by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 4th December, 2018
Both NBA 2K19 and NBA just arrived. The champion, NBA 2K, is becoming a bigger and bigger money grab for the last couple of years and while two years ago the game was bearable when it comes to microtransactions NBA 2K18 finally crossed the line and offered career mode where you must pay real money in case you don't have hundreds of hours needed to collect enough coins to create a solid player.
Further, while graphics and animations were great, the game suffered from many bugs and AI was horrendous. On the other side, we have NBA Live 19, a game that tries to take NBA 2K off its throne. Last year's attempt was more than solid, offering a game that's fun to play and while visuals and player animations weren't on par with NBA 2K18, gameplay was excellent and the game was very fun to play.
With both games having their demos available for the PS4 and Xbox One for a couple of days already we decided to create a comparison between the two that should help everyone to decide which one to get. While demos don't offer much in terms of game modes they do provide enough gameplay and career mode information to learn enough which game is better. Let's start with visuals.
In this department, both games look pretty good. NBA 2K19 simply continues its tradition of superb visuals, this time offering a couple of improvements that should prevent weird clipping issues that marred previous games from the series. And after a couple of games changes are noticeable. No more will two players melt into each other when one of them tries to go towards the hoop and the other is playing strong defense nor will a player simply be absolved into the shoulder of a center placed for pick & roll.
And during dribbles you no longer those nasty clipping issues that happened every couple of seconds in previous games. It seems Visual Concepts really delivered on their promise and made NBA 2K19 clipping-free, which is an accomplishment worthy of admiration because this problem is noticeable in most video games, no matter the genre.
And as for the NBA Live 19, the game does suffer from small clipping problems but they aren't noticeable like before. They are here but you really have to watch in order to spot them every time. Not as good as in NBA 2K19, but pretty solid nonetheless.
Now, when talking about player animations and the general flow of the game again, NBA 2K19 is the winner. The game features extremely fluid animations that really look good, especially during fast breaks and when the game goes into sixth gear in terms of tempo. Players react naturally and it all looks really authentic. And finally, NBA 2K noticeably improved facial animations, both during live games and cutscenes. While the uncanny valley effect is still present when looking at players from close during games and during cut scenes, that effect is much less dramatic than before.
NBA Live 19 features relatively stiff animations. Player movement and their reactions look okay, as well as the interaction between players during the game but they are stiff when compared to 2K19. They look like they came from some past 2K game like they were recycled from NBA 2K14 or 2K15. Despite that, games look pretty natural, and animations are quality enough to prevent you from enjoying a game of basketball. You will notice that animation quality is weaker in NBA Live 19 but it's not a deal breaker.
NBA 2K19 is a clearer game, while NBA Live 19 looks like it features some sort of an effect that gives a picture a slight blur like it makes it a bit grainy at all times. Maybe that's the engine but we prefer the clear look of NBA 2K19. But lighting (after you turn the brightness up a notch) is better in NBA Live 19. It feels more natural and less in your face.
Colors aren't oversaturated and the overall feel is better in NBA live 19. Another thing we like in NBA Live 19 is the way skin looks. In NBA 2K19 players look like someone showered them with oil, they are too shiny and always look like they came out of a swimming pool seconds before the game started. In NBA Live 19 they look natural, with matted skin, which becomes a bit shiny after a couple of minutes pass, when sweat starts to show up.
And, of course, NBA 2K19 features better player models. They look phenomenal, with all details nailed and really look like they real-world counterparts. NBA Live 19 also does a pretty good job most of the time but some players (like Chris Paul) look pretty weird like they aren't themselves. We imagine that, if the game features poor models of some star players, it will feature plenty of poor player models in the full version. Crows and courts are looking better in NBA Live 19. There are more details in and around the court, and the game doesn't dim out like 80 percent of the crowd.
Overall, NBA 2K19 looks better but NBA Live 19 is also a pretty looking game, with the natural look of player models and much better lighting.
When it comes to gameplay, NBA 2K19 leans more towards simulation. If you want to be good you really have to take your time to learn all special moves and general gameplay systems. And even then you will have times when you can't score for minutes and from completely open spots. The game is a simulation and that means you can miss a layup with ease and also means that fancy moves like fade away with a player guarding you won't work 9 out of 10 times.
The game flows naturally, and it looks superb in motion. There are tons of different animations for each player and with clipping now gone games look more authentic. Shots are harder to make but plays and dribbles are extremely fluid and playing games is really satisfying. Those who are known with NBA 2K franchise will need just a couple of minutes to learn new mechanics (which aren't many) and after that, they will be completely ready for the game.
NBA Live 19 offers a bit stiff experience, with less fluid gameplay but overall, the game is more fun to play the NBA 2K19. Here, everything is easier to do; blocks, steals, contested shots, especially contested fadeaway jumpers with superstar players like Durant, Irving, or Curry. This arcade feel NBA Live 19 offers is great for those who don't want to spend dozens upon dozens of hours learning every, even the tiniest detail, about the game but simply want to play a game of basketball that will allow them to perform some cool-looking moves without being pro players.
A couple of things where NBA Live 19 lags are shot meter, acceleration of players, and usage of the right analog stick. First looks noticeably choppy compared to the shot meter in NBA 2K19. This isn't a huge problem but it can be hard to go unnoticed by those who care about details. We hope EA does something to make it as fluid as in NBA 2K19 because, during free throws, the shot meter is indeed maximally fluid but during games, it turns back to its choppy nature.
Next, player acceleration is quite problematic. While in NBA 2K19 players accelerate quite noticeably, in NBA Live 19 they look like they simply began to move just a bit faster. This is noticeable during fast breaks when defenders can close in on you even if you attack the rim with an extremely fast player like Steff Curry.
And the third issue is with the right analog stick. Yes, it can be used for taking shots but it is useless for dunks and layups. You drive towards the hoop, decide to dunk with the right analog stick and your player will just run out of the field. This can be problematic for a long time NBA 2K19 fans who decided to change their virtual basketball experience because reflexes (and we all use the right stick for dunks and layups) are very hard to turn off.
Also, dribble moves are much more intuitive to perform in NBA 2K19. In NBA Live 19 you pretty much don't know what you are doing because the right stick just doesn't respond as it should when flicking it for different dribble moves. Again, this might just be a problem for those who come from NBA 2K games.
Overall, gameplay is more fluid in NBA 2K19 but that game is also much harder to master. There are much more details everyone should learn about, and shots are noticeably harder to hit. On the other hand, while NBA Live 19 isn't a fluidity king, the game is one extremely enjoyable experience because you can learn to play it relatively quickly and if you have fast reflexes you can hit harder shots much easier than in NBA 2K19. We have to say that, if wanting a basketball game where you can have fun with friends and where you can see some pretty cool moves even if you aren't a master of it, you should pick NBA Live 19.
And last but not least let's talk a bit about both games' career modes. While demos don't allow to really sink into the two career modes, there's enough content to see where both modes are going. Let's start with NBA 2K19.
Here you star as a draft bust who had to go to China's CBA league in order to prove his worth. There are lots of cut scenes and the career should feature a long story but there are simply too many cut scenes and most of us don't want to spend half of the game watching (pretty poorly written) videos. Why developers just didn't give us a career mode where we can just play ball?
You can pick a primary and secondary skill and there are some differences between those two depending on your position. But, in general, you can create many different combinations. A pass-first point guard that can also knock down threes? Not a problem. A center that's superb rim protector but can also pass like Oscar Robertson? That's doable. There are really a lot of different combinations but you should know that max potential stats (like three-point shooting or passing) and legendary badges are possible only when selecting the same primary and secondary skill, which is a shame.
So, you start in Chinese basketball league and after a few games NBA All-Star team comes to China, plays against your team and then you get a call from an NBA team. And that's where the demo ends. But, it seems NBA 2K19 again features a career mode that's based around earning coins instead of experience points. And prices get pretty high after you upgrade a certain skill a couple of times.
This means that, like in last year's game, you'll need to shell out real cash in order to get 2K coins and create a decent player in case you want to play PRO-AM modes competitively. In other words, career mode is horrendous and is based on microtransactions.
The game even offers coins for sale (in a bloody demo!), priced from $1.99 to whopping $99.99. If a developer puts real money transactions to a demo of a game you know they don't plan on offering a way to progress at a relatively fast rate without spending real cash. And that also means that someone can spend $100 and max their player right away, which kills all enjoyment out of the career mode.
NBA Live 19 offers a simple, straightforward career mode that offers plenty of different events players can participate in, and here there are no microtransactions. You earn experience and get one skill point for each new level, which you can then spend on main skills for your archetype. So, instead of spending real-world cash you actually play games and level up your player. And there are just a couple of skills you can spend skill points on. As you progress you unlock new skills to upgrade but never will be swarmed by the sheer number of skills that can be upgraded, like in NBA 2K.
And we like more how the game takes on roles and archetypes. You first pick your role (from PG to C), then pick one of the available archetypes, and then choose one of the two available specializations for the said archetype. For instance, we picked PG who can pass and shoot (Floor General) and then picked Point Gawd specialization. The great thing is that each specialization is featuring one legendary player so you know what you'll get.
We picked the one featuring Chris Paul meaning a player who can shoot threes, is an excellent defender and can pass like a god. The second specialization features Jason Kidd, which means a triple-double machine with good defense, perfect passing, solid jumping and blocking abilities, but average shooting.
There are various events players can participate including NBA league, various live tournaments, Pro AM events, and streetball events. There are also challenges where you build your team and take on various NBA players.
In general, we like NBA Live 19's career mode much more. There is much more stuff you can do, and you actually work your way towards new levels and don't begin with a 60 grade. Instead, you begin like an average rookie (with a grade of 68 or 69) and can go to seventy-something in just a couple of games.
If we're being honest, despite its flaws when it comes to overall looks, player animations, and some gameplay shortcomings, we like NBA Live 19 more than NBA 2K19. The game is a better pick up and play experience, it offers much better career mode, and it doesn't ask real money in order to get upgrades for your player.
NBA 2K19 is better for those looking for a simulation game where they can show their skills (meaning multiplayer leagues) but if they want to be competitive with their player online, they will have to shell out at least 50 bucks on top of the regular $60 price, which is laughable.
NBA Live 19 is more fun to play, it is one extremely enjoyable experience, and it offers plenty of game modes. While it doesn't feature the sheer number of online mods and the slick presentation of NBA 2K19 (nor is as popular as NBA 2K), the game is a refreshing take on basketball. NBA 2K series started to fall in the eyes of fans for a few years now and it's great that the game finally has some worthy competition.
So, if you want something new, a normal-looking career mode, an arcadey basketball game with lots of cool moves, or are simply tired on money grabbing formula in NBA 2k games, pick NBA Live 19.