Even amidst a global pandemic, three constants remain in our society: death, taxes, and annualized sports games. Although 2K Games releases their basketball game yearly, 2K21 released with an interesting obstacle that it’s predecessors did not have to deal with. Recently, 2K Games was the first to announce their game will cost $69.99 on next-gen consoles. While most financial analysts have foreseen a price increase, it was a bit odd the first to announce this change was a sports game. For the people who plead their case about minimal changes on a year-to-year basis, prepare to feel vindicated. Not only is 2K21 a near carbon copy of last year’s installment, but it’s also considerably worse in one specific area. Curious? Read on for our NBA 2K21 review.
Creating a Champion
As a fan of the Phoenix Suns, I’ve dealt with my fair share of NBA heartbreak. The latest was watching then-GM Ryan McDonough select Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic no. 1 overall in the 2018 NBA draft. So naturally, my first stop in 2K21 was MyGM. Just think of Thanos putting the Infinity Gauntlet on at the end of Avengers saying, “Fine…I’ll do it myself.” Now, there’s quite a few ways to go about controlling a franchise. There’s the aforementioned MyGM mode, which places you in a pseudo-campaign as the GM of your selected team. In this mode, you meet with the owner, head coach, and various players in an near-impossible attempt to juggle everyone’s desires. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win a championship in less than three years, but that might be a bit out of reach for the Suns. At the same time, my head coach wants me to acquire more lottery draft picks. The vast difference of goals set by the owner and head coach are at opposing ends of the spectrum.
On top of trying to cater to the head coach and owner, you can’t forget about the players. Obviously, players want to ensure they’re getting ample amount of playing time. If their requests aren’t fulfilled, they’ll become disgruntled and eventually not want to re-sign with the team. But what’s strange is why rookies or second-year players who’ve shown absolutely no negative feelings toward the team start expressing such emotions. Cam Johnson on the Suns was drafted No. 11 in the 2019 draft and was a major contributor for the Suns going undefeated in the bubble. It might be a bit much want 2K21 to reflect 100 percent based teams’s performances down in Orlando, but it’s ludicrous that Johnson would want to leave the team. Is MyGM supposed to be a roulette wheel to randomized players to show hostility?
The other main way to control a franchise is MyLeague. This mode is a more traditional route to building a franchise and returning players won’t have any trouble easing back in. Again, very little changed between 2K20 and 2K21. The majority of menu navigation is identical, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It promotes continuity and instills a sense of familiarity for players. There’s a major difference between innovation and creating progressive changes versus adding things for the hell of it. However, that doesn’t excuse Visual Concepts for seemingly releasing last year’s game but changing the zero to a one. Maybe we’ve reached the threshold of graphical improvements, but if someone played both 2K20 and 2K21 without knowing, I’d bet they wouldn’t tell a difference. That’s not to say the graphics are an eyesore, but some might chalk it up as just laziness.
A welcoming improvement to the overall gameplay this year has been the A.I.’s scoring efficiency. Countless times have players raged at their computer-controlled teammates making inexplicable decisions handling and shooting the basketball. Thankfully, your teammates make correct passes, perform more successful pick-and-rolls, and don’t miss wide-open shots as frequently as before. This helped me score early VC points in my playmaking skill tree, because I’d average a solid 6-7 assists per game. However, the same cannot be said on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest issue is the A.I. consistently fails to switch properly on screens. It’s not so much as pick-and-rolls, but simple screens to switch defenders. But the problem is, the defender won’t switch over and will instead keep on their assigned man and I get hit with leaving my defensive assignment. It’s these little hiccups that constantly remind me how frustrating 2K can be.
Make It Rain…Sorta
Unlike the graphics, 2K21 tried making a big change in the shooting mechanics. I say “tried,” because, quite frankly, it’s not good. Instead of simply moving the right stick down for the shot meter, you now have to aim the shot as well. Nearly every single shot I took would always rim out. At first, I thought it was user error after shooting 1 for 8 from behind the arc. Until I saw others were having the same problems, including the cover athlete himself, Damian Lillard.
Due to a high volume of negative feedback regarding 2K21’s shooting mechanics, Visual Concepts released a hot fix for improvement. It was tough to identify any significant changes to the shooting mechanics made by the developer. However, the shooting settings can be adjusted. If you’re not a fan of the added aiming feature, you can just focus on the timing of the shot. There’s also an option that goes based on the real player’s shooting percentage, however due to an overwhelmingly amount of distaste toward the player ratings, I would proceed with caution. All in all, even after the presumed patch to fix the shooting, it still feels like something’s slightly off.
On top of the initial distaste of the new shot meter, we can’t have a new sports game without people breaking down the player ratings. Every year there’s always a handful of players incorrectly ranked, and while it could be recency bias, it seems 2K21 really airballed on this one. New Orleans Pelicans small forward Josh Hart was especially unhappy with his rebounding rating.
As I mentioned earlier, it might a bit much to ask for 100 percent realism, but things like player ratings need to be as accurate as possible. Developers of a sports game need to have a full comprehension and understanding on all the players in the league, not just the “popular ones.” If 2K Games can’t, or won’t, take the time to show graphical improves or add compelling new features, the least they can do is have correct ratings. Hopefully there’s an update as soon as the bubble ends, but honestly, we should get roster updates as soon as possible.
My Path to the Assocation
The majority of my time trying to get buckets was in MyCareer. This mode focuses on you filling the shoes of Junior, the son of a well-known basketball player. MyCareer takes you through high school, selecting one of eight colleges, and ultimately being drafted in the NBA. It was strange to me that even though I created my MyCareer player as “Avery Feyrer,” the game forced me to go as Junior on the court. But when I was drafted, my name on the court reverted back to Feyrer. Now, this is where most of the game’s realism goes out the window for me. Everyone from the announcers to your teammates, you’re regarded as a sure-fire, top prospect. If the game holds you in such high esteem, shouldn’t your player absolutely dominate during high school, and possibly college? I created a shooting guard in order to hit those long-range shots, so why was my 3-point shooting a 55 rating? I understand the concept of grinding for Virtual Currency (VC) to increase your attributes, but being hyped up as a generational talent I should be dominating the early competition. What if Visual Concepts made your high school player a 90, then in college it “drops” to a 75-80, and finally in the NBA it’ll be a 60-65. It doesn’t make much sense for the game to continue saying how impactful you are to the game when you finish with 10 points and 7 assists. For lack of a better word, your MyCareer player should absolutely ball out against “weaker” opposition.
With that being said, it doesn’t really matter how good or bad you are, because you still have the ability of selecting any college. Regardless of the school you pick, MyCareer takes an undesirable turn from living your NBA dream to insufferable basketball drama. The journey to the association involves dealing with conceited reporters, an initial shady agent, and a forced, over the top, gagged-filled romantic side story. All things I don’t want in a basketball game. Hopefully in the future, 2K installs an option to remove all that extracurricular material for people who only want to focus on becoming an amazing NBA player. I can confidently say I spent more time watching cut scenes than playing actual basketball, and that’s not a good thing.
MyCareer could’ve regained much of the love lost after the NBA draft. Notice I say “could’ve,” because again, 2K21 air balls the realism aspect of the game. It focuses nearly all of the attention on the poor, cringy narrative of the campaign instead of embracing an accurate road to the NBA. After you enter the NBA Combine, you develop a friendship/semi-rivalry with Hendrixx Cobb. Now, before the combine the game asks you which team you’d like to play for. Deep down I had a feeling 2K21 was essentially telling me the team I select will be the one I get drafted by. I chose the Suns, but when the draft started, Phoenix had the No. 1 pick and took Cobb. I suppose Phoenix got lucky on lottery night and the ping pong balls bounced their way, but how can 2K21 explain the Sun’s not only drafting me when I play the same position as Cobb, but as also as the No. 2 pick. So naturally, that would mean Phoenix gutted their roster to build a new core with Cobb and myself. Nope, sorry. The Sun’s still had the normal roster with guys like Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Ayton. It doesn’t make any sense that the Suns were able to draft first and second without trading any players. Again, the sheer lack of realism in favor of a water-downed, predictable sports movie was not the right move.
NBA 2K21 strangely does very little to separate itself from its predecessor, especially when the next-gen version will see a price increase. The change in the shot meter by adding the aim feature proved to be a big miss. With EA seemingly putting an indefinite hold on the NBA Live franchise, the lack of competition essentially gives 2K an annual pass. The lack of realism regarding player ratings, player attitudes in building a franchise, and the overall experience of MyCareer leaves a sour taste in my mouth. 2K has its work cut out for them in transforming NBA 2K21 into an acceptable product. If 2K is going to want to charge more for their nex-gen product, then us consumers deserve a next-gen product in return. As of right now, NBA 2K21 is nowhere near that.
- Familiarity of MyLeague/MyGM, easy to navigate menus, formulate roster, and minute distribution
- Solid create-a-player builds for MyCareer
- Improvement on A.I. offensive decision-making and offense efficiency
- Adjustment to shot meter, adding shot aim
- A.I. still make questionable defensive decisions
- Poor, cringy dialogue in MyGM/MyCareer
- MyCareer is more of a soap opera than basketball sim
- Game does very little in showing you how to upgrade MyCareer player
- Severe lack of realism, player ratings all over the place
NBA 2K21 review code provided by the publisher. Played on PS4. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.