NBA 2K21 review: Alley oops?

by MaddOx

It has been a while since I properly played a basketball game. There have been a few freebies that I have downloaded over the years on the likes of PS Plus, but never really have they grabbed my attention. In fact, I probably haven’t played one properly since the days of the NBA Street series. But, having seen a lot of mixed reviews for NBA 2K21 in the press and from gamers in general, we thought we’d check it out for ourselves.

For those who don’t know, NBA 2K21 is the official basketball game of the NBA and WNBA, featuring all the official players, leagues, teams etc. If you’ve not checked out the series before, it’s like most sports games that get a yearly release, with varying modes available for both single and multiplayer games, and few changes from previous titles with the exception of new team jerseys and player transfers.

As I haven’t played the previous 2K titles in the series, I can’t comment too much on how NBA 2K21 has changed. But as a newcomer to the series, I get to bring a fresh perspective hopefully making me appreciate things a little more. Like, for example, the introduction of the WNBA. It’s great to see female sports stars featuring in the game, and getting more exposure. And it’s surprising it took so long considering how popular women’s sports are in the US. 

But anyway, on to the game itself. What have people been saying? Well, “Why is there basketball in my advertisement game?” is just one of the many comments I’ve seen around. Sounds like a strange sentence, but it’s one that I saw many people jokingly saying about NBA 2K21 following its release due to it essentially being flooded with advertisements of all kinds. And whilst I have to admit that yes, there are a lot of adverts that crop up in the game, I think there is a very good reason why.

NBA 2K21 Artwork

NBA 2K21 is meant to be the most realistic basketball game to date, and whilst I am playing on PS4, the graphics on the new-gen consoles look incredible. I mean they’re as close to lifelike as I’ve seen in a sports game. The realism is right there. And that is why I think the game is plagued with adverts. Because that’s the state of affairs in the US when you watch any major sporting event. Adverts popping up mid game, commentators telling you that something is brought to you by a sponsor, if there is an opportunity there, adverts will appear.

And that’s essentially what happens in NBA 2K21, it’s just like real life. And it’s not just basketball, it happens in all American sports like the NFL and MLB too, it’s just the way America is. I mean you might complain about adverts in the UK, but it’s nothing compared. Just watch the BBC’s coverage of the Super Bowl and you’ll see what I mean, because even they have to show the adverts, as the stream comes direct from US providers.

What makes me think this is done on purpose for the realism of NBA 2K21, is because you can start a career mode where you create your own player, who plays through a pretty inspiring story mode. Starting off in high school, earning a scholarship to play college basketball and all the way to the big time being drafted into the NBA. And it’s at those lower levels of the game, where advertisements are near non-existent or just a lot less in your face. It all just seems a lot less glam and money-hungry.

That’s not to say there are no adverts at all, your energy bar still has a Gatorade logo next to it, which seems a little forced, and there are advertisement banners here and there, but they don’t feel that out of place. So yeah, adverts are there, and there are plenty of them, but is it all the fault of NBA 2K21? No, it’s just the state of affairs in the US itself. If they want realism but no adverts, then they’re going to have to change the ways in which the sports themselves operate. But with how much money there is in adverts, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

NBA 2k21 everything is game

Anyway, back to NBA 2K21, I’m terrible. But, I’m enjoying it. Not so much when playing right away with the top teams, because I’m that bad. But easing myself in with the career mode and creating my own player, I’ve really enjoyed my time. You can customise your player quite well, and assign attributes to your player which you’ll work up to when playing through the career mode. You do this by earning currency in games for things like getting an assist, making a block and netting some points.

The better you do, the higher grade you’ll get, starting with a C+ you can go up or down depending on your performance. How well you do will then move you up and down ranks, that will mean from high school to college, more places will look at giving you a scholarship. Then the same system starts again when you play college ball, waiting for NBA franchises to show interest in you for the draft picks at the end of the season.

The NBA 2K21 career mode really is fun, and throws up all sorts of scenarios, like what will you do when you’re injured on the sidelines and your team is down. Will you jump in to try and rescue the game, or preserve yourself for future matches that will have significant importance for your career. You’re not just moulding your player as a key element in the game, you’re moulding them as a person too. And that’s a really nice element to see when so many people see sports stars as these big personalities that are more interested in money than the team.

After a bit of practice, I felt more comfortable playing the other NBA 2K21 modes. However, I tried to fine-tune my skills through the training mode that shows you how to perform certain shots, passes and movements. Sadly, I wasn’t that impressed here. I felt it a bit finickety and like I didn’t feel myself improving. Instead of games like FIFA and PES, you don’t make progress and get points for completing the task in training. Instead, it just allows you to repeat it until you’re bored, and you have to cycle through tasks yourself.

Not just that and this was an issue I had in-game too. But you get what I can only describe as a power bar above your head when you shoot. Hitting it bang on the point you see will perform an excellent shot, but too far to the left or right means making a shot too early or too late. Depending on where you are, you can still get some of these shots in the basket. But it’s difficult when the bar doesn’t appear on occasion, as you can’t tell when to let go. Over time I guess you’ll perfect it and not need it. However, it was annoying when you’re learning to play.

Other game modes in NBA 2K21 include MyTEAM, where you get to build your team from players you receive from card packs. Much like most sports games, this has caused a bit of upset with some fans. Because it means you don’t have to work to get a good team, because if you have money, you can buy packs. I don’t mind that in games like Apex where it’s purely skins that you unlock, but when it becomes like a pay-to-win format with those with money able to buy the better packs containing better players, it ruins the game a little.

Still, if you’re a great player, you’ll beat even good players who have a better team, so I suppose that’s some solace to take. Sadly, I’m not even a good player, so I struggled massively when playing online. I don’t think I’ve won one game yet. But, like I say, I am rather enjoying the game and slowly I’m getting used to the game and improving the more I play.

NBA 2K21 overall thoughts

After going over some of the basics in NBA 2K21, and addressing the whole advertisements thing, I think the game itself is a pretty solid entry into the series. It looks great, it plays well, and it’s one of the most realistic sports games I’ve played. If people don’t like the adverts, then you’re not wanting a realistic game, and sadly, as I said, the state of affairs in American sports means sponsors play a huge part. Despite them though, I’ve really enjoyed playing NBA 2K21 and will continue to persevere to get better. Is it perfect? No, but is it worth it? Hell to the yeah!

NBA 2K21 is developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Games. It is available to play now on all formats. You can find out more info on the game via the official website HERE, and find more of our game reviews HERE.

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