NBA 2K21 game review: Satisfying and rewarding, but this generation of sports games is tired

Thursday, 17th September 2020, 8:08 am
Updated Thursday, 17th September 2020, 8:08 am
Developers have reached the limits of their capabilities with the current tech and it has been all too apparent

Out with the old and in with the... old?

Let me start this review by saying I cannot wait for the next generation of consoles to - hopefully - breathe new life into sports games.

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We have clearly reached that stage in the last two or three years where things have gone incredibly stale for most sports simulations, from FIFA and Pro Evo to NBA 2K. Developers have reached the limits of their capabilities with the current tech and it has been all too apparent.

And I’m afraid that is the case with NBA 2K21. It’s not all bad by any means, it’s just tired.

Don't expect massive enhancements

NBA 2K21 has been developed by Visual Concepts and is now the 22nd installment in the NBA 2K franchise. It will launch on the PS5 and Xbox Series S later this year, but don’t expect massive enhancements until next year’s game which will be built for the new consoles.

The game itself plays entirely similarly to previous instalments. In terms of gameplay, when things are running smoothly there is nothing that comes close.

Playing friends, or against other people online, for me is the only way to go. I found taking on the computer boring and nigh impossible at times. The AI seems about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

But the thing is, online play rarely does run smoothly in my experience, suffering disconnection issues, crashes and freezing or lag - and it is nothing to do with my internet setup.

A change to shooting mechanics

There are some changes to note in this year’s game. There is now a clear and definitive difference between offensive play and the (maddeningly difficult to master) shooting mechanics. You can’t use the analog stick to just shoot by timing it because there are now specific directions required for straight shooting, layup shots and dribble moves.

This might be bad news for NBA 2K fan boys and girls (and, yes, the WNBA returns with all 12 teams) as it requires you to essentially re-educate yourself in the use of the Pro Stick. Shooting is now target based as opposed to timing, and I believe the game is poorer for it - but that is my personal preference.

What I will say to counter that is, when you do start getting the hang of the shooting, it does feel a lot more satisfying and rewarding, so perhaps that is what 2K and Visual Concepts were going for here.

No better basketball game out there

Microtransactions abound in MyCareer and MyTeam modes and there is plenty of grind to try and persuade you to part with your (or your parents’) cash. That has not gone down well with reviewers and I can see why, especially if you have forked out for a new game which looks, feels and plays just like the last one.Let’s have it right, there is no better basketball game out there. The gameplay is still industry leading when everything is on point.

But I’m glad we’ve reached the end of the console cycle. The latest tranche of sports games coming our way has confirmed that for me. And there is plenty more power for developers to work with for next year’s games so there are exciting times ahead.

I full expect 2K to make NBA bigger and badder than ever before in 2021.

Out: NowRating: 7/10