NBA 2K21 Review: Has the Best Basketball Game Got Better?


The NBA 2K series is considered by many to be the best sports game in the world. This season, another one came out and we check whether that lead has been maintained. Not much has changed on paper compared to 2K20. Obviously the players are all up to date, but the crazy thing this season is that we are still working on last season’s NBA finals and the selection of new players who come fresh from college will only take place on October 16. Undoubtedly they will be added to the right teams, but it is a crazy sensation.

It is also alienating that the matches you play take place in a packed stadium. Basketball fans are now used to ‘The Bubble’. Games that are all played in Orlando with large screens on which the fans sitting at home are projected. That crazy change is missing in 2K21.

The buttons are largely the same as last year, but you can now also shoot by moving the right stick back. Anyone who thinks to do a nice ‘behind the back’ dribble and suddenly shoot from the center line has a small learning curve to overcome. I find it quite difficult to master the new controls. Especially because you can still shoot with the buttons. If it goes bad three times with the stick, you will automatically use that button again.

The rest of the gameplay is very similar to what we ended up with in NBA 2K20 after a few patches. It is not really refreshing and you also wonder a bit why 2K releases a new game with a new title every year and does not use a revenue model with season passes and an ever-developing engine.

In fact, this doesn’t feel like a new game. Those who played a lot of street basketball in the previous edition now have a kind of Venice Beach square instead of an urban setting. Refreshing, but no bigger change than what Fortnite does with each new season.

Those who play MyPlayer have the option to scan their face with their phone and use it in the game. Personally, I have not yet managed to make it look in such a way that I do not have blue spots on my cheeks or a much too large head. But that could certainly be my lack of patience. I see people online who have really turned it into a player they look like.

This career mode with your own character has been renewed. This time you start at high school, then you play with a college team. The name is correct, but your teammates are not the players who are actually walking around there. 2K did not have those rights. As a result, during your first season in the NBA, there are immediately a whole club of non-existent basketball players in the competition and that is a shame. It therefore feels less authentic than previous years.

The storyline is quite scripted and features actors like Michael K. Williams, Djimon Hounsou and Jesse Williams. Basketball players Dame Lillard and Zion Williamson also come by for a small role. Unfortunately, you have little to say as a player and sometimes you have the feeling that you are no longer gaming, but that you are watching a TV series. It just depends on what you love.

Anyone who likes to play the game MyTeam will have to dig deep this year. 2K is increasingly focusing on microtransactions with VC and especially if you play both MyPlayer and MyTeam then you will either have to grind endlessly, or occasionally transfer money to buy VC. Not cool.

All in all, it feels like the 2K team was already busy with the version for the new generation of game consoles. Before Christmas, 2K21 will be released for the new Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series S and X. There are already versions of the game for sale including that upgrade. For those who already want to play and later want to continue on their new console.

Is NBA 2K still the best sports sim? When it comes to gameplay purely, absolutely. When it comes to all the extra game modes, there is still something to improve and, for example, FIFA20 felt richer.

Rutger Middendorp

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