NBA Live 18 Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

NBA Live 18 Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

Skill Trees, Loot Boxes and Sometimes Basketball

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.

NBA Live 18 Screenshot

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 .

NBA Live 18 Screenshot

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.

The two forces behind the campaign modes are the skill trees I mentioned earlier and a loot system that lets you continue to work on customizing your character as you play in assumed perpetuity. Everyone’s favorite loot box system makes an appearance here, and there are a whole ton of them to choose from as you level up. Each one shows you what comes in it, and they cost an in-game currency you earn by playing games.

One particular snaggle point is that the NBA Live 18 demo, released a little while ago, had the loot boxes pretty affordable and constant. In the full game, the prices have increased a few fold, making the pace of new unlocks agonizingly slow. Considering you’re customizing two different sets of clothing (League and Street), getting your character set seems fun at first, but quickly becomes a drag. Also notable is the conversation system, which bridge events together in the form of text messages with your friends, agent, and other players. Based on how you answer, you’re rewarded differently, but otherwise it’s fairly dry, inconsequential writing that doesn’t really read like actual humans communicating, save for the occasional emoji.

NBA Live 18 Screenshot

The skill system is neat, and ultimately makes NBA Live 18 a lot more smooth as you level up your skills and subsequently your OVR rating. Your player’s core skills are based on the “class” of sorts (Playstyle) you pick from the get go. You get two at first, but unlock more as you go and get points to spend when you level up. Here you unlock more customization options (mostly sneakers and animations) and gain percentage-based stat boosts. Abilities are separated by League and Streets, and unlock as you complete various actions. Doing those same actions upgrades those abilities and they definitely impact your game.

Beyond The One, you have several other play options at your disposal, most of them familiar to EA Sports veterans. You have the Ultimate Team mode that makes appearances in other games such as Madden , which lets you build a team with collectible cards as you play, as well as a more traditional and stats-y Franchise mode. The WNBA is also isolated in its own separate mode of play, so checking that out and seeing how the balance is tweaked oh-so-differently is a must.

Ultimately there’s a ton of content in NBA Live 18 for basketball and NBA nuts. While it doesn’t have something comparable to Madden ’s Longshot, making it more accessible and distinct, there’s still a ton here to do and enough variance that different kinds of players will probably find something to latch onto. For me, it was The One for sure, with its hodgepodge mix of RPG elements, character customization, and a more casual style of play. When I ran into issues, it usually felt like I had the deck stacked against me in a nasty cocktail of RNG, tough opponent AI, and bumbling teammate AI all working together to take my pride down a notch. A more integrated set of learning tools would have been nice, but the game is simple enough at the beginning to make ergonomic, video game language-style sense, which is a plus compared to the much more complex stylings of Madden or NHL . There’s an uphill battle for this one to stand up to the NBA 2K Juggernaut, but it has a chance this time for sure.

Generally on the same high level of quality you’d expect from an EA Sports game. Sometimes some weird faces show up, and a few other hiccups make it seem a bit less polished. 3.5 Control
Relatively simple, but poorly introduced and explained, and poor balance compounds frustration. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Typical sports game fare, although the First Take segments are very well-produced. 5.0 Play Value
The content volume here is almost overwhelming. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Express yourself with customization and depth, defining your signature style on the court. Master your role and create your unique player DNA using a combination of playstyles, skills and traits to execute moves only you can pull off. Unlike other sports games, NBA LIVE 18 delivers distinctive player variety within the community, offering balanced and authentic gameplay match ups across the court.
  • Seamlessly play and progress your player through a true representation of basketball, bringing together the lights and spectacle of the NBA in The League and the flash and style represented across iconic courts in The Streets.
  • From east coast to west coast, from The Streets to The League, your career progress is reflected by your ONE Score. See where you rank amongst the community and stake your claim as THE ONE.

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