I’m a long time fan of EA Sports’ NBA Live franchise. In terms of historical significance, NBA Live 95 remains, to this day, the greatest basketball game I’ve ever played. Not because the controls were the best or the graphics were visually stunning; it’s because my friends and I got together almost every day and played it, and played it, and played it again. So my basis of fandom for the franchise is simply tied up into nostalgia for the fun times we had playing together. When EA brought NBA Live back in 2014, it was an abomination and a far cry from those halcyon days in the mid-90s. Now, so far into the shadow of Take-Two’s NBA 2K franchise that it needs to wear a jacket for warmth, NBA Live is desperately trying to reestablish an inside presence in the paint, and with NBA Live 19, they may have succeeded. I’m proud to say that NBA Live 19 is a good game. Finally.
It’s been a rough few years for the game franchise, but Electronic Arts and developer Tiburon pushed through. They even canceled their planned 2017 title to focus on making sure the 2018 entry was a strong contender. The move paid off, as NBA Live 18 was the turning point for the franchise. Now, NBA Live 19 builds off that success by taking things a step further.
Real Player Motion removes the wooden player movements of the recent past and creates a more fluid basketball experience. Players move up and down the court realistically, and set plays and various schemes can be executed with ease. A real-life player’s quirks are recreated, so it feels natural. Quick guards can slash through defenders and not feel like an elephant running through a forest, and jump shots are mapped to a single button press, and can now be pulled off more naturally. In fact, Tiburon has utilized the controller in such a way that I feel like the game is truly in my hands.
On defense, I’ve never felt more in control; a quick tap of the left trigger can close gaps and frustrate the ball handler, leading to easier steals or at worst, a poor shot. I’m a defense guy, and I love shutting down a superstar. Where past series entries made me angry to play, NBA Live 19 is actually something I look forward to each day. When it gets down to it, control matters in a finesse game like basketball, and Live 19 delivers on this front. It strikes a decent balance between simulation and arcade, and it makes the game of basketball fun again. I would even go so far as to say that NBA Live 19 is the better basketball game on the market, while NBA 2K19 is the better NBA game, if that makes any sense.
NBA Live 19 brings a ton of features and modes, including Ultimate Team, the card-based team building mode that all EA Sports titles utilize. But Ultimate Team is an afterthought compared to other modes like The One, which allows gamers to create players and take them through a career path of their choice. The Street offers up various streetball leagues around the world that gamers can dominate, and The League sets the player on the path to glory in NBA arenas around the country.
Player creation is relatively deep, and the use of the NBA Live phone app can map your face to the created player. This actually works, and it’s very surreal to see my face on the court defending Russell Westbrook and schooling Victor Oladipo in a home court battle. Players choose a baseline play style, like Playmaker or Floor General, and then follow that progression through a series of tiers, ultimately reaching Icon status. This created-player progression feels much more natural than a scripted storyline, as the focus here is clearly on the actual sport of basketball, and not a canned branching conversation of what shoe sponsor to choose for your character.
And for the first time, gamers can create women players. The WNBA was introduced last year and returns here, and with female player creation, maybe next year the WNBA will get its own opportunity in Franchise mode. For now, playing exhibition games in real WNBA arenas with real WNBA logos and stars, like Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne, shows the evolution of NBA Live 19 and promises more in the future.
New this year are Court Battles, which play like a version of the board game Risk. Gamers design a home court, complete with its own set of rules and play styles, and then pick a team of real-life players to guard it. Another created team goes out into the world and battles other players’ created courts to try and overtake them and dominate the region (and hopefully the nation). There’s a ton of strategy involved, and each game played in the game’s The One mode adds to your totals for new players, equipment, and court skins/designs, which makes all of this feel connected in a unique way. I’ve been playing NBA Live 19 for well over a week, and I’m still finding new wrinkles and features in these game modes.
In addition to the cornucopia of game modes, developer EA Tiburon has applied a new coat of paint to the series’ presentation. Players look just like their real-life counterparts, and the series has never looked this good from top to bottom. Arenas are full of fans, and team mascots roam the sidelines. The courts start off shiny and polished, but by the fourth quarter, they are scuffed up and marked all over. These arenas feel realistic, with chants breaking out in the stands, and commentary that is tied to the action on the court. ESPN personalities serve as the broadcasting team for games, with Ed Cohen and Jay Williams calling the action on the courtside, while Jalen Rose serves as the studio voice. Rose has come a long way from the earlier NBA Live games, and his delivery is more natural now. Other real-life personalities pop up here and there in the other game modes, helping to create a cohesive real-time broadcast experience.
I’m honestly shocked by how much I enjoy playing NBA Live 19. The last few years left much to be desired, and my love and nostalgia for the franchise was the only thing bringing me back every few years. I missed last year’s game, so I can’t speak on it, but NBA Live 19 is a revelation, and it feels like the franchise is truly back. When I play it, I’m having fun, much like I did back in 1995. When I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about playing it. I’m thinking about the next game on my Franchise mode schedule, or what skill I need to improve for my created player, in order to take him to the next level on our path to Icon status.
NBA Live 19 is not perfect by any means, and there is still much room for improvement, but for the first time in almost a decade, this series shines again. As a long time fan, I couldn’t be happier. It is time for the NBA Live series to step out of the shadows and show the world that there can be two NBA games on the market. NBA Live 19 does just that.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review code was provided to us by Electronic Arts.
NBA Live 19 finally steps out of the shadows of the competition and makes a name for itself as the best "basketball" game on the market, as opposed to the best "NBA" game.