File this one under “controversial yet so brave,” but NBA Live 19 is what NBA 2K20 should’ve been.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’m incredibly late to the Live party. I downloaded 19 when it was like $5 on PSN a while ago. It took me a while to actually play. True told me how great it was after 2K20 kept crashing on me, so I pulled it up and was amazed. I’m a diehard 2K fan, as I bought Live 18 and played the beejeebus out of that game. But 19 upped the level that 18 reached with its career mode. It was a more organic and organized game.
Sure, neither Live 19 nor 18 has the amount of social justice 2K20 does. But that made for a better game. Why? It was less involved in trying to “do something” like Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and more about giving a compelling substory to why you’re playing the game. The 2K20 storyline, even with Idris Elba voicing a character, it fell flat for me and I ultimately found myself not giving a damn. I don’t think basketball games should just be “shut up and dribble.” But 2K has always been a bit hamfisted with their melodrama (remember Freq’s story in 2K16?).
Plus, Live didn’t rely on microtransactions to level up your player or gain new gear.
Now, I’m not against DLC. I’ll buy DLC for RPGs because they’ll expand on the story/experience. I had no problem dropping $20 for something like Persona 5 Royal‘s protagonist battles and new Personas to help complete my Compendium (even though Izanagi-no-Okami Picaro is BROKEN AF). It added to the overall story/difficulty level/experience. I’ll drop $10 every couple of months for Chronos Stones in Another Eden because I like seeing the other characters’ subplots. Plus, the base game is so good that I don’t mind spending a little cash on it to support it. That said, I don’t see the point/appeal of dropping $50 of VC to make my center go from a 75 to a 87 if I’m still going to miss most of my shots on green. If you do that, cool. It’s your money and we all spend money on shit we don’t necessarily need from time to time. I just can’t justify buying VC for me.
Additionally, the presentation in Live felt better than 2K, even down to Live having less repeated lines on commentary. Yes, the graphics didn’t show sweat molecules trickling down Giannis’ face or anything, but I’d take 2017/18 graphics over hearing Bill Simmons’ regurgitate how much he loves Madden and 2K in reference to e-sports. When I’m playing a sports game, I’m not really looking for the greatest graphics of all-time. Good graphics are a plus, but not a be-all, end-all. I’m looking for an immersive experience that makes me forget I’m playing a game, even if it’s not exactly 100% true-to-life. Live does/did that for me, even down to adding a level of difficulty to its gameplay aside from just making it harder than tungsten to score unless you run the CPU levels down to 25.
If EA were to drop a new (console) Live this year, I’d get it. However, it doesn’t look likely (unless it’s just on next-gen consoles). 2K has done with the NBA what, ironically, EA did with the NFL and Madden. Due to licensing agreements and NBA 2K being the only game in town more often than not, they could put out a half-assed game for now until the end of time (read: the end of their license term). The result? It’d still sell like a two-dollar OnlyFans account because people want NBA video game representation in their homes. I’d like to hope NBA 2K21 would have a story that’s compelling on PS4. Knowing how 2K does at times, they’ll probably give the PS5/new XBOX love and give 2K21 on PS4/XB1 the WWE 2K treatment just to say “hey guys, we tried. Really, we did.” At least Madden tries to offer something different from time to time. 2K feels, at its core, like the same game for the past five or so iterations.
NBA Live didn’t deserve the unceremonious move to mobile-only it quite possibly received. It went from Andrew Bynum Jesus Glitch to a damn good game that surpassed its rival on certain levels. Let’s pour one out for Live and pray to the video game gods that there’s a resurrection somewhere in its near future. 2K and sports gamers everywhere need it.