In the world of video games, there are only a few constants. One of those constants is the yearly release of sports games. After the effective death of the NBA Live series, NBA 2K is now the only kid on the block most years. Despite the potential to stagnate or drop the budget with little competition, 2K Games have kept putting out quality releases every year, albeit with some pretty aggressive monetisation. NBA 2K21 maintains that same level of quality of past releases, while also slightly turning down how in your face microtransaction purchases are.
Much of my time in the game was spent in MyCareer, taking my customer created small forward from High School through to the NBA. This is where NBA 2K21 largely shines, with plenty of big budget cutscenes, relationship dynamics and conversation choices to keep you engaged. The premise here is that you’re the son of a legendary basketballer, struggling to build your own legend. No matter where you go, everyone knows your father and makes sure to constantly remind you of it, pushing you further and further into his shadow. There could have been plenty to delve into here, but the game never really does. Despite Junior obviously struggling a bit at points, they never go too deeply into it and his emotional state never goes too far beyond ‘this is a bit hard’. It would have been interesting to see the story go that little bit more in-depth than it did, but its otherwise an inoffensive and somewhat interesting story.
Beyond MyCareer, there’s plenty of different modes to sink your teeth into. MyTeam is a little different this year, with the addition of new Evolution cards that can be upgraded as you complete challenges, while there are also more customisable elements than in the past. Outside of MyTeam, you’ve also got The Neighbourhood, where you can pop down to 2K beach, play some quick matches of street basketball and wander into some shops to buy more clothes. There’s also MyLeague/MyGM, where you can take over the running of your own league or franchise. The best addition here is the inclusion of all 12 WNBA teams, so you can finally run a full league of the WNBA in game.
NBA 2K21 feels like a game of evolution, as opposed to revolution, building on the mechanics of the past without anything truly ground-breaking. Pro stick controls are in for shooting, allowing for greater precision in shooting using the right analogue stick, along with more precise dribbling and new signature dribbling styles. It doesn’t completely change the game, but it does add another layer of responsiveness to the controls that will be appreciated by the series most engaged players. Outside of direct ball control, the team A.I. has been beefed up, making them a feel a little more like real players, but they still make some horrendous decisions at time. It honestly feels like just about the most authentic basketball game yet, which seems to be exactly what 2K was going for.
Visually, NBA 2K21 is a bit of a mixed bag, which is generally the case for most sports games. Characters like Junior or his high school coach played by Djimon Hounsou look absolutely fantastic, with hyper realistic models and great animations. Other major characters are a bit worse for wear, like Junior’s college coach whose model looks flat and lacking in detail, while some of the college player models just look plain bad. Obviously you’re going to put more time into the players and characters that will spend the most time on screen, but the difference in visual detail can be quite shocking at points. Outside of players, both courts and the 2K Beach look fantastic, with plenty of great lighting and reflections.
Sports games have become known for their hilarious glitches, but I honestly didn’t come across many glitches at all during my time with NBA 2K21. The only glitch I really faced was a recurrent one where the screen would shake constantly while an uncontrolled player was taking a free throw, but beyond that I came across no issues at all. Another change was in how VC has been implemented this time around. NBA 2K games have been known to get pretty in your face with VC, but this time around they’ve pulled the reigns back a bit. You’ll still need VC to upgrade your MyPlayer and unlock cards in MyTeam, but the in-game advertising and pushing of the currency is a little less egregious than it has been. It’s still going to take you a whole lot of time to reach the heights in MyCareer without purchasing VC, but at least you don’t get constant reminds to purchase the currency.
Overall, NBA 2K21 is a good game with potential that isn’t quite fulfilled. It feels fantastic to play, the A.I. teammates are the best they’ve been and the pushing of VC seems slightly less aggressive. However, 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, but if you’re not a fan of the genre already I might suggest waiting for another game.
NBA 2K21 was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro with a review copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S versions coming later this year. For more information, check out the official website.
- More precise controls than ever - All WNBA teams included in the game - Great looking main character models - VC seems less aggressively pushed
- Still takes a long time to upgrade characters if you don't buy VC - Characters outside of main ones look pretty bad - Story doesn't really delve too deeply into dealing with legacy