Is it a championship ring? or have they been swept in the playoffs?
NBA 2K is in a strange place this year with it’s transition from the current crop of consoles to then see a more advanced and technically superior version coming at the end of the year on the hotly-anticipated next-gen consoles the PS5 and the Xbox Series X. Without getting into detailed and pinpoint specifics this early on in the review, I will say that if you’re expecting a huge difference in terms of advanced tech under the hood for NBA 2K21 over last year’s iteration on the current-gen hardware, you may be slightly disappointed as most of the new additions will be added to NBA 2K21 on the new hardware that arrives later this year. This is the main issue with NBA 2K21 when compared to previous iterations in the series. Whilst it plays great, most of what is under the hood feels like a bit of a “Ive seen that before” type scenario. This might sound like a bit of a negative (which it is in some regards), but its not all doom and gloom for those wanted that basketball fix.
If you’re into the series for its online content, then you’ll be happy to see plenty of new additional content in MyTeam this year that includes MT Unlimted, MT Season 1 To-Do List and for a limited time, Playoff Stoppers and much more. Then you have the new beach neighbourhood which is great, but still suffers from the occasional connection issues when trying to get into a game. As with every year (and with most sports games these days), online is a huge part of the whole package and one that is very important to the publisher and if you’re an online player and love diving into that side of the game with the neighbourhood or MyTeam for example, you’ll see that there is plenty of content to keep you entertained. One big problem for me with it (and that I have had for years) is the over-use of micro transactions. Its full-on in your face from the get-go and it doesn’t matter what mode you dive into as its always prominent and reminds you that its lurking in the background. Its something that needs to be toned down and unless governments get involved with it around the world and all come to the conclusion that its a form of betting and morally wrong, publishers like 2K and EA won’t stop pushing it as it prints money for me.
MyCareer is one mode that millions of gamers who love the NBA 2K series always love to dive into, but unfortunately this year (on the current-get version at least) its fun, but a little lacking. The story is cliched (as it usually is) and does feel a little unfinished if Im being totally honest. It has a lot of copy and paste parts from last years storyline that include the draft combine and the training portions of the game as well. Saying that, if you can look past that, it still is a lot of fun to dive into a college career and in turn, get drafted to an NBA team. Its just a shame that the storyline wasn’t pushed to the limits on what could be the last outing for MyCareer on the current-gen hardware but maybe we’ll see that for the next-gen storyline that will be coming on the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X towards the end of this year.
The commentary has been updated with NBA 2K21 featuring a great touch where they talk about the current climate in the world with the Black Lives Matter movement and the overall social injustice that we’ve seen be present and gathering around the world. That’s a fantastic touch for a video game to add something like that into its commentary but with the NBA being one of the first to show its discomfort towards any racist oppression, it makes perfect sense. Unfortunately however, the main bulk of the commentary this year is copy and pasted from 2K20. Even the half-time show that features Ernie Johnson, Shaq and Kenny Smith feels very bland and doesn’t have the charm that its had in previous years within the NBA 2K titles. Maybe they need to add Charles Barkley into the mix to bring back that spark that is missing.
Let’s talk about how the game plays on the court and what new changes have been introduced. For the most part, the game still plays a fantastic simulation game of basketball with highlight reel plays happening frequently and a plethora of tactical tweaks available at your fingertips. The main focus of any game is from a gameplay standpoint and NBA 2K21 delivers in that regard for the most part but there has been a bit of an outcry online with the introduction of a new shooting mechanic. For me personally, over the course of my time with the game, I’ve managed to get used to the way the new mechanics work when shooting, but its been a bit of a learning curve and one that a lot of people have been struggling with from what Ive seen online. In years past, it was all to do with the timing and within a short space of time, you could get the feel for it much easier but this year, the mechanic (which makes you pull down on stick in the central position) is a lot more tricky because the likes of a DualShock 4 controller have very twitchy analogue sticks at the best of times and because of that, you have an issue where you slightly veer off-centre when pulling back the stick frustratingly. I like what they’ve tried here and once you get the hang of it, it feels great and super rewarding, but its not going to be to everyones tastes. This new addition was clearly added to make the online side of the game feel less predictable and harder to master. Thats great in theory for the hardcore fans that spend countless hours a day playing the series every single year, but for the rest…its going to be a bit of a steep and frustrating experience.
The fact that the game doesn’t have any sort of tutorial for the new shooting mechanics is a very odd omission considering just how much of a change it is since last years timing style shooting system. Like I mentioned above, it again screams unfinished as this is something that should’ve been added to give new players to the game a heads-up on how the new shooting mechanics work. It also doesn’t help that the meter that determines your shot is ridiculously small and hard to see in the fast and frantic pace of an NBA matchup. When one of the dev team (Mike Wang to be exact) states on social media that the best way to irradiate the issue with the new mechanics is too zoom in with the camera to make the shot meter bigger, you know there are issues with it. Whilst I do like the new shooting mechanics per se, it really wasn’t needed and its clear from looking online that thousands don’t agree with the changes.
Whilst on the court, the game plays a great game of basketball for the most part, off of it, its a little hit and miss with some modes being given slight tweaks whilst others having barely any changes made to them. One of these modes that unfortunately doesn’t see much change is MyLeague which is pretty much identical to how it was in NBA 2K20. To see the series evolve, it would be nice to see each mode be given new features on a yearly basis. I get that teams will be dedicated to the online portion of the game more (as that’s where the most money is mode), but its also frustrating to see other popular modes left to pitter out in some regards. From a gameplay perspective though, its a very fun and solid sim-like representation of the sport. If you can get used to the new shooting mechanics, then you’re in for a great game to tide you over.
From a presentation front (and one that the series is famous for), NBA 2K21 is a great looking game, but not a game that is pushing the game more with this iteration over previous titles in the series. That could be from a mix of the hardware being pushed to the limit and/or focusing on the game and the tech for the new consoles, but it’s something that hasn’t really seen much change from NBA 2K20. In some regards, the presentation is slightly worse than it has been in previous years with more awkward “video game-like” traits in MyCareer cutscenes like characters acting oddly in the background, a few oddly transitional animations and the half-time show feeling more tacked on and lacking the charm it had in previous years. whilst the overall presentation is generally great, it does feel a little unfinished at times and hopefully this isn’t a sign of what’s to come moving forward. Other discrepancies within the game from a presentation point of view are the fact that the roster changes are not included at launch like they usually are due to the season starting again after months of discussions solely thanks to the pandemic that is coronavirus. Whilst this might be an issue for many that want all the players and teams updated straight away, this isn’t Visual Concepts and 2K’s fault per se as the season is still going on right now. These updates will come, but just later than they normally do.