Visual Concepts has done a remarkable job with NBA 2K21 and has made it very clear that it continues to be the great and only dominator on the court. But the big question is: is this new installment for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC worth it before the launch of the version for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X? The answer is yes, NBA 2K21 presents remarkable novelties in the gameplay, modes such as My Team, My Career and The Neighborhood have been updated, new historical teams have been added and we have all the NBA and WNBA franchises.
The big playable change in NBA 2K21 is the new launch system with the right stick of the controller. This season we will have to aim with the stick to place the bar right in the center of the area marked in the semicircle, being able to move slightly to the left and right to specify and get the long-awaited green shots. However, this system has polarized players because its high learning curve has put both the most expert and the less common in serious trouble.
Although Visual Concepts has already released a small update for the easier difficulties (Rookie, Professional and All-Star), there are still no changes in Hall of Fame or Neighbourhood mode, leaving the online experience unbalanced. That is why we believe that the new shooting system needs a deeper balance and a clearer interface since this important playable change has caused very little credible situations in the basket tackles, the game in the post and especially in the shots from the perimeter. To avoid getting frustrated, we can always re-launch with the button or use the traditional synchronization bar with the stick, but we do not believe that it is the most appropriate being one of the main playable novelties.
Defences in basket shots also have modifications, being more important than ever to know how to create spaces with the defender before shooting. In this way, if the opponent’s defence is very effective, the shooting percentages will drop drastically, so playing as a team, marking plays and mastering dribbling movements with the ball becomes essential. In this sense, it should be noted that the Pro Stick incorporates new movements, which expands our offensive arsenal.
The physics of the ball has also been corrected and we enjoy a more realistic behaviour of the ball. Now the ball is not so close to the hands, giving rise to more varied actions. We also perceive these improvements in physics in robberies, blocks and more notably in basket tickets, being much more complicated than in previous deliveries to enter the area and complete the actions successfully due to the multiple contacts.
The latest playable novelties are the inclusion of a large number of new animations, being especially relevant in the game at the post, and that passes are now more fluid both when making them and when intercepting them, being essential to maintaining a good level of resistance if we want to get a good hit.
The dream team
The mode that acquires the most important year after year is My Team. This season the card game maintains its solid playable bases and incorporates very interesting new features. The first of them is that every several weeks we will have a new Season Pass that will offer us 40 levels of progression, being able to obtain different rewards in each of them. These seasons are completely free, so they are a great incentive to play.
The equipment and collections management system remains practically intact, the main novelty is being able to choose how to modify the evolution cards. In this way, according to the requested requirements (points, assists…), it is possible to make a player like, for example, Shaquille O’Neal evolve towards a more athletic or defensive profile. Other cool changes are trading leftover cards to get higher-level players and adding badges to cards.
As for the game modes, the great addition is Limited, an option that every weekend imposes new rules on us to be able to play and whose prize is Champion Rings exchangeable for rewards. You just need a clearer interface to create the templates according to the imposed restrictions. For its part, Unlimited follows the known dynamic, but nine divisions have been added through which we will rise as we win matches, thereby levelling out online matches.
The usual offline and online modes are still present and the progression is once again very well balanced so, although micropayments can help us get better teams more quickly, the truth is that playing normally we will design very competitive templates from day one ( helped as always by the Dress Codes that 2K Sports facilitates on social networks). Finally, we must not forget that the progression will continue with the arrival of NBA 2K21 to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X (within the same family of consoles), so we can play with the peace of mind of knowing that all our effort will be saved…
One more season, My Career comes with a completely new story that will make us follow the path of Junior, a young athlete who lives in the shadow of his father’s university legend. To design Junior, we once again have the complete editor present in NBA 2K20, the main change being the possibility of creating higher bases (2.03m), an option that we have been demanding for some time.
The new plot is interesting and, although as usual it is somewhat short and loses interest when it reaches the NBA, it offers a multitude of cinematics and a very careful finish. In our progress we will go through the institute, the decisive university stage, the night of the Draft and finally the NBA, counting in NBA 2K21 with the official license of 10 universities in the United States, among which are some as well known as UCLA, Syracuse or Michigan State.
Once we disembark in the NBA, we will have Neighbourhood at our disposal, a location that has completely changed and that now places us on the sunny beaches of Los Angeles under the name of 2K Beach. Here we can enjoy the usual street tracks, Pro-Am, The REC, gym, NBA facilities and all kinds of shops to modify our visual appearance with haircuts, tattoos and clothes.
The ultimate goal is to improve Junior through the different game modes and training to reach the desired 99 rating that will make us a legend. The negative part of this online environment is that over the years Neighbourhood has become somewhat obsolete, encountering constant loading times, slowdowns, irregular connections and an overly corseted gaming space. Hopefully, as confirmed by 2K Sports, the next-generation installment is something completely new that takes this fun online experience to the next level.
Whenever we talk about My Team and My Career, the controversial micro-payment system of the NBA 2K series should come to light. In this sense there are no significant changes, being able to buy VC with real money to improve the statistics of My Player, acquire customization elements or buy packs for My Team. This logically can give us a very important boost in our progression and makes us more competitive from the first moment. However, there is no problem in skipping the micropayments and playing for VC, an expensive task but with a balanced progression.
Lovers of sports management will again enjoy My GM, a very complete game mode in which we control all the financial and sports sections of an NBA franchise, an interesting experience that this season does not present significant changes. In the same way, we can also play personalized seasons and Playoffs with our favourite teams.
NBA Today is also still present, although without notable changes, being able to play with all the completely updated NBA squads, the best historical teams of each of them and some of the most emblematic teams in the history of the NBA, including this season the Teams USA 2012, USA 2016, Toronto Raptors 18-19 and Golden State Warriors 16-17. In addition, the WNBA is once again present with all the franchises.
The graphics of NBA 2K21 continues to be a benchmark within sports titles. Extremely detailed modelling, custom animations for the vast majority of players, realistic pavilions and endless details make the experience very similar to the real one, especially if we activate the broadcasts in English. For their part, the regulars Antoni Daimiel, Sixto Miguel Serrano and Jorge Quiroga are present in the broadcast booth, adding this season new lines of dialogue to the games and a multitude of comments for the My Career mode.
The soundtrack is once again a highlight of the group, enjoying a very complete musical repertoire with more than 50 songs that mix genres such as electronic, hip hop or R&B with artists such as The Weeknd, Juice WRLD or Rick Ross, also with Damian Lillard’s special collaboration that brings two exclusive songs under the pseudonym Dame DOLLA.
NBA 2K21 once again positions itself as the great and only benchmark within basketball simulators. The great novelty this year has been the new system of shooting with the right stick of the controller, a very important playable change that has not finished pleasing all players and that, although it can be supplied with alternative launch methods, it should be balanced and offer a clearer interface.
The rest of the playable experience does not present revolutionary changes, although we do perceive better ball physics, new animations, more realistic contacts between players and a game dynamic in which generating spaces in the rival defence is more important than ever, something that requires digging a little deeper into all the offensive and defensive options that NBA 2K21 offers.
My Team and My Career are still the main modes and both present new features. The card game offers a new game mode (limited), exclusive prize seasons, nine leagues within Unlimited and deeper management of our collection.
My Career returns with a new story that follows Junior’s trajectory, being a short but very interesting plot that gives context to a way that reaches its full potential when it reaches Neighbourhood. 2K Beach is the new online environment and, although it continues to offer endless content and a very fun multiplayer experience, the playable structure is similar to that of other years and with each new installment, it becomes clearer that Visual Concepts needs to renew this mode in order to the new generation of consoles.
In short, NBA 2K21 has cleared up all doubts and makes it clear that, despite its playable defects since it is not a revolutionary installment, it has its own personality, a lot of content and interesting news, becoming essential for fans of the saga (including those who already have their sights set on the next generation of consoles and want to keep entertained while waiting).
We prepared this review with a digital review key for the PS4 Pro version provided by 2K Games.