Release Date September 4, 2020
Genre Sports
Platforms PC/NS/XBO/PS4
Developer Visual Concepts
Price $59.99 US
ESRB Rating Everyone
Players 1-10 Players


*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by 2K Games for review purposes*

It’s a weird year for sports games. We’re in the midst of transitioning to the next-generation of consoles in mere months and every major sports league has been impacted by COVID-19. Then you have a game like NBA 2K21 which is releasing now but will also release alongside the next-gen consoles. For this review, we’ll be focusing on the current-gen version and will likely do a separate review on the next-gen version when that one comes out as well. 

The NBA 2K series has been slowing down in recent years after a pretty consistent pace of improvements. The good thing about that is the gameplay is still stellar and everything you expect from a basketball game. The bad thing is that it is becoming harder and harder to justify the yearly upgrade when one game feels so similar to last year’s game. Visual Concepts did add a really cool new way to shoot this year with the shot stick which requires a bit more precision than the old system. I started off having the worst time with this but then I actually started getting the hang of it and I’ve liked it a lot better. I found that I was able to hit some shots in coverage and on catch and releases that I was never able to hit last year. It sounds simple to nail a shot by hitting the target in the middle of the meter but it took some getting used to and ended up being pretty satisfying to start draining those threes.

NBA 2K21 Review
Still one of the best-looking sports games out there.

A good side effect of this new system is that it ends up making star players feel even more impactful because you’ll have an easier time timing their shots with them than a fringe player. I found that it even makes layups a bit more difficult so they’re not just an easy basket every time. You’re still hitting probably 90% of them if you time it properly but there’s always those one or two a game that seem to elude me. It’s also much easier to do signature moves and dribble without getting into a bad animation. The play just seems to flow better under the new system which is always a plus. 

Some gameplay issues still carry over and a lot of it relates to the clumsy play around the basket. It’s really weird to see 3 or 4 players standing around while one of them has the ball with none of them doing anything. It’s so easy to get the ball into the paint that it’s one of my go-to moves on offence and yet I miss probably 50 percent of those shots because the animations are slow and the shot selection doesn’t make any sense. I’ve driven to the net and had my player stop in the middle of being in motion to take a shot instead of making a layup or dunk. It just leaves me shaking my head.

Urgency is the worst part of NBA 2K21 and has been an issue for a few years now. The CPU makes some really dumb decisions. They’ll get backcourt violations for absolutely no reason, they’ll hold the ball with seconds remaining instead of getting a quick shot off, and just generally transition slowly up the court. It’s just crazy to me that in this age of gaming that we’re still dealing with these issues. AI should have the logic to make the right decisions depending on the time and score of the game by now. 

NBA 2K21 Review
A MyCareer love story.

This year’s MyCareer campaign is called The Long Shadow and focuses on a young talent named Junior playing in the shadow of his father who has passed away. You play his journey from high school through the NBA but the story never develops any of its characters very well so you’re left feeling pretty indifferent. The main focus is on Junior’s college love interest but it just fell flat for me. You have the option to skip right to the draft and I don’t doubt that most people will be doing that. The Neighborhood is now set in Venice Beach which makes for a nice change. As much as it looks different not much has really changed in it. It’s still the fun little space it was last year.

MyTeam has gotten rid of the casino mechanic that was universally panned last year. You’ll have to choose between grinding or spending real-world money like everyone else now. I love the Evolution cards this year that allowed you to choose which skill path ou want to go down. It gives you a bit more influence on how proficient you want certain players to be in different areas of their game. There’s also a new seasonal component that will add new modes as they unfold which we’ll see more of as the year goes on. 

NBA 2K21 Review
This was easily the best card I’ve ever pulled from any pack in any sports game.

The issue with both MyCareer and MyTeam is that they’re both so based around microtransactions that they lose any fun factor they might have had. It takes way too long to grind and get your MyCareer player to be a decent player in the NBA. You’ll lose interest in that mode before you ever really get anywhere. It’s a bit more forgivable in MyTeam because that’s the name of the game, but again, it just takes way too long to get anything good. You should be rewarded a bit more for everything you do in-game versus being expected to shell out even more money to get better players or make your MyPlayer a better player.

MyLeague hasn’t really been touched much this year again. You still can’t play as a WNBA team this year for whatever reason. I don’t even know why they bother including the league if you can’t use them online or in one of the most traditional modes. This is a mode that could have used some love but it remains the same. You have to wonder how sports games are going to look a few years from now if the modes that can’t be monetized keep getting passed over. 

NBA 2K21 Review
College ball! At least for a few games in MyCareer.

I do have to give NBA 2K21 some major points for presentation. This game, for my money, is the closest thing to watching the sport on TV. You have reporters and pre-game stories, small half-time shows with cheerleaders or cannons, and just generally a big-game feel. No other sports game has been able to replicate this quite the way NBA 2K21 does and I hope that some of the other games can follow this one’s lead because they’ve nailed it.

NBA 2K21 is a great basketball game, it just doesn’t bring much to the table that we haven’t seen over the past few years. There’s nothing here that would make me upgrade from last year’s game immediately but if you’ve taken a couple of years off, definitely check this one out as it’s a fun basketball sim if you can get past the microtransactions and sometimes suspect AI.

Pros Cons
Gameplay is as good as it’s ever been Dumb AI at times
Presentation is top notch MyCareer story isn’t appealing


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