For years, 2K Sports has developed some of the best sports video game experiences in its basketball franchise, ‘NBA 2K’. While the newest installment, ‘NBA 2K21’, has improvements in gameplay and presentation, the game follows too closely to the formula it has used in the past, leading to worry about where the series will go from here.
As is the case with so many other sports titles, ‘2K21’ lacks any considerable innovation to separate itself from its predecessors. With this year, it should be noted that the COVID-19 pandemic affected the developers’ ability to innovate. However, this year’s game does not justify its $60 retail price.
A large appeal of the annual release of sports video games is that gamers can play with teams’ new rosters and jerseys. With the NBA still playing its 2019-2020 season three months after it usually ends, ‘2K21’ has none of that appeal. Almost everything about the players and teams is the same as the last installment. With this setback, ‘2K21’ needed serious changes from the jump to establish its identity.
Fortunately, the game avoids total disaster. ‘2K21’ mostly plays it safe and adds small tweaks to different features across the board.
Player movements are improved and feel more fluid than ever. Dribbling the ball feels more technical and creative. However, lateral movement can be slow at times. I also found myself getting stuck in-between players trying to stay on the ball handler a lot.
Though it shares a lot graphically with last year’s ‘2K20’, 2K Sports’ visuals are still miles ahead of its competitors. The game’s face scans look scarily accurate for some players. However, it seems like 2K has reached its graphical peak on the current generation of consoles.The game will likely be more impressive as the series makes the leap to the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
The game’s beloved “MyCareer” mode returns with one of its least entertaining stories yet. The story lacks any real character development and stretches on way too far until you can finally play in the NBA. From there on, it remains almost the same as the past games, with no major character or story beats of note.
There are also no real changes to the “MyLeague” mode, which is disappointing, but okay. The game mode is, and has been, the best sports simulation mode available for years. The amount of control and creativity you can have with the mode makes it one of the most entertaining game modes in all of sports video games. It still would have been appreciated if 2K could have at least made minor changes to the mode, though, even if just to its interface.
The most improved and changed game mode of ‘2K21’ is “MyTeam”. The card-collecting game sometimes gets monotonous, but this year’s improvements try the best to make it as entertaining and rewarding as possible. The game mode now features a season experience where players have new tasks to complete and new rewards to earn every month. Still, it is disappointing to see so many improvements in only one game mode when others were left virtually untouched, especially since “MyTeam” is heavily favored towards microtransactions.
‘2K21’ itself is a good and enjoyable basketball game. However, it is not a step in the right direction for the series. For the franchise that has been the pinnacle of sports video games, the lack of innovation over the past few years is worrying. Other sports game franchises, like EA’s ‘Madden NFL’ series, have become money-hungry and lazy. Unless this current trend changes, 2K will find itself in that category, too.