When a new generation of consoles rolls around, sports games aren’t too far behind. In fact, most of the time, they’ll be there day one, and NBA 2K21 was no exception with the release of the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5.
At the same time, it’s really easy for developers to coast with their first next-gen entries, and while 2K Sports hasn’t done that, NBA 2K21 somehow still leaves a few things to be desired.
What Is It?
As stated, NBA 2K21 marks the series’ first foray in the ninth console generation that began last month.
That said, this is admittedly a late review, but in all honesty as we mentioned in our review of the last-gen version, the coronavirus pandemic led to the game coming out way too early anyway. The 2020-2021 NBA season is set to tip off today, so playing the game on day one really put the title in quite a confusing juxtaposition considering not many of the big off-season moves or NBA Draft had even occurred yet.
Why Should I Care?
While NBA 2K21 has more bells and whistles than the previous generation’s iteration, it doesn’t feel all that different once the presentation runs its course.
Upon loading you first NBA game, the glitz and glamour is hard to miss. The arenas in the game and crowd all look as lifelike as they can get in 4K HDR, and there’s really nothing like it. As real as that all looks, there’s a lot to be said about the attention to detail put to each player’s face as they move around the court. Highlights look dynamic and absolutely amazing, and the new camera angles make the presentation all the more impressive.
At the same time, as cool as the camera angles look, they’re a distraction in competitive play. I primarily enjoy NBA 2K games playing in couch co-op with roommates. Awkwardly, the game’s default camera setting is in its dynamic mode, where the action is zoomed and focused on the player in use. The reason this is the case is to put an increased emphasis on how each player looks, and while it’s cool, it’s also a big distraction. I had to end up changing this setting at the start of every game, and that was annoying. This has since been patched out, allowing you to set a more preferred default angle, but it took a while for Visual Concepts to make that change.
Still, the NBA 2K series prides itself on its authentic NBA presentation and offering an unrivaled NBA gameplay experience, and they’re still all alone on both those fronts. In addition to the always excellent team of Kevin Harlan, Greg Anthony, and David Aldridge, a second team featuring the likes of Brian Anderson (play-by-play), Grant Hill (color), and Allie LaForce (sideline) present quite the trio of their own and it all really adds to the experience. This is really all stuff EA Sports should try to do with Madden at the very least, but oh well.
As good as the in-game presentation is, the pre-game and halftime shows still leave a lot to be desired. Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny “The Jet” Smith all make a return, and they’re as cringey to watch as they’ve ever been these last few years. It’s a real shame, because I love seeing their antics along with Charles Barkley on TNT, but the dialog and facial expressions seen on the game have grown to be uninspired. Yes, eventually this always gets skipped as you continue to play the game, but I didn’t even have a desire to try to watch even when the game was new, and that’s unfortunate since I used to love these.
Gameplay-wise, once you get through all that stuff from the cosmetic details to the camera angles and issues, it really isn’t all that different from what it was in the last generation. The analog shooting remains unchanged with the same meter making a return, and the issue where shots were “too hard” to hit had been addressed. If I noticed anything that seemed out of place, it’s the fact that it was way too easy to drive up to the hoop using a slasher or all-stars like Lillard, LeBron, or Kawhi. Defending these kinds of guys seemed harder than what I was used to, but I haven’t experienced these issues as of late, so I assume they were fixed.
This version of NBA 2K21 is fairly packed with new content, but most of it just feels like fluff to give it a more “definitive” feel with the biggest additions being the City, the W, and an expanded narrative to the previous generation’s MyCAREER mode.
The City in NBA 2K21 replaces the Neighborhood, and it’s huge–too huge. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s overwhelming. The scale from myPark compared to the City, is night and day. It looks like something taken out of Grand Theft Auto, except you can’t do anything illegal. The City really represents a monumental new direction for sports games, but it’s hard to imagine what they’re really trying to do with it. It’s all in the attempt of making the series a live MMO product, but in my time with the game (mostly playing on Xbox Series X), there really was never much for me to do with other people. I’d imagine it’s due to the fact that not many folks have their hands on next-gen consoles yet, not to mention it’s hard to really know if this is what sports game players want. I know I personally don’t care that much for such content in a sports game, and I can certainly see that being the case with other people.
The W is 2K’s attempt at making the series’ WNBA features not feel like an afterthought. I ridiculed the fact that last generation’s game made playing a WNBA game a trophy and achievement, so it’s good to see a little more effort to legitimize the WNBA here. It’s the first WNBA MyCareer mode of its kind, so I’m hoping they continue to flesh it out, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see engagement low compared to everything else. All the same, representation matters, and I have to commend the effort here.
Lastly MyCAREER is mostly unchanged, but they expanded the story a bit to include a bunch of characters you might remember from previous MyCAREER stories. I won’t spoil anything, but the nods are pretty obvious, and it’s funny seeing 2K trying to legitimize the fake stars they’ve tried creating in previous stories.
Now if you’re someone that’s put a lot of time in the last generation entry of NBA 2K21 and you upgraded to next-gen in the same family of systems, i.e. Xbox One to Xbox Series X/S or PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, you’ll probably be pleased to know there’s cross-progression in MyTEAM, and you don’t have to worry about losing your avatar or wallet. Unfortunately, if you upgraded to a different family of systems and don’t plan on doing a proper upgrade soon, you’re out of luck. I’m not going to go into any detail regarding MyTEAM in this review, as I already exhaustively did that with the previous generation’s version and knocked the game for it, so if you’re interested in those details, you can check out that review.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
For all intents and purposes, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that the next-gen versions of NBA 2K21 are the new definitive ways to play the game. Aesthetically, the actual basketball to be played in this game along with its presentation values are top shelf. You’re not going to find another current NBA game that does it better, because it simply does not exist.
At the same time, at an MSRP of $69.99, I’d be a little more wary. Unless you’re dying to have your fill of NBA basketball on your shiny new next-generation console as soon as possible, I’d strongly encourage you to wait for a price drop. Even though 2K didn’t really coast its way through its next-gen launch releases, the previous generation’s version of NBA 2K21 isn’t any less enjoyable while also being much more affordable.