24 Feb 2021 2:35 PM +00:00

NBA 2K21 Next-Gen Review: The Best Gets Better

NBA 2K21 on next-gen consoles takes the fast-paced, end-to-end excitement of the NBA and brings it to a new console generation with aplomb. The usual question marks undoubtedly remain over pervasive microtransactions, but everything else here feels fresh.

New Game Plus

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NBA 2K21 on next-gen is frequently stunning

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There were undoubtedly eyebrows raised earlier this year when publisher 2K confirmed that NBA 2K21 wouldn't be getting a free next-gen upgrade like fellow sports titles Madden 21 or FIFA 21.

The reason given was that the game was expected to be such a step up that even calling the game by the same name would feel almost disingenuous. While we'll let your definition of value speak for itself, there's no denying that NBA 2K21 on next-gen systems is a new game.

Far more than a lick of paint and a resolution bump, this feels like the true way to play. 

Presentation Is Everything

NBA 2K21 on next-gen offers stunning visuals both on and off the court. While the current-gen version could hardly be described as lacking in authenticity when it comes to the broadcast-style presentation, the PS5 and Series S/X versions feel so close to watching a real game that it's often indistinguishable.

Giannis ❤️ #NBA2K21#XboxSeriesXpic.twitter.com/L4jzcTAzZk
— Lloyd Coombes (@lloydcoombes)
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November 13, 2020

Players are expressive, reacting to what's around them and even falling over fans in the front row as they try to retrieve a loose ball. The series has always had an eerie knack for nailing the virtual sweat on a player's brow, even that seems to have "levelled up" on the new hardware.

Lots of the crowd, mascots, and even camera crew on the sidelines have their own AI, meaning they'll react to huge dunks, or show disproval at a blocked shot.

It's not perfect, with dead-eyed players looking longingly into space during courtside interviews, but in many ways, the presentation here puts rivals to shame.

Play The Game

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NBA 2K21 on next-gen is a basketball fan's dream

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As good as the game looks, we're pleased to report that it plays beautifully too. Thankfully sidestepping the current-gen version's iffy shooting meter, it makes meaningful changes to almost every facet of the post-to-post experience.

Animations move more cleanly into one another, as players shift weight between their feet and look to drive past a flat-footed defender. Collisions feel much more deliberate now, with shooting fouls offering fewer head-scratching moments of "why has that happened?" and more "oops, I see where I went wrong".

The "pick and roll" system still feels a little overpowered, with the player forming the pick often being picked up by more than one defender to open up an easy shot attempt or a drive for the basket.

In many ways, 2K21 on next-gen just feels heavier, with players feeling less like they're skating across an ice rink and more like the towering athletes that they are in reality.

New Game, Same Issues

In terms of modes, MyCareer remains one of the genre's better efforts but fails to hit the heights of the last couple of years. New to next-gen are branching story paths and the G-League (which also arrives in MyNBA), but you'll likely want to skip it if you've already played through on PS4 or Xbox One.

The Neighbourhood has been replaced by The City in MyPlayer, a huge area to explore and customise your created star. It's a nice change of locale, and looks great in places, but it's too large to feel conducive to jump into pick-up games.

As you'd expect, microtransactions in the form of VC are back, and they're as irritating as ever. While you can earn small increments of VC for playing matches, much of the customisation options in MyPlayer will require a lot of grinding to earn, while the same currency can also be used in MyTeam – meaning it often feels like a choice between building a character or building a team.

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The Verdict

NBA 2K21 on next-gen consoles is immeasurably better than its current-gen counterpart. Offering improved visuals is one thing, but when the gameplay is such a step up as well, it's hard to go back.

If 2K could rein in its microtransactions, the game would be an all-time hall of famer.

4/5

Review copy provided by the publisher

Reviewed on Xbox Series X