Review – NBA 2K21

I knew right from the get-go that NBA 2K21 would hardly be able to impress me. Considering the current global situation, with the COVID-19 pandemic halting game development processes AND sports leagues all over the world, I was aware that the game would, at best, feature one or two new features and a roster update in the near future. The advent of a new console generation in the next few months also made me think that current-gen versions of the game would definitely not be the developers’ priority this year. That doesn’t mean that I still can’t feel disappointed with how NBA 2K21 ended up.

NBA 2K21

If all you want is a fun arcade mode, then this game is still worth for its Quick Play modes. Well, I’d rather stick to NBA 2K20 if that’s the case.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: NBA 2K21 is nearly identical to NBA 2K20. The graphics are pretty much identical. Half time shows are the same as before. Animations are the same. Player faces and jerseys are the same, considering the fact we’re still in the same season featured in NBA 2K20. As far as the graphics go, I’m not annoyed with the fact that almost nothing has been tinkered. NBA 2K20 was already a phenomenal game in terms of graphics and performance, so I’m actually relieved the developers did not try to fix what wasn’t broken. The new soundtrack isn’t exactly very interesting, with basically 90% of it being comprised of trap and mumble rap songs. There’s little variety in here, with The Weeknd and The Strokes feeling out of place, almost as if they were included in the setlist as token musicians from other genres just so the developers can’t be accused of being biased towards rap.

NBA 2K21

I really don’t think a team from literally a year ago can already be considered a “classic NBA team”, but hey, what do I know…

Gameplay-wise, I only noted a few additions and fixes to the previous game’s control scheme. Dribbling is a little bit less stiff than before, which is nice. However, the shooting meter has been completely reworked, making the act of shooting three pointers more complicated than before. Right from the start I noticed that I was missing shots more frequently, even when carefully holding down the shooting button until I was in an appropriate spot in said meter. I would always be “slightly late” or “slightly early” and miss a shot, something that NBA 2K20 was a lot more forgiving with. As always, it’s a realistic and robust control scheme, which is just a tad bit too unforgiving for newcomers.

NBA 2K21

Do you want a half-time t-shirt? At least it’s not DLC!

At its core, it’s basically the same game. But that doesn’t mean 2K and Visual Concepts didn’t take their time to actively make the game less enjoyable. Not only is the MyPlayer mode less exciting than before, without Idris Elba showing up to make your career a bit more interesting, but it’s even more egregious with its microtransactions. It’s still grindy as hell, being borderline demotivating if you haven’t spent a ton of money on the more expensive Mamba Forever edition. It doesn’t matter which mode you decide to play this game in, you’ll either be greeted with screens “suggesting” you to buy extra virtual currency, or slammed with an occasional unskippable product placement scene. It’s just not fun. With the exception of the Quick Match modes, where I can simply shut my brain off and enjoy some basketball like a proper arcade-like experience, NBA 2K21 feels like a chore to play. Enjoyment is put aside in favor of monetization and sponsors. 

NBA 2K21

When in doubt, hire Luka.

This is getting more and more frustrating with each new iteration. NBA 2K21 is not a bad basketball game. It’s robust. It’s realistic. It’s really fun if all you want is a quick match with a friend or the CPU. The problem is that very few additions were included when comparing this game to NBA 2K20, with its additional monetization practices getting even more absurd with each new iteration. When will enough be enough? Playing NBA 2K21 just makes me miss EA Sports’ NBA Live even more. When a game by EA feels less greedy than yours, boy, you done messed up big time.


Graphics: 9.0

The visuals are basically the same as before, but considering the fact the game already looked pretty good in its previous iterations, I definitely do not mind the lack of tinkering.

Gameplay: 8.0

Very little has changed. It’s as fluid as it has been over the past few years, despite being brutal for newcomers. It still controls like crap when you’re in the Neighborhood.

Sound: 7.5

No celebrities showing up this time around. The soundtrack is getting less and less varied with each new installment as well.

Fun Factor: 5.5

As a basketball simulator, NBA 2K21 is excellent. The problem is that the game is even more egregious with its monetization practices, as well as irritating instances of product placement. Enough is enough.

Final Verdict: 7.0

NBA 2K21 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of NBA 2K21 was provided by the publisher.