For those that know me, they know that I don’t play sports and I rarely play sports video games, both never appealed to me, though the video games will gain my interest every few years and this year NBA Live caught my eye.
NBA Live 18 gives you two ways of playing, there is the traditional pickup games and then there is the league/career mode and while there is a lot to be found in the career, the pickup is where I had the most fun. The career mode starts out with you designing your player, they promoted an app you can get on smartphones to scan your face and share it to the game, the problem was, after doing that a few times, I still came out looking like Shrek, so in the end I just designed in the game. There is a host of things that you can choose to do when creating your character and while names and such are fine, there are a few restrictions that you need to be sure about, as you can’t change them later. Once your ideal player is created, you are ready to jump in and make your way to the top of the basketball world.
The entire process starts with two, I assume sports personalities having a heated discussion about the merits of college ball and how it can lead to one great athlete, or in this case two, one of which is your character. After being sidelined with a knee injury, you had to fight your way back to fitness and you are now ready for some matches, so your friend, the other player mentioned earlier, offers you the chance to play. What is cool about it, is how the game handles those conversations, they are all handled as text messages, letting you pick from a range of responses and the best part is that some of them will come with rewards, but it’s a choice between two types, so you need to decide how you want to proceed. Once the first conversation finished, the game gave me an incredibly well-done video introduction about where the game was being played, Rucker Park in Harlem.
Once the game started, it threw me in the deep end, as someone who does not know the sport at all, I was losing points for leaving the player I was meant to stick to, open so he could shoot unopposed. It seemed that no matter what I did, each time the opposing team scored, I lost a point of my player score, something that was explained only in the lightest of details before I started to play. What the game is doing is that each player has a dedicated player score, that is created when the player creation is finalised, so playing bed will impact your performance as you move through the careers progression. In the end, my team lost the match, something I expected, but it was disheartening none the less, however it did still reward me.
What happened next, well it confuses me, my player level increased, because of the actions I was able to do in the game, similar to how you level up in an RGP, but then there was skill based levels as well. Of course, the resulting increase to my level gave me a skill point to spend and for some reason a loot chest to open. What I found was that the game threw so much at me, I just lost track of everything that was levelling up, the skills I could apply to my player and everything, so when I jumped into the next match, which took me to Venice Beach, I was happy to just be watching a video on Venice Beach and then playing again. What threw me the most about playing, at least in the early days is that the game presents itself, with the camera looking up the court, rather than across it, like it does on TV, while not bad or anything, it was quite a strange view.
Once you progress far enough, you can play in the majors, or you can drop out and start playing random matches with the teams of the NBA or the WNBA in the quick match mode. The options here are the standard, length of the matches, player skill levels and so on, but as you can pick your favourite team and just start playing. What makes this fun is that the entire presentation is that of a tv broadcast, commentary, camera cuts and all and it is wonderful, you can manually trigger a replay when either team makes a basket, but for those truly spectacular shots, the game will do it for you. The half time and end of match reports also help lend an air of authenticity to the presentation, though I wish there was a shot or two of the people commentating, rather than them being just voices.
The presentation overall though, is a mixed bag, the menus suffer from way too much on the screen, which makes them feel bloated, but that is perhaps the most pointless presentation issue. The players themselves are decently animated for the most part, the problem is with minute details, such as player hair that looks like it was painted onto the heads and does not react at all anything around it. Their movements are stiff, with a distinct and very noticeable hitch changing between the animations and it becomes more noticeable when a player is taking free throws, as they will move from the before shot animation, to the shooting shot and then the post shot, with a hitch between them all. Finally, the camera has some issues with the non-NBA locations, nothing major per say, but when it does replays for you, the camera has no issues in clipping to gym walls or such.
Sound wise the game is a letdown, purely from the imbalance of the music to the vocals that the game presents, in fact after a good chunk of time, I lowered all the music levels in the game, but it still did not help. The music is louder than the rest of the audio the game presents, which means you either deal with loud music or quiet commentators, thankfully during the actual games, the music goes away, so you can just focus on playing. There is a strange presentation issues with the audio from the players though, sometimes it is there, with players calling for the ball and other times they are silent, so hearing nothing for most of a quarter, only to hear a few calls, before the silence returns is odd.
NBA Live 18 is a game that I would honestly never have played if it were not for the review, but I am glad I did, because I had fun. I enjoyed the quick matches and I enjoyed the career, the biggest issues that I have with the game is that it is way too complex for anyone who does not know a thing about the game to enjoy fully and its presentation is so inconsistent, it boggles the mind, but the core basketball was solid and that is perhaps the only thing that matters.