Review: NBA 2K21 (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Google Stadia
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: NBA 2K21
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (73.64 GB)
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Visual Concepts
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
As the life-cycle of a console begins to wind down, one of the first game types to show its age is the annualized sports franchise. While some cynics point to these games as being just “roster updates” normally, there’s no denying that during this limbo-esque period between generations, a sports title has no real room to innovate. NBA 2K21 finds itself being victim of this phenomenon.

MVP, MVP…until the playoffs.

The gameplay changes made this year once again involve tinkering with the dribbling and shooting mechanics. It seems like they mess with these areas every year, with varying degrees of success. The Pro Stick (right analog) now functions as a full blown dribble stick, which gives you more moves to have in your arsenal while moving the ball. The Pro Stick also comes into play with what they are calling Shot Stick Aiming. So rather than a timing based shot system, you have to now hit an ideal center aim point. Many factors come into play, not the least is your personal ability to hit that spot. I’m sure players of a higher skill love this, but I’m not good enough to appreciate this new shooting mechanic.

Getting into the modes available in NBA 2K21, I’ll begin with MyCareer. I have never really found the stories they shoehorn into this mode to be that compelling, and this year is no exception. Titled “The Long Shadow”, you play as a character named “Junior”, who is the son of a fictional college star that never made the pros. While the story itself is basic sports movie pablum, the game does a good job of moving you through high school, college (you get to choose from ten different schools to attend), the NBA Draft, and finally your pro team. From there, you continue to earn Virtual Currency each game in order to improve your player’s attributes. This player is also your online avatar, which I will detail in that section of the review.

In NBA 2K21, there are two ways to play a franchise mode. MyLeague and MyGM. MyGM stars your created person from MyCareer, this time in a suit, taking on the role of general manager for a team of your choosing. The actions you choose to take, especially when communicating with your players, come with corny dialogue I can’t see anyone ever having with another human being.

MyLeague is franchise mode without the MyGM “dialogue” mentioned above. In addition, if you choose, you have the ability to control all thirty teams in the league if you play MyLeague, as opposed to the singular team of MyGM. You can also take MyLeague online to create a league with your friends.

Other modes to play include the basic Play Now, Season, Playoffs, and MyTeam, the 2K version of EA’s Ultimate Team mode. In addition, the WNBA is back and available to use in PlayNow and Season/Playoff modes. Historic teams are also available, as well as USA Basketball teams from 2012 and 2016.

Visuals:
While NBA 2K21 looks good, the series definitely showing its age. There is really no discernible difference between last year’s model and the current game. The pregame presentation is solid, as usual, and on the court the game looks like what you’d see watching a live game.

An area I am having difficulty with is the inability to move the shot meter location from above the player to below their feet. It’s a personal preference that I have been able to adjust in the last couple editions, but I can’t do it here, and I occasionally have a hard time picking the meter up. Taking away the ability to change something that had previously been available always seems like a step backward to me.

Audio:
One thing I always enjoy about the 2K series is the way they incorporate a rotating roster of announcers to work with Kevin Harlan as the primary play-by-play person. Doris Burke, Greg Anthony, Chris Webber, and others offer a layer of authenticity to the presentation, which is much appreciated. In addition, David Aldridge adds his pregame comments from the court. Of course, just like any sports game, the announcer comments eventually become redundant if you play enough. In the high school and college portions of MyCareer, different announcers are used, and the high school guys lack the polish the pros have, which would be expected. During the game, the crowd sounds are fairly authentic too.

NBA 2K21 continues to have a predominantly rap/hip-hop soundtrack, offering up tunes from the likes of Juice Wrld, Lil Baby, and many other artists I am unfamiliar with. However, I did find a song by The Strokes when going through the 2K Beats list, so there is some deviation from the main genre.

Online/Multiplayer:
As mentioned when discussing MyCareer, you can take your player into the Neighborhood, which has been a staple for the 2K franchise for a number of years. This year, the locale is the 2K Beach. The beach really doesn’t add anything more than a different coat of paint to the Neighborhood. You still roam the street to hit the court for three on three online hoops, or participate in five vs. five ProAm games. You will also be able to shop (with VC) for fresh kicks and clothes at stores along the street. You also can visit your manager/agent to pick up endorsement VC at their office.

MyTeam is the fantasy team building mode of NBA 2K21. Here you get to earn and spend VC on getting the most out of your players and team. You can buy packs of “cards” and uncover current stars and legends, and take your team online in daily/weekly challenges and seasons to constantly improve. With all the modes in the game, online and off, your Virtual Currency will be spread thin, which is, of course, what 2K wants, because in addition to earning it, you can purchase VC with real world money. If you’re not careful, that can add up quickly.

The most important aspect of online in any game is connectivity. Throughout my online testing, I did not encounter any issues that prevented me from participating.

Conclusion:
We have grown accustomed to legacy titles of sports franchises during the period when a new console launches. The game looks practically identical to last year’s model. Granted, NBA 2K21 is still a solid basketball game to play, especially if you don’t foresee yourself upgrading to a PlayStation 5 in the next few months. The new shooting mechanics take some getting used to, but updates have made it a little more palatable for players like me who don’t consider themselves expert-level ballers.

Ultimately, whether or not I would recommend the title is based solely on the question of when, or if, you will be moving onto the next-gen consoles. If you are, I would wait. But if you are riding it out, temper any expectations you may have for the game to feel new this year. The bottom line, however, is NBA 2K21 is decent, just not anything you haven’t seen before.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by John Payant

John Payant

PlayStation Nation editor and writer. Been playing games for over forty years. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good.

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