TL;DR: NBA 2K 21 is a solid basketball game with enough bells and whistles to justify the upgrade. But those expecting a huge leap from 2K20 may find this somewhat disappointing.
NBA: where the big boys play
Time to lace up the high tops and put on the short shorts as we run the court with 2K’s latest basketball offering: NBA 2K21.
For those of you who have not been following 2Ks foray into the gaming sports world on the PC, this year’s version promises an improved MyTeam, enhanced MyCareer, MyLeague as well as some added PC exclusives such as Steam integrated achievement and Steam Cloud support.
Like many sports games, you’re given the choice of playing a quick game or diving headfirst into the fray of an exhausting 82 game season. The other interesting carry-over is the shot meter – a bar above the player’s head- which allows users to accurately time their release. The better the release point on the indicator the higher the chance of the shot going in.
The goal of the shot meter is to assist the player in perfecting their shot without the frustration of the previous version where the user had to time their release at the height of the jump. I know some users have mixed feelings about this but personally, I like the option of having it there if I need it.
On the gameplay is where 2K21 really shines. The graphics are sharper and significantly improved over last year’s version.
hoop it up
The passing model also seems to have been tweaked a bit – and not always for the better. I found myself turning over the ball constantly when I passed to an open player. Sometimes I felt the defenders had magnets on their hands and were able to either steal or deflect the pass even when they weren’t in the correct position to do so.
Still, I find the whole passing mechanism workable and rewards you for making slow and precise passes. The improved spacing prevents that from happening to a degree and emphasizes that players set plays, move the ball around and call for areas of opportunity when needed.
The description on the 2K site boast of ‘new animations’ but that might be stretching it a bit as I haven’t really noticed that many. Maybe I just wasn’t looking or have become oblivious to that fact. What I have seen is better boxing out, better movement during pick and rolls, better play calling, better player reaction when they get called for a foul or when they get fouled hard. But I have yet to see all the newer animations that I haven’t seen last year.
One of the features 2K continues to tweak is the enhanced blocking system – and I do mean enhanced. Players will not just raise their arms up like generic robots trying to block a shot, but they will rear back and swat it away like a beach ball on a windy day.
get that outta here!
On the gameplay is where 2K21 really shines. The graphics are sharper and significantly improved over last year’s version. I’ve played both the PS4 and PC versions and while the console boasts more working features, the PC actually has better graphics and sharper images. Zoom in and you can see the arching eyebrows of Anthony Davis and the pepperoni-sized freckles on Blake Griffin. Skin tone and facial animations give each player an eerie lifelike look – suspending your belief that you might actually be watching a televised game. Add the capabilities of soon-to-be user-created mods and the PC rises head and shoulders above the rest.
One of the features 2K continues to tweak is the enhanced blocking system – and I do mean enhanced. Players will not just raise their arms up like generic robots trying to block a shot, but they will rear back and swat it away like a beach ball on a windy day. I’ve seen players flick their wrist to swat a shot as it was at the height of its trajectory and I’ve seen shots get blocked and pinned against the backboards. When 2k said they made blocking better, they weren’t joking around.
Other notable features are that players seem to have more weight and mass on them; meaning, an offensive-minded player can longer push a defender back against the basket-like a bully at the playgrounds. This makes playing more enjoyable as it prevents the needless oversight of having to double team an average player from consistently scoring down low in the post. This certainly holds true for cheese players who like nothing more than to take Harden or Lebron from end to end dunking the ball.
The animations are also something?2K worked on and you can immediately notice the differences. The added animations make movement very fluid and reduce the jerky robot-like movement found in previous versions of the game. The players also have added ‘weight’ or ‘mass’ making their response to my controls a little bit of a hit and miss. Players no longer feel like they’re skating on the court, but somehow, it also feels like they’re packing too much added weight on the court; making it difficult to stop and make sudden cuts without the player going out of bounds. And this happens to all players – not just the bigger centers or power forwards. Even the little PG seems to have trouble with momentum.
The ebb and flow of the game have also been polished up a bit with players taking the correct running lanes on a fast break and AI teammates jostling for an open position in the paint to take advantage of the other teams’ weaker side. Rebounding has also been tweaked for the better. With Nikola Jokic, I was able to consistently grab 10 – 11 RPG while the PG averaged about 0-1 per game. Some might not like these rebounding statistics but in a game built around the big men, it’s common knowledge to assume the bigger, taller, better-positioned players will get the rebounds.
But with all the good comes the proverbial not so good. The AI still seems wacky at times. Offensive-minded players who shoot first then ask questions later (I’m looking at you Westbrook) usually wait till the final seconds to converge on a play. 2K has stated in the past that they wanted the AI to take its’ time and to set up team-specific plays, but waiting till the shot clock hits 1-2 seconds every time to execute a play just slows down the flow. I have not checked to see if there’s a modifier or slider that would correct that.
taking it to the hoop
Another glaring omission with the PC version is the lack of a functional online mode. In the 20+ games, I tried to play so far, only a handful?was semi-playable. The rest either crashed, froze, or kicked me back to the main menu. It continues to boggle my mind as to why 2k would continue to add this feature on the PC and not rework or improve on it.
But my biggest beef with the game is the lack of optimization even on high-end PCs. I’m running the game on a 2080 RTX and get the occasional stutter here and there. Installing the game on an SSD card tremendously resolves the problem, but I can’t imagine 2K releasing the game not knowing this issue existed.
And one final issue I have is the unneeded sideline presentation that 2K continues to throw out there. I like David Aldridge, but do we really need his sideline reporting in-game? It adds nothing to the overall ambiance of the game. Give me stats and post-game analysis and I’ll be happy. Also, get rid of the cheerleaders during halftime and redo the Ernie and Shaq halftime presentation. It’s boring and doesn’t add any real substance to the experience. If I see Shaq flexing his muscles one more time, I’m going to hurl a controller at the screen.
Overall, I’m enjoying 2K21. While the list of ‘new’ features is impressive, I never really got the feeling that this is a new game. It’s probably because I felt I was playing an enhanced version of 2K20 version 1.5. Still, NBA 2k21 PC is a solid offering that will satisfy your basketball itch for quite some time. Sure it has its issues but once everything is tightened up and all the gameplay quirks ironed out, this can be one of the best basketball experiences you’ll ever have.