ReviewsReview: NBA 2K21

Review: NBA 2K21

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If I think of the phrase rinse and repeat, there is one genre that springs to mind…Sports. The yearly additions to the franchises offer fans the chance to see the latest improvements alongside a fresh lineup for the season ahead. Rarely do we see major changes and this forms the main complaint from many gamers. NBA 2K21 allows players to choose their favourite team from the male or female leagues, or compete as a rookie trying to make it to the top.

Developed and published by 2K Games, this sports simulation title looks fantastic and feels realistic and smooth. Their basketball franchise has long been considered the best sports sim for gamers to experience. It towers above the likes of FIFA and Madden with its in-depth gameplay, stunning graphics, and constant tweaks. However, where it falls down is the poisonous inclusion of microtransactions in the form of VC (Virtual Coins). This shameless act of extracting more money from its player base tarnishes a phenomenal experience and is frowned upon by everyone except for 2K Games.

NBA 2K21 rehashes much of its gameplay but adds in a new shot meter.

You’ll see little has changed from last year’s iteration to the current title for fans of this much-loved franchise. There are new shiny graphics to enjoy, a free roam area for the excellent career mode, and some great online play (if you get around the crashes). The well-designed foundations are still going strong with fast-paced gameplay and some clever AI from the NPCs. Movement off the ball to create space is realistic and gives each match an authentic feel.

Introducing a shot meter and accuracy bar has left some fans reeling. The new approach relies on timing and accuracy rather than just the press of a button. I enjoyed the challenge that brought to each match. Players with low shot skills would regularly miss challenging attempts unless they hit the sweet spot. Though the timing and accuracy are tough to get used to, it is a noticeable change from earlier games and was a welcome addition. Players complaints revolve around the bar being a distraction and the gameplay no longer feeling natural. I experienced neither of these issues and liked how the game had evolved. 

Where the gameplay is sadly lacking, is the areas that are not dominated by virtual currency. These offline modes appear to have stagnated and offer little in the way of advancement over last terms action. It’s a shame that 2K Games invests little time or concern into what should be a key section of their flagship game. I guess if it isn’t a cash cow then it’s low on the priority list.

Don’t let anyone stand in your way.

The career mode will divide people, but I loved it.

I love a cheesy underdog story, and NBA 2K21 has that in abundance. I appreciate that not every gamer will love the soap opera drama that unfolds, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic and flow of the tale. You control an underdog youngster whose late dad was a fan favourite on the court. Not wanting to get caught up in that world, you chance your hand at football. Your raw talent and background drag you back to the courts and here you have the chance to make it to the NBA, find love, and be adored by millions.

This mode has such potential to be phenomenal, but sadly a pay to win wall holds you back. Every stage of your career has VC rammed down your throat, and it’s infuriating. Do you want to improve your pro? VC. Improve the team? VC. Go to the free roam area and upgrade your threads or explore….. VC, VC, VC. Why, oh why in a full-priced game is this obvious pay to win model allowed. Frankly, it’s disgraceful and undermines every good element that has been implemented.

Online play is rewarding but difficult. 

While playing online, I particularly enjoyed the lack of toxicity from the community and the need to understand the mechanics. The phrase practice makes perfect is paramount in NBA 2K21. The gulf in skill levels between gamers who have studied and mastered the controls, and those who are chancing their hands, is massive. Some will scream for game balancing and will say it’s unfair. But, I like how 2K Games rewarded those who had put the effort in.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence where I’ve been schooled and hammered those who were chancing their hand. There is a definite sense of achievement when both the offensive and defensive mechanics come together. The game flows beautifully, and this is where it stands out from other sports titles. There isn’t a sense of a hidden trigger that prevents you from smashing your opponent. If you are better than them, then so be it.

Work the ball and get into the painted area.

A nod to the WNBA.

Inclusivity is important in every walk of life, so it was great to see the WNBA tab. An array of modes are available to select that allows you to play as your favourite players and teams. I don’t follow basketball as much as other fans, so I admit I had to do some research. 2K Games has got their likeness of the players and their team’s spot on, which was great to see.

However, the men’s game still dominates proceedings, giving the impression that this was a rushed afterthought. I may be completely off the reserve here, but, the developers should have put more emphasis on the female game. It’s nice to play quick games, and get a taste of a basic career mode, but it didn’t go far enough. I wanted something as in-depth as the men’s My Career or My Teams with the female roster of players.

It’s like watching real life.

Where NBA 2K21 excels is its ultra-realistic graphics and approach to movement. The game feels and plays like the real thing. No expense has been spared in making this title look incredible. The pros look phenomenal, and player movement around the court is out of this world. Away from the game and in the free-roam area, you’ll enjoy a large and colourful area that is vibrant and exciting to explore. The range of courts, old-school and modern kits and other finer details makes this the king of the sports sim titles.

The realism continues with the fantastic audio and commentary. Every match buzzes with crowd noises and high energy. The upbeat songs and stadium sounds get your adrenaline racing and you’ll be pumped to compete in each game. The acting in the career mode is top notch and you buy into each character’s personality and the drama of the story.

Great presentation and 2K games go hand in hand. I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw and heard and the efforts with both elements compliments the new mechanics. This results in a high end, albeit familiar product.

Respect the big man.

NBA 2K21 is all about accuracy and finer details.

The aforementioned shooting method has divided the community, but it’s a sign of the developers’ desire to create a comprehensive control setup. Accuracy and a memory for detail are required to master every portion of this game. NBA 2K21 can be played with little skill and finesse, but you’ll need to concentrate on the finer details if you wish to excel and make the most from it.

If you hate the idea of microtransactions and you want to advance through the career mode, you will be grinding like an exotic dancer! Progression is painfully slow and 2K Games make it obvious that they want you to spend your money. However, there is fun to be had in the offline modes. If you’ve played last years title, don’t expect there to be any groundbreaking changes.

NBA 2K21 is an example of a great sports sim if you remove the microtransactions.

A franchise doesn’t span twenty plus games if it’s terrible. NBA 2K21 is a great example of the genre even if it keeps regurgitating much of its content. It gives you enough to get your teeth into with minor tweaks and a massive overhaul to its shooting system. The career mode is great as is the inclusion of the WNBA. Sadly, the constant push for VC and its subsequent paywall is unforgivable and needs to be addressed urgently. I enjoyed it on many levels and recommend you to buy it here! But, go into it knowing that microtransactions will taint your experience. 

SUMMARY

NBA 2K21 is a fantastic sports sim that should be applauded on many levels. If you've never played the franchise you'll love the realism and depth. Fans of the series will see minor differences to the off-court elements and a major overhaul of the shooting system. The microtransactions are forced upon you throughout and poison an otherwise excellent game.

+ Stunning ultra-realistic graphics.
+ Excellent audio.
+ Precise and detailed controls.
+ The career mode is fantastic.
+ Inclusion of the WNBA is good but doesn't go far enough.
- MICROTRANSACTIONS!!!!!!

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Apple Arcade, Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: [email protected]

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