|System: PS4, Xbox One|
|Dev: EA Tiburon|
|Release: September 15, 2017|
|Players: Single, co-op and 5v5 multiplayer|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Content is generally suitable for all ages.|
by Lucas White
After Madden 18 in August, EA Sports has a double whammy prepared for September 15. NHL 18 is coming with its new Threes mode, and NBA Live 18 is making a grand entrance after a two-year absence. EA Tiburon went back to the drawing board in a big way to catch up with the competition, and much like Madden 18 drew inspiration from the likes of Telltale and The Last of Us for its Longshot story mode, NBA Live 18 drew from big RPGs to fuel its The One campaign. It also sports EA Sports’ trademark variety with several different kinds of game modes, including non-league play and the bonafide video game debut of the WNBA. While NBA Live 18 often trips up a bit when it comes to being a “fun video game,” it casts enough nets to nail the “sports sim” deal and is creative enough to stand out amongst its peers.
The One is where I spent most of my time so far with NBA Live 18, as I like to approach these games as if I’ve never played a sports game before. This is the most challenging perspective with games like this and the most interesting to explore as they’re always trying. While NBA Live 18 doesn’t really bother to introduce you to the game and its systems, which is bizarre considering it’s coming off of a lengthy hiatus, it is a game of visual cues and meters above all else. Booting up the game sees the player immediately dropped into a pro game with licensed players. After you likely get walloped by the unforgiving AI, you get to create your custom player.
This is where the companion app is introduced, and it works pretty well for what it is. You scan your face, first removing your glasses and brushing your hair out of your face if you’re a nerd like me, and it translates to a head model fairly effectively. You can choose from what feels like a limited number of hairstyles, then customize the size. The speed boosts from being smaller are tempting, but you’ll end up looking like a creepy World of Warcraft NPC amongst all the enormous teammates you’ll have throughout the game.
The One starts off with a few challenges that lead up to the NBA draft. You’re introduced to NBA Live 18’s RPG systems, which see you navigating your way through a set of linear skill trees and assigning abilities that level up as you achieve skill-based objectives. Again, there is no hand holding here; it’s a trial by fire unless you exit out and find the separate tutorial modes, although the bare basics are easy enough to figure out thanks to loading screen control layouts and on-screen indicators.
Offensive play is incredibly straightforward. You run the ball, try to find a hole in the opposing team’s offense, and try to make a shot. Or, you can pass to a teammate and hope they can figure something out. Either way, there’s a lot of randomness involved, and it can be frustrating on the default difficulty. Shooting uses a tried and true meter mechanic; you hold the button and let go as close to the apex of the meter as possible. If you’ve lined up an ideal shot, the top of the meter will be green and nailing that guarantees a swish. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of math based on whether or not your shot is contested and good ol’ RNG.
It can be frustrating to maneuver as much as you can, line up shot after shot, hit the top of the meter over and over again, and miss every time. Opponent AI feels very strong, so fighting through for a good opening can be quite an uphill battle. If you can break through, a layup is a much safer bet, but it comes with its fair share of trip-ups. It doesn’t help that while the opposing team seems seems to always be around to snag the ball after a miss, your teammates don’t like to be in position for an assist, well, ever. I experimented with different difficulties to see what would happen, and while easy mode gives you a bone or two every now and then, as soon as NBA Live 18 ramps up in difficulty, there isn’t a ton of difference.
Defense is less intuitive and a mixed bag in terms of how good it feels and how effective everyone on the court can be against the AI. There’s a defense assist feature; holding L2 will sort of stick you to your assigned player and arrows will help you pick which direction to move in order to block effectively. It feels a little hand-holdy (perhaps by necessity) for basic defense, but when it comes to trying to steal the ball it’s all on you. Jumping can be finicky, but when it works and you slap the ball out of the air, it’s as satisfying as things can get in NBA Live 18.
Much of The One’s lead up to the NBA draft (called The Rise) introduces you to the game’s unique 5v5 games, which are super different from the standard NBA simulation-style games. They’re more intimate, more visually digestible, feel a little more video game-y, and are a lot more fun by consequence. It’s a bit of a letdown, though. The Streets mode and League mode (the two sections of the campaign after you finish The One) are some of the more gimmicky modes in NBA Live 18. You can play normal games online, but otherwise you have to play challenges or tournaments that really ramp up the difficulty.