NBA 2K21 Review: Mamba Forever

Before its launch, NBA 2K21 on current-gen consoles had a lot going against it. With the 2020 pandemic and nex- gen systems right around the corner, gamers had no idea what to truly expect.

But with a game featuring a major gameplay change and a highly requested change of venue to its most popular mode, does NBA 2K21 exceed expectations or give us copy and paste of 2K20?

Stick Work

You can’t begin to talk about NBA 2K21, without mentioning the change to the shot meter that has the community up in arms. 2K20 featured a similar uproar when shooting as whole was given a major nerf to start but was quickly patched. However, with 2k21 receiving a similar nerf, to go along with the introduction of two new shot meters, it has caused many to argue if there’s really a skill gap to shoot now or is it just plain impossible. Many have stated gaining badges or the novel idea of shooting with guys who can actually shoot helps. But, one thing’s for sure: the story of 2K21’s shooting is long from finished.

Certain dribble moves are quicker and make me feel like I’m able to be a lot more creative

The good thing is you’re still able to shoot the ball with square or circle, but you’re greeted with a new slingshot shot meter that, while also different from 2k20, many will gravitate more to this than the much maligned shot stick aiming system.

That has such a steep learning curve that 2K thought ahead and allow you to turn it off. I worry though, like with many innovative features in other sports games over the years, the staying power of the aiming system beyond 2K21 if people flat out won’t use it. Just look at the vision cone from Madden in the mid-2000s.

Now, while shooting has been a roller coaster of emotions you can say, the dribbling system and the revamped right stick to perform more dribble moves has been a major win. Certain dribble moves are quicker and make me feel like I’m able to be a lot more creative with them. While I quickly touched on it, revamping the pro stick was a genius move, where accidentally shooting when trying to perform a dribble move with the right stick is a thing of the past.

Another big positive in the gameplay department has been the paint defense by computer defenders, maybe even verging on the side of being over powered. 2K21 forces you to think twice before you mindlessly drive into the paint with your eyes closed. Defenders are much more likely to pop the ball free, reach in when you least expect, completely stone wall your drives, and block your shot so bad you’ll question your whole existence.

Now on ball defense has taken a step back solely for the fact that it feels like once you plant your foot, it feels as though something is grabbing you for a split second before you can change directions. The annoying body steals, while toned down a bit, are still present in the game which is a bummer, and still seem to be the optimal way to take the ball from your opponent. Moving around the court feels like i’m sliding more often than not while not giving much resistance to the ball handler as if the sensitivity of moving side to side was cranked up.

Playing the computer brings such an enjoyable experience in 2K21 overall, as we continue to move more and more away from feeling like your playing the computer. The unpredictability of the AI in the pick and roll is a major headache, and you have to be aware of all five players on the court as they’re always doing something.

A Day at the Beach

The MyCareer story is once again packed with big name actors like The Wire’s Michael K Williams and PS4 Exclusive Detroit Become Human’s Jesse Williams as they continue to strive to put together a real basketball production in their storyline. While there has been the removal of some filler aspects of the mode, The inclusion of college teams is a welcome addition. However, the high school part felt longer than I would have liked and a few questions go unanswered that I generally wanted to know.

The other big experience in NBA 2K21 is, of course, The Neighborhood. What’s actually in The Neighborhood has been mostly unchanged, as far as venues, the my player attribute, animation and badge upgrade systems. The Neighborhood did get a much-needed aesthetic overhaul in the form of the renamed 2K Beach. With the vibrant colors and bright lights, fans finally got the upgrade many were hoping for. What’s more is that the annoying conversations when you enter stores have also been removed, but traveling to these stores is going to take a bit more time to get to.

My League and My League Online remain largely the same, and NBA 2K kind of suffers from peaking too early with the mode where the only direction it can go is down. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. The amount of depth in this mode is awe inspiring and makes one hope a certain maker of football games could some day have this kind of depth to its mode.

With the WNBA, the league also returns with its very own season and playoff modes. However, there’s not much depth to the league still, and you still can’t create a female MyPlayer. That said, 2K is teasing something more for the WNBA and women players for the next-gen version of the game, so we’ll see what comes of that.

Now the mode I’ve been most impressed with has been MyTeam as it’s arguably the best version of MyTeam to date. It’s a complete overhaul of everything you have come to love about the mode. MyTeam Limited gives users another avenue to play with fun restrictions on the lineups you can put on the court and awesome rewards. Being able to apply badges to your players is something I’ve personally missed in MyTeam. The mode pretty much throws rewards at you constantly giving no money spent players plenty of avenues to build their team.

Unfortunately, there’s always a dud in the modes and one of the worst modes in 2k20 returns completely untouched in MyGM, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

Too Familiar

The easiest area to attack NBA 2K21 is in it’s lack of a presentation upgrade. We get a more minimalist main menu screen now, but when you load into a game, you would have to be a wizard to be able to tell the difference between the last two games.

The lines the announcers say — for good reason mind you — are the same, and stat overlays are an exact copy and paste. Aside from a few face upgrades and hair updates, if you were to judge 2K21 solely from this, it’s pretty much the same exact game and would earn the moniker 2K20.5

NBA 2K21 Verdict

While you almost want to give NBA 2K21 the benefit of the doubt due to circumstance and grade on a curve, the fact that it’s still $60 says otherwise. Under a tough situation the gameplan was evident from a development standpoint. It’s no coincidence the mode that will transfer to 2K21 on next gen received the biggest upgrade, while throwing a bone to the MyPlayer crew by finally changing the venue before a lot of gamers switch over to next-gen consoles.

While the demo lowered my expectations, admittedly because of the copy and paste presentation, 2K21 is enough of a change from 2K20 to stand on it’s own. Where a balancing of shooting and paint defense could ultimately decide how I feel about it come December, 2K didn’t take its user base for granted, and gave players another solid basketball simulation to justify the price tag.


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*NOTE: A copy of NBA 2K21 was provided to Sports Gamers Online for the purposes of this review**

  • 9/10
    Gameplay - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Game Modes - 8/10
  • 5/10
    Presentation - 5/10
  • 8/10
    Longevity - 8/10
Overall
7.5/10