Playing NBA Live 18 for the first time was like coming home to where I grew up after moving away years ago. I was excited to be back, I still knew my way around, and there was a palpable air of familiarity. However, after spending so much time away, I'm immediately reminded as to why I moved away in the first place.
EA's newest installment from their struggling NBA Live franchise—it's first since NBA Live 16—plays like a game that's trying to keep up with the world around it. Teammate A.I. is questionable, fluidity driving to the basket on dunks is bizarre in its speed, shots are incredibly easy to make, and even smaller things, like inconsistency in the way the ball feels and moves, defenders and ballhandlers rubberbanding after touching instead of maintaining momentum causing many a fast break to be immediately disrupted, and the fact that blocking a shot sounds like it's in the rules that the ball has to be punched as hard as possible, doesn't do the game any favors. I don't want to come across like this game is bad, because it's far from it. NBA Live 18 can best serve as a positive alternative to those looking for something different in their NBA gaming space.
Prior to game's release, it was revealed that NBA Live 18 would be the first basketball game to include the WNBA teams and rosters. While those teams are only playable an offline capacity, it's one of the brightest areas of the game. The fluidity and motion of the gameplay excels best when the game is kept under the rim and that is an area of expertise for the WNBA. While the player models for some of the players are great, you're left with a lot of generic looking individuals on every team's bench. Inexplicably leaving these teams absent from online play was another bizarre choice in a game that has a lot of good ideas, but with poor execution.
Contrary to its counterpart's broadcast aesthetic, NBA Live carries a more cinematic feel in its games. The camera sits lower, and the arenas are lit darker, casting a more vibrant tone on the court itself which allows the player models to stand out. This both serves as a positive and negative as certain players (Harden, LeBron, Durant, etc.) look great, where other, lower-tier players look halfhearted in their design. Each individual suffers from the same plight, though, where it looks almost like photos of their faces pasted onto elastic bodies, generating a facade of great design. The bland commentary of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy doesn't do this game any favors, either. You will hear most of the same lines every game, and most are incredibly generic, allowing them to be used universally, regarding of the match-ups or players involved. In some instances, I found myself up by 15-20 points with only a few minutes left in the game, and was being chastised by Van Gundy for a turnover he deemed costly, as if it would have an adverse effect on the game in question.
The game's career mode, titled, "The One" is a nice addition to the franchise, providing a story of your character making his basketball career comeback, with various skills, styles, and even clothes, to go along with attribute upgrades to develop your player through street games and league games, but, after seeing what EA was able to deliver in Madden's "Long Shot," "The One" is a far cry from a career mode with story substance.
Franchise mode continues the trend of swimming in the shallow end as it doesn't provide much more than your typical, "manage a team through an 82-game season, and maybe the playoffs" function. All-Star Weekend, outside of the game itself, is absent, as well as negotiating free agent contracts, and various other parts of a GM mode you would come to expect from a sports game in 2017. Fans of Ultimate Team mode from the Madden and FIFA franchises will be pleased to see its inclusion, however, if you're looking for anything new, you will not find it here.
For those looking to take the game online and compete against your friends outside of local play, that's too bad as NBA Live 18 only provides the options to do online ranked matches. This is perhaps the most questionable, and egregious exclusion, given as to how competitive these games can be in a circle of friends, limiting the online play to predetermined settings in ranked matches in almost laughable.
As a whole, I appreciate there being a NBA game that is easy to pick up and play. The game's control are relatively simple, with very little complications or inherent learning curve. The inclusion of the WNBA is a welcomed touch, and there are a lot of features in the game that are well-intentioned, but unfortunately, almost all of them are poorly executed, or at best, half-baked. EA Sports has potential in bringing back the Live franchise to the critical darling it once was. Sadly, NBA Live 18 is more the game-winning shot that rims out.
Alex is the host of 48 Minutes. Please direct all of your negativity to his Twitter so he can reply with photos of his dog.