Back at the start of October we got our first real glimpse at what next-gen NBA 2K21 would look like. With player models, courts and balls getting a make-over, the ray tracing reflections truly brought the game to life. What absolutely blew our mind though was how animated and individual the crowd looked in the background, and how much was going on off-court.
We had already reviewed NBA 2K21 on PlayStation 4 by then, giving it 3.5 stars and saying, “the game is a mixed bag visually, and the story doesn’t delve as deeply into the struggles with dealing with another’s legendary shadow as it could. If you’re after a new basketball game, you won’t be disappointed by NBA 2K21.” There was a slight sour taste left in our mouths knowing that the next-gen version was just around the corner and looked so much better than what we were playing, but with everything that the NBA 2K series brings to the table each year, how well exactly would the game make the leap to the next generation of gaming?
The first thing we noticed (or didn’t notice) when firing up next-gen NBA 2K21 was the load times, or lack of load times. Gone are the dull loading segments before the beginning of a game and cut scenes load seamlessly thanks to the super-fast SSD’s that are proving to be around ten times faster than the previous generation consoles. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 also boot up much faster than the previous generation, meaning you’ll be shooting hoops faster than ever.
Facial animations have received a touch-up, with players now showing believable emotions throughout the game. This all looks incredible on the rostered NBA stars with their photo-realistic models brought to life in ways we’ve never seen before. From detailed hair styles to individual sweat streams, next-gen NBA 2K21 is the new benchmark for sports game realism. Combining this with the excellent (but largely unchanged) instant replay system, and players can capture memorable moments which will no doubt confuse other people as to whether it’s real or not.
Getting into the nitty gritty though, next-gen NBA 2K21 still has its teething issues. While it looks stunning and loads stunningly, games are still filled with odd AI behaviour. The most noticeable of this is each time play stops and the players set up for it to resume. The game sort of pauses while the AI characters all strangely sort themselves out, sometimes taking far longer than how it does in real life and also looking strange, with players walking in weird directions and just sort of placing themselves as per the programming. This small grievance takes away from the realistic feel of next-gen NBA 2K21 and we’re hoping 2K can work on it before next year’s release.
The most impressive part of next-gen NBA 2K21 is just how animated the crowd is now. Finally, we have a sports game where the entire crowd looks and acts individually, and not only that, they also become more animated as the game progresses. If the score is close, the crowd won’t just be on the edge of their seats, but they’ll be standing and cheering hard for each shot. This makes for some hectic courtside moments, and again brings attention to some unfortunately bad AI programming. We witnessed several oddities with players bumping into each other, coaches and managers as the bench heated up, but once again, none of this actually detracts from the core NBA 2K21 gameplay experience.
In summary, next-gen NBA 2K21 is an amazing feat of technology. If you’ve upgraded to the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X and you’re a basketball fan, then make sure you don’t miss this year’s game because its photo-realism and load times will blow your mind. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in video games, and that this is just the beginning of a new generation of gaming.
Rocket Chainsaw’s next-gen NBA 2K21 impressions are based on gameplay across the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 platforms using review code provided by the publisher. For all the latest NBA 2K news, head to the official website.