There’s a scene in the film Whiplash that immediately sprang to mind while playing NBA 2K21.
It’s that moment where J.K Simmons keeps stopping Miles Teller from playing the drums, interrupting him by saying that’s ‘Not Quite My Tempo’.
Trying to shoot hoops in NBA 2K21, I genuinely wondered if someone was asking me if I was ‘Rushing’ or ‘Dragging’. Trying to move the right stick back or press the Square Button at the precise moment on the power meter so that I get an ‘Excellent’ shot.
And it wasn’t just me trying to be a brutal perfectionist like Terence Fletcher, because I can cope with being bang average. But excellent shots seemed like the only way I could score in the game.
Every time the game was telling me ‘Too Early’ or ‘Too Late’. You’re ‘Slightly Early’ or ‘Slightly Late’. The window for an Excellent Throw in NBA 2K21 is minuscule and while that’s nothing new for a series vet, it’s going to be immediately frustrating for a newcomer.
NBA 2K21 does not hold your hand. Its career mode drops you in at the deep end and expects results. And the new aiming system is brutal, all told. But the good news is, even though the difficulty curve is pretty rough, even on the lower difficulties, NBA 2K21 is still a really fun game of basketball.
Please note, patch update 1.02 addresses the shooting in-game. By the time this article was published, we didn’t have a chance to check out this update but will update accordingly once we’ve spent a bit of time with it.
The thing that continues to really amaze me – and I find myself enjoying most of all – is the compelling narratives that serve to introduce you to the game and manage to cram in a host of familiar faces.
This time around, players will get to play as Junior, a kid who’s been seemingly living in his dad’s shadow all his life. Junior’s dad, played by Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy and Detroit, Become Human fame, was a star basketball player and Junior has been living with those same comparisons the moment the media found out he’d picked up a ball.
Junior’s dad has passed since, and so the player comes to learn more about the father/son relationship through fractured memories on the basketball court. But also through the interviews he gives and the performances he provides for his coach – who’s also played by the ever excellent Djimon Hounsou.
The talent really helps elevate the story to be more than just some words on paper to drive the player through career. There’s some really great, emotionally invested performances here that weave a relatively decent yarn.
Of course, the ultimate aim is to make it to the NBA and get picked in the draft. Once you hit that, it’s onto the main event and that’s practice, practice, play a full season and see where you land.
As with all NBA games, you’ve also got MyTeam and MyLeague to fill out the total package. Team, as ever, lets you play as and compete as legends of the sport, follow the real life season and compete in big money competitions.
As always, you start out with a deck of cards which you can keep adding to over time, each card with its own unique properties. There’s different events to compete in, unique exchanges, community hubs, and prizes, all contingent on how you play, what you do, and who’s in your team.
The main changes this time out are free seasons for everyone, with no need for a paid pass. Triple Threat is also updated through the season with new rewards, and there’s more choice with Evolution cards.
Badges are also back in game, with bronze, silver, gold and hall of fame varieties, to keep the challenge fresh. It’s as elaborate, deep, and compulsive as ever, and, of course, the more you put into it, the more you get out.
MyLeague, meanwhile, gives you a 2.0 version of the much beloved GM mode, as well as unique seasons, playoffs, and league online. You’ll probably spend a bunch of time here once career mode goes on for a spell or you fancy a change of pace. Here, you can customise your experience in a way that works for you, whether that’s following the actual season or creating your own stories.
That’s something full-packaged experiences like NBA and other sports titles just continue to excel at, giving the player choice, options, and variety. It’s here in spades and the best part is, you can carry it all over to the new consoles if you want to.
We saw that impressive PS5 demo of NBA 2k21, we know the next gen version is going to be something special, but this PS4 bow out is no slouch either, with impressive closeups, gleaming on the court, pyrotechnics, and impressive mocap.
Characters more than look the part, the arenas are painstakingly recreated, the presentation makes you feel like you’re watching this live, and then there’s the epic, pulse-pounding soundtrack which just gets your body hopping and puts goosebumps on the back of your arm.
NBA 2K21 is the game its always been. There’s inherent changes, no doubt, with the way shot selection has evolved and divided the community down the middle and also the adjustments to MyTeam.
But you know what you’re getting into with NBA, you know that 2K are giving you a full developed, well-rounded experience, and it will keep you playing for hours at a time.
I am absolutely fascinated to see just how the PS5 / Xbox Series S l X versions of NBA 2K21 stack up – especially since the next-gen experience has apparently been built from the ground-up. It’s always interesting to see how sports games are scaled up to show off and accommodate new hardware. I remember NBA 2K14 being one of the early games I played on PS4 to see what the hardware could do, and I could tell from what I got out of it that this console generation was going to be truly special.
NBA games have always been standard-bearers in terms of visual quality and performance and this is a well-produced, content-heavy swansong for one of the most impressive gaming generations of all time, even if it’s not the best of entry points for series newcomers.
+ An absolute visual tour-de-force
+ High quality content offering hours of potential playtime
+ Plenty of updates to come with all progress crossing over to next-gen
+ A great story mode again, well acted by world-class talent
+ A fantastic soundtrack
– Shooting feels designed for pro players and can leave newcomers behind
– Difficulty can be brutal
– Content hasn’t evolved too significantly from 2K20
NBA 2K21 is now available on PS4, XO, Switch, PC, and Stadia.
Tested on PS4
Code kindly provided by 2K