Although I’ve given my impressions of the NBA Live 19 demo in Episode #260 of the NLSC Podcast, I wanted to provide a write-up as I know not everyone enjoys audio content. With all of my other original features and the podcast providing a platform to share my opinions, I’ve neglected to provide comprehensive reviews and impressions in written format in recent years. That’s something I’d like to change, starting with NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19!
That begins with the NBA Live 19 demo, which was released last week. I spent a lot of time with it over the weekend, experiencing everything it had to offer. As with the NBA Live 18 demo, it’s quite a comprehensive look at the upcoming game, providing us with a decent idea of what to expect this year. Overall, I came away with a positive impression of the forthcoming release from EA Sports. There are definitely areas that still have ample room for improvement – this year and next – but it does feel like NBA Live 19 has taken further steps in the right direction.
I’ve broken my impressions of the NBA Live 19 demo down into three categories: positives, negatives, and thoughts as I look ahead to the release of the full version. Let’s tip things off with the positives!
Positives in the NBA Live 19 Demo
- There is a noticeable improvement in the look and feel of the game. Player animations look a lot better, while the game is more fluid and responsive on the sticks. Many of the awkward, outdated animations have been phased out and replaced with more realistic ones. The stiffness and heaviness that has been an issue since NBA Live 14 continues to be reduced, fortunately without compromising momentum or foot planting. Players and environments look great. Overall, to me it looks and feels a lot better than last year.
- Animation variety has greatly improved. Again, some of the worst-looking animations from previous games seem to have been phased out, there are several more unique player animations and animation packages, and there are fewer issues with animations blending together and playing out too quickly. I noticed a couple of speedy ones, but it seems to be significantly improved.
- Rebounding feels a lot better, from the animations when players grab boards, to the ball physics as shots hit the rim and the timing on the button. Much like the blocking in NBA Live 18, the improvements are subtle, but still noticeable and very welcome.
- There’s a bit more motion happening on offense, both with your teammates and the CPU opponents. There are some issues (which I’ll cover below), but I noticed the CPU moving the ball around more, utilising hand-offs, and not just standing around all of the time.
- Shot selection is decent for the most part, with the right players usually taking most of the shots (issues here might come down to tweaks to player ratings and tendencies). The CPU also takes more three-pointers, both contested and open, whereas they tended to drive on almost every single play in NBA Live 18. The number of points in the paint therefore feels truer to life now.
- The stealing mechanics have been tweaked for the better, still following the same principle as last year but with seemingly fewer canned fouls. I like that we don’t have to push right up into the ballhandler in the NBA Live 19 demo; a well-timed swipe when in a good defensive position can knock the ball loose. Having to battle a bit for loose balls is also a nice touch that reduces the feeling of steal attempts being a dice roll for a theft or a reach-in foul.
- Pick & Roll Control has been altered slightly so that you don’t have to keep holding down the button once the pick is set. This makes it a lot easier to make your move, since you don’t have to worry about continuing to control both of the players once the screener is in place. I’ve wanted to see that change to the mechanic for a few years now, so I’m really pleased it’s been implemented.
- It felt as though there were fewer dunks, which made play in the paint more realistic. The post game still isn’t exceedingly deep, but is decent in terms of the moves and animations that can be performed.
- Help defense is a little better in terms of rotating, and defending the pick and roll. There’s definitely room for improvement here, but I’ve felt a little less annoyed by the defense of my AI teammates so far.
- The approach to The One, with a basic story and different games that serve to introduce you to many of the variations of LIVE Run and The Streets World Tour games, makes for a fresh experience. It doesn’t feel like a forced tutorial, either. The overall presentation makes it stand out from MyCAREER, at least while your player is making their way to The League. I like what they’ve done with it.
- Court creation is fantastic! There could stand to be some more themes, and some of the logos aren’t centred properly at midcourt (especially when you decrease their size), but the functionality is very comprehensive in its debut. I like the idea of being able to unlock more artwork, and there’s a bunch of logos and the like to use out of the gate, so you can start creating some really awesome courts just a few games into playing through The Rise.
- Control over taunts, celebrations, and so forth, is a nice feature. It feels like there’s more life and emotion in the game with features like that.
- Face scanning is very easy once again and the results are impressive, even when you do a quick scan in far less than optimal lighting.
- The online experience felt a lot smoother and less laggy than last year. In NBA Live 18, online was virtually unplayable here in Australia.
- Overall the controls are basically the same as NBA Live 18, which allows for familiarity and consistency. This is easily preferable to making drastic changes each and every year.
- It could be my imagination, but I thought some of the sound effects were improved in the NBA Live 19 demo, particularly the rim sounds.
Negatives in the NBA Live 19 Demo
- At times, it feels like the players I’m controlling are a step slower than the CPU, which makes lateral movement on defense a bit more sluggish than it should be.
- The aforementioned issue is compounded by CPU teammates still being a bit hesitant to help out on defense and in particular, collapse on the paint when someone is beaten on the perimeter. They need to react a little faster.
- I like the physicality for the most part, but bumping is a little exaggerated, and it leads to brick wall defense that the CPU is a lot better at than the user is ever capable of being. It does mean you have to be good on the sticks to break an opponent’s ankles or muscle your way to the hoop – which is a good thing – but it could be toned down a little so that poorer defenders can’t play lockdown defense on offensive juggernauts. In short, a little more balance is needed.
- There are still some issues with animations playing out too quickly, i.e. the infamous “rocket” layups and dunks. It’s visually jarring, and also means that there are still some cheesy moments in the paint. I’m also hoping that a few more animations can be added throughout the year for more variety, and just to make sure we’re rid of all the funky outdated ones.
- I’m not a fan of the change in commentary. Admittedly I’m not a fan of Jay Williams and his takes, and I cringed at hearing some of them in the game, but even putting that aside, both his and Ed Cohen’s performance didn’t sound all that good. The commentary sounded a lot drier than Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, and less authentic than having the lead NBA on ESPN team in the game.
- Blocks and steals are a bit too numerous. Sliders can remedy this, but it will need tweaking in The One and online, where we can’t make those adjustments ourselves.
- Although the NBA Live 19 demo did demonstrate improvement in terms of AI, playcalling, and the like, there are still moments where the AI breaks down and just dribbles out the shot clock before taking a bad attempt (or getting a shot clock violation). There should be a bit more movement from teammates and opponents alike. As I said, players don’t stand around quite as much as before, but it’s still an issue that affects strategy and realism.
- A few players take more shots than they should, notably DeMarcus Cousins when the CPU is controlling the Warriors. Again, it might just be a case of adjusting ratings and tendencies, but there are a few oddities with the shot distribution that need to be ironed out.
- The game currently plays better in The Streets than in the traditional NBA modes. While The One clearly is the hook for the game, NBA Live 19 does need to play a better game of NBA basketball as well, in order to provide a well-rounded experience and be a viable alternative as an NBA sim. It’s vital that players and teams play like their real life counterparts, for the best sim experience possible.
- CPU opponents have a tendency to get backcourt violations by needlessly passing to a teammate who hasn’t crossed midcourt yet. On one hand, it’s the kind of blooper we do see when players aren’t thinking clearly, but it shouldn’t be happening quite as often as it does. Ideally, if it is going to happen, it should only be when the AI is under heavy pressure in a halfcourt trap, and mostly with players who don’t have a high basketball IQ.
- The main menu is a bit jumbled and confusing, effectively hiding a lot of content that isn’t related to The One. At first, I didn’t realise that I was in the main menu!
- Player measurements default to the metric system when you’re in a PAL region, which is annoying from a presentation standpoint. Obviously I do use the metric system, but I always think in terms of the imperial system when it comes to basketball, and that’s what shows up in NBA presentation as well. Ideally it should be a toggle option, as in NBA 2K.
Looking Ahead to the Full Version
- There are some key issues amongst the negatives in the NBA Live 19 demo that I do want to see addressed as much as possible in the full version, but overall, I can see myself having fun with it. I’ve ended up with more positives in my impressions, and in many cases, they outweigh some of the negatives I’ve listed (particularly those that come down to personal preference).
- I feel like quite a few of my gripes could be fixed with patches and tuning fixes, and possibly even some ratings adjustments. The technology and the mechanics are there and they’re solid; it’s just a matter of fine tuning and proper balance for the best and more realistic gameplay experience possible.
- It may be because I’m burned out on career modes, but I do believe it’s crucial that NBA Live 19 delivers in terms of its NBA content. Offline 5v5 gameplay needs to be a good representation of NBA-style basketball, with a pleasing amount of realism. Franchise and Ultimate Team need to be beefed up with some essential additions and enhancements. It can’t just be all about The One; otherwise, NBA Live 19 will feel a bit shallow, and not a well-rounded game. I am a bit concerned about the NBA experience moving forward, but I am hoping that that part of the game will continue to improve as well.
- Summing up my desired improvements on the NBA side of things, I’d like to see the CPU teams running more plays, and being able to freelance if the play breaks down. Make sure the right players are scoring the most points, and that CPU teammates are doing their job. It might be worth triggering some kind of quick play if the user hasn’t bothered to call anything, just to make sure that players are moving and trying to get into position. Again, I’m hoping to see some overdue additions and enhancements to Franchise and Ultimate Team.
- The approach to player progression in The One remains fair, well-designed, and the absence of microtransactions/pay-to-win mechanics shows goodwill (and ensures more balance online). I’m still getting used to not having to upgrade all of my ratings; I’m a bit undecided on that approach, same as in NBA Live 18. I am unfortunately a bit over career modes, but I will check out The One all the same, and I do really like what’s been done with it in terms of content and presentation.
- Judging by the way NBA Live 18 improved throughout the last year, I do feel rather optimistic that as good as NBA Live 19 may be at launch, there’ll be a good chance it can get even better with its post-release title updates. Overall, the NBA Live 19 demo is quite encouraging, and I’ve had fun with it so far.
That’s my take on the NBA Live 19 demo! What are your thoughts? Feel free to share your impressions in the comments section below, as well as join in the discussion here in the NBA Live 19 section of the NLSC Forum! We’ll be sure to pass on any and all constructive feedback to the development team at EA Tiburon. We’ll also have plenty of coverage and content when the full version is released, but for now, I’ll leave you with a handful of screenshots from the NBA Live 19 demo.