Yesterday the free demo for NBA Live 18 dropped, becoming the first installment of the franchise in almost two calendar years. Producer EA Sports last put out a Live game in September of 2015 when Russell Westbrook graced the cover of NBA Live 16 and now the man who finished behind him in this years MVP voting, James Harden, is the cover star that will look to revitalize this once prominent video game franchise.
In recent years the basketball video game market has been dominated by NBA2K but I for one am of the belief that a lack of competition has led to stale gameplay and a lack of innovation on 2K’s part. Don’t get me wrong here, the 2K series from ’08 up to probably ’13 were some of the best sports video games of all time but recent iterations have left a lot to be desired. The monumental disaster that was the Spike Lee produced NBA2k16 left me with such a bad taste in my mouth that I never even picked up 2K17 for myself, though I have played it in passing and wasn’t impressed.
As the first screenshots and gameplay videos for Live 18 started to trickle in over the past few months I found myself getting very excited for this game’s release. I jumped right into today’s demo and here’s how I felt about it.
The Live equivalent of 2K’s MyPlayer mode is called “The One” and puts you in the shoes of a once top prospect who is on the road to recovery after suffering a bad knee injury in college. The demo grants you access to the initial stage of this journey called “The Rise”. Through this initial segment of the story you will take your player through different famous streetball venues in an attempt to revitalize your NBA potential in the eyes of the teams that may one day draft you.
The first thing you should do when you fire up the demo is download the NBA Live Companion app from whatever app store you use. The app will allow you scan your face into the game and onto your player, and let me tell you, it is SCARY accurate. At times I would see myself moving around on the screen and get a little freaked out by how much it actually looked like me.
Once you get yourself in the game (or just create whatever generic face you want) you will choose the archetype for what kind of player you want to be. I chose “guard” and “playmaker” to give myself a well rounded stat set but there were several unique options like “point-shooter”, “defensive stopper”, etc. As you play through streetball games at places like Rucker Park, the Seattle ProAm, and the Drew League you will gain experience points to boost your player’s attributes. But unlike the standard upgrade system in 2K that has you boosting fifty different skills one percentage point at a time Live has introduced an RPG like upgrade system where you progress your player by unlocking upgrades that are relevant to the player archetype you chose to play as.
As you move through the story you will be involved in text conversations with various people where you are given options to choose how you want to respond. To this point the only differences in the responses seem to be that sometimes you will get different rewards depending on which response you choose. But I would think this feature will come into play more in the full game.
“The Rise” part of the demo ends after the NBA Draft where coincidentally enough I got taken #8 by the Knicks (sorry Frank). I assume that when the full game releases you will be able to pick up your character right where you left off and get started on an NBA career.
In addition to the beginning stage of “The One” the demo also allows you to play a quick game as either the Warriors or the Cavs that is set up to be game 7 of the Finals. After taking your created player through the street games getting your hands on actual NBA players was very noticeable. Playing as LeBron it legitimately felt like I could overpower a defender and get to the basket. While on the other side the computer on more than one occasion pulled up for a trademark Steph Curry deep three. It seems like Live 18 is going to have a lot of emphasis placed on the individual strengths and styles of the NBA’s best players which is extremely exciting after several years of 2K where every player essentially feels the same.
Overall this game is extremely impressive graphically, boasting probably the best actual gameplay graphics I’ve ever seen in a sports game, and the gameplay itself is extremely fluid and well paced. One of my biggest issues with 2K the past few years has been that it more often than not feels like you are playing the game in mud. For my money NBA Live 18 seems to be the most authentic video game basketball experience to hit our consoles in several years and I cannot wait for the full game to drop in December.
Demo Score: 9.4/10
Random Pros and Cons
-The ESPN First Take duo of Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman has been woven into the story for “The One” mode and the segments that are shown in the demo are extremely immersive and well done. They shot these scenes as live action too which is really cool.
-Very fluid and realistic player movements. Dunk animations are not over the top arcadey but still manage to feel impressive. Oh and you can actually dunk without getting blocked from behind every time.
-The offense did still seem to get bogged down too easily but that could also be a function of just not knowing the game well enough yet.
-The shoe design is AWESOME.
-Player models and body types have a very lean and athletic build that fits with the modern space and pace trends of the NBA and adds a huge level of realism to the game.
-The currency/experience system seems a little overly confusing. There are like three different currency’s that you use to buy different skills and items. That could probably have been simplified.
-The timeout options are easy to use unlike the most recent version of 2K where you had to have a masters degree to figure how to make a substitution.
-They gave us Breen and Van Gundy as in game announcers!! On top of that the halftime report is voiced by Jalen Rose and is set up like a SportsCenter rundown where you get to view different stat or highlight segments. Very original and very well done.