- Game: NBA 2K21
- Consoles: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PC, Google Stadia
- Publisher: 2K Sports
- Developer: Visual Concepts
An NBA 2K21 review code was provided by the publisher.
The annual sports simulation cycle is as old as time. Every year, Electronic Arts pushes out its next installment of digital football, soccer, and hockey titles, while 2K Sports produces yet another chapter of basketball entertainment. 2020 is impacting the NBA 2K franchise in a major way – not only is NBA 2K21 readily available on current-gen machines, but it’s also getting prepped for the upcoming array of next-gen hardware. Before you’ll get to see just how realistic the sweat physics is on your PS5 or Xbox Series X, NBA 2K21 does its best to implore current-gen console owners to hop into it much earlier. That’s not too much of a risky endeavor since NBA 2K21 is far from a huge misstep, but it does a lackluster job of improving upon everything you’ve played in recent years.
You know what’s on offer here if you’ve been playing the NBA 2K games this long – there’s MyTEAM, MyCAREER/The Neighborhood, and MyGM/LEAGUE. MyGM/LEAGUE is one of the modes that relatively stays the same this time around – you still employ the light RPG elements introduced in last year’s game to build up your dream NBA/WNBA dynasty. While still worth investing a good deal of your time and effort into, MyGM/LEAGUE doesn’t take any major leaps forward in order to feel like it’s gotten some meaningful changes this year.
MyTEAM changes things up by going the battle pass route and giving players seasonal challenges to keep track of and complete in order to nab special prizes. The overall gameplay structure withing this mode remains the same, but the daily/weekly/season-based approach makes MyTEAM a more addictive affair. Yes, the game still pushes you to invest in microtransactions to get ahead of the competition. That just comes with the territory in every new NBA 2K game, sadly.
This year, MyCAREER puts you in the role of an up and coming star named Junior. Junior makes his way through high school and college to the big leagues in a bid to live up to and surpass the shaky legacy of his father. Big-name actors, such as Jesse Williams (your father), Djimon Hounsou (your coach), and Michael K. Williams (your “agent” of sorts), do a good job with the material presented to them and voice their lines well. However, the cinematic presentation behind this year’s story looks and feels a bit cheaper.
The in-between cutscenes don’t look as sharp as past MyCAREER installments, which points to it feeling like it got a bit less attention from the devs this year. Playing through Junior’s high school road to NBA stardom presents you with some interesting moments, but the lack of post-game interviews, locker room huddles and media appearances is disappointing. NBA 2K21’s version of MyCAREER gets the basics right, but it doesn’t look as impressive or feature the little things that make your player’s journey more lifelike this time around.
The Neighborhood that’s presented this year adopts more of a beach hub vibe. Visually, it looks great and presents a whole new vibe to become accustomed to. All the usual trinkets that make this mode pop are still intact – there’s plenty of stores to frequent, a bunch of minigames to kill some time hopping into, and your usual gamut of 3v3 games played alongside a community of custom players. This portion of MyCAREER still offers the most fun, of course. It just feels a bit too comfortable resting on its laurels and sticking to what brought it to the dance in the first place. This mode is yet another case of NBA 2K21 not really doing enough to make a legacy mode feel all that different from last year’s iteration.
The on-court action withing NBA 2K21 is familiar to a fault. Looking at last year’s iteration and this year’s installment side by side would make it hard for anyone to spot any key differences. NBA 2K21 does alter its shooting system by relying on the Pro-Stick feature. This new system presents more problems than actual solutions, however – pulling off shots with the right analog stick will regularly present you with failed attempts due to the system’s overly sensitive feel.
A hotfix has been released in order to iron out the kinks of the Pro-Stick shooting mechanic, but it still feels too bothersome to continue putting up with. Thankfully, the traditional button-based approach to shooting is still intact and feels so much better to employ for much of the game. Visual bugs/glitches are still easy to spot sadly, such as a player’s shorts wigging out at random intervals. The new motion animations do look good and add even more character to signature players this year, which is certainly impressive. All in all, NBA 2K21’s actual gameplay feels all too similar to NBA 2K20’s (save for an unenjoyable stick shooting system).
NBA 2K21 Takeaways
NBA 2K21 doesn’t give weary fans much of a reason to hop right into the current-gen edition. The new analog stick shooting system works far less than you’d like, MyCAREER’s story presentation doesn’t quite measure up to last year’s installment, and MyGM/LEAGUE & The Neighborhood largely remains unchanged. MyTEAM has gotten the majority of worthwhile additions and gives players more of a reason to check in on a daily basis.
As for the overall balling itself, it feels as good as ever. Yet the Pro-Stick shooting feature gets in the way of the fun you’re used to getting from NBA 2K. NBA 2K21 does the bare minimum in most areas, but it still offers the best (and only) basketball gaming experience on the market today. Let’s just hope the next annual follow up does enough to truly kick things up a notch.
Our NBA 2K21 Score: 7 out of 10
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