NBA 2K21 is already a very beautiful looking game with its shiny courts and realistic motion capture, but Xbox Series X takes it up another level.
Somehow, the players out on court seem hungrier than ever with more realistic animations and gritted determination, but the strobe lights dazzle and sparkle like new, and the indoor party atmosphere of the arenas feels more energised and excitable than ever with even more audience members present.
NBA 2K21 flows so much better on new-gen consoles, with lightning-fast load speeds – an issue that really plagued it on past-gen – buttery smooth frame rates and beautifully realised character models. On that alone this would be the definitive place to play, but there’s so many other reasons to jump in.
For real, seeing LeBron James up close and in action was a jaw-dropper. Sure, Djimon Hounsou and Michael K.Williams look amazingly realistic, right down to their unique facial expressions and gestures, but it’s the players out on court that really shine.
When the camera zooms in close on LeBron and captures his frowns and smiles, it’s almost like watching the man himself in action. His towering form is bone-chilling and that imposing disposition feels authentic in every way. Without question, this is the absolute best video game interpretation of the living basketball legend I’ve ever seen and it’s not even close.
And the same goes for so many other great basketball players. As you know Kobe Bryant is here and fully recreated for next-gen, but there’s also the likes of Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, to name a few. All of whom somehow look even more life-like than they did on Xbox One and PS4.
That’s the big takeaway when comparing versions, because a lot of the content here remains the same from the game that launched just a few months back. You’ve got the same modes and options, a practically identical roster and online modes, but the graphical output now supports 4K at 60 FPS, and the engine does more than just account for visual upgrades, now focusing on player’s weight distribution and shooting.
One of my big problems with NBA 2K21 a few months back was the shooting, and how poor the ratio was to actually getting the ball in the hoop. I mentioned a patch was coming back then, and now having spent an equal amount of time with this edition compared to last-gen, I feel much more comfortable saying that shooting has vastly improved and I don’t just think it’s down to my experience.
I was finding myself scoring more three-pointers, but was also going in deep and dunking at close-range. I was even more comfortable blocking shots and defending from incoming offense and I feel like that was part helped by the controller’s timely vibrations but also a more relaxed arc shot meter control scheme that no longer seems to thrive on perfectionism.
Everything just feels more smooth and slick now, with passing also getting a noticeable upgrade, accommodating for both expertly threading the needle and seeing defenders actually get their hands to the ball, and dribbling gave me even more of a sense of satisfaction when keeping the ball away from offense.
What has really impressed me with this version of NBA 2K21 is that they have completely addressed many of my issues with the game from a few months back – the issues with shooting and the brutal difficulty curve – and refined them, while still making a well-balanced game of basketball.
And with the new-gen hardware, they’ve even managed to make some other big changes to suit the hardware with the all new ‘City’ which offers this sprawling sandbox environment that lets you meet and interact with other players from around the world.
This is a much more evolved form of The Park, offering a much bigger map to explore, full of tourist attractions and gameplay features. Now you can have affiliation areas, each with their own identity and badge of honor, and you can even take on quests from people in the city to earn unique rewards. The City was a little buggy at launch when I jumped in, but over time with stabilization, this is surely going to be one of my preferred places to hang out.
But The City isn’t even the biggest story in this next-gen upgrade, it’s MyWNBA, a next-gen exclusive feature that’s also a first for the series. This competitive league is finally taking center stage and it includes unique off-court stories and on-court action.
You can create your own WNBA player, duke it out on a whole other set of courts, play GM mode, and even create leagues of your own. The wait is finally over and this is just such an awesome and welcome inclusion to the game that has been much requested and highly anticipated by the community for a long time. Quite frankly, this is enough of a reason to upgrade, let alone all the performance enhancements and visual tweaks.
So, yeah, as you can this isn’t just a new lick of paint for NBA 2K21 – I mean, it is in part – but there’s also a lot of new content here and needed improvements from the past-gen editions that make this version of NBA 2K21 absolutely essential.
I loved the game before, but it is even better now. The next-gen experience is the definitive way to play NBA this year, with the action faster than ever before, more realistic than you’ve ever seen, all packed in with ambitious and exciting new content.
With next-gen now current-gen, the 2K franchise has never looked in better shape. This is a fantastic start of surely even bigger things to come and watching NBA evolve over the next few years is going to be a very exciting proposition indeed.
To read my original coverage of the game on PS4, take a look here.
NBA 2K21 Next Generation is now available on PS5 and Xbox Series X
Tested on Xbox Series X
Code kindly provided by 2K