quirks. I also encountered this while reviewing Madden, so really, this doesn’t come as that big of a shock.
Play-by-play commentary during actual NBA games is much improved thanks to the introduction of Ed Cohen and Jay Williams. Conversation flows organically and reacts well to the action on the court. I didn’t find the commentary to be distracting during gameplay, which is enough to be an improvement over last season. However, when you get to the pre-game, halftime, or post-game reports, this is where things start to go off of the rails. Anchored by NBA veteran and long-tenured broadcaster Jalen Rose, these segments are straight-up awful. Rose’s line delivery is so wooden he should be checked for termites. Every piece of dialogue feels like it’s being read directly from the page for the first time, with very little attention being paid to emphasis or vocal intonation. Matters are made even worse when they try to stitch together multiple readings in quick succession. The delivery is so inconsistent that you can tell EXACTLY where the cut points are. It feels like every segment is a mad libs highlight reel, read by Ben Stein, while being held at gunpoint.
Probably my single biggest criticism has to do with the inconsistent graphical fidelity and textures. Each court in the game is rendered at an extremely detailed resolution. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the character models, which are distractingly bland when placed on a highly detailed court. Oddly enough, this actually gets worse when players are wearing customized gear. It’s almost as if the game has to tone down the details on players in order to successfully run at a consistent framerate. A perfect example of this is my custom player, who had frosted tips in his hair. In active gameplay, however, his hair more closely resembled a troll doll with a botched goth dye job.
There are many things to appreciate in this year’s installment of NBA Live. The addition of mixed gender rosters, female created players, the introduction of Court Battles, and the new commentary team all help the game keep pace with their previous improvements. It is not going to raise the quality bar anytime soon, but they’ve managed to deliver an authentic NBA experience. If you’re looking for a solid alternative to 2K’s offering, look no further.
NBA Live 2019 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.