Out of the myriad of sports games that are regularly produced each year like an obligation, I will be focusing on NBA 2K21. Although, I am aware of the various opinions circulating the web regarding the state of the annual sports game releases, I’m going to go into this game with an objective outlook and a non-biased approach. I’m interested more in being impressed rather than depressed with this whole experience, and I’ll document my thoughts.
I’m a part of the indifferent-to-sports crowd, rather waiting to be awed by something actually cool happening on the court. Cool basketball tricks and big comeback plays really draw me in to the whole experience – with the team dynamic playing out on the field, where people are forced to cooperate to ultimately achieve a certain goal. The history, the clothes, the shoes, the massive amounts of players and names and positions and tactics that exist in basketball does not appeal to me in the slightest. Having said that, let’s take a look at NBA 2K21, the latest entry into the NBA 2K series of video games – a widely renowned franchise that has too much money for its own good.
I was immediately drawn into the MyCareer mode, the ‘story mode’ where you start off as a college basketball player and slowly make your way into the big leagues. This mode is an attempt to provide the player with a very personal take on living the life of the athlete, which promptly falls flat on its face. Practically every single part of this experience is saturated with missed opportunities to tell something interesting. The character customization is barebones, as it allows one to design their ballers that all end up looking completely generic, with no interesting customization options to boot. The motion capture and voice acting is god awful, as I expected something akin to the motivational scenes, like in the movie Creed – where real emotion was tied to the plot, but my character seemed to be completely indifferent to everything, as if they’re in their own bubble. The facial animation tech is stuck in 2012, which is completely unacceptable in 2021. The development team put very little effort into this mode, as it seemed very tacked on. I went in expecting a character arc, some development from the side of your chosen character – but nothing seems to matter much. Only some decisions that you would make when you go to a press conference after a game can have an impact, and your love interest barely makes an appearance – with her presence being completely meaningless in the grand scheme, interactions with her being pointless in motivating someone to continue forth and be an athlete. While yeah, it is fun playing basketball – that’s about all there is to it, and the other modes do it much more effectively.
MyTeam is fun, but there isn’t much to say about it because it’s riddled with microtransactions and if I didn’t spend money on it – I know that I’ll bump into a gameplay paywall, similar to mobile games. I wasn’t interested in giving the NBA any more money, so I quit the MyTeam mode pretty quickly. The standard offline games were fun, but they were difficult to approach and have any type of connection to it if you weren’t in the loop about everything basketball prior to purchasing this title. I had little to no idea what the stats meant and how they impacted my game and I’m a firm believer in good game design and direction, where every single necessary mechanic must be explained in the game, I shouldn’t have to leave the game to do further research. I was expecting something like a worthwhile gameplay introduction to highlight and demonstrate the key differences of what each stat does – as I understood that they were all quite important, and to do with everything from ball control, to positioning, to in-game strategy, to how you would go about scoring. It is like an RPG game, where the various stats control your affinity for a certain set of interactions in the game – this was something that I just couldn’t see the difference in if I would spec into anything specific. Take something like Borderlands 3, a very mediocre entry into the series – but one that I played recently. Every skill has a specific stat attached to it, for example – killing an enemy would grant 20% increased reload speed for 30 seconds; stacking this skill (killing multiple enemies in a short amount of time) would result in up to 4 stacks, with 80% increased reload speed for 120 seconds. The only stat I understood that was straightforward was ‘Athleticism’, with stats like speed, vertical, stamina, reaction time, acceleration being pretty accessible for someone like me. But as soon as I strayed into something like ‘Inside Scoring’ and saw stats like driving dunk, contact dunk, standing dunk, hands, post fadeaway – I quickly lost interest because I had no clue what any of that meant, or how it was translated visually.
The gameplay itself is quite responsive, with modern mocap tech being used to add to the character’s movement, with input queuing being a big part of the ‘realistic experience’. This game did, however, prompt me to watch a real basketball game – just to see how it differed from the video game counterpart. The Suns vs Raptors was a great game, as it was nice to see my city being represented at such a big event as March Madness.
Overall, the experience is specifically catered towards people active in basketball culture – with very little value to potentially turn new players into fans. The greedy and egregious monetization schemes make even mobile games blush, and I personally do not enjoy gambling my real money for some virtual basketball players – I will always lose.
Featured Image by: TJ Dragotta @ Unsplash
Game Review Thumbnail by: Ferdi Nusaputra @ Unsplash
Game Trailer by: Playstation
NBA 2K21 fails to inspire and capture, while also hitting the bar really low for a sports game's potential.
- - Fun mocap movement with minimal input queuing
- - Lots of value for a basketball fan
- - Different modes and regular updates to maintain attention
- - Egregious monetization tactics
- - Poor quality career mode
- - Little value to a non-sports gamer
- - Facial capture and graphical quality overall is low quality
- - Invisible paywalls barring progression
- - Little to no innovation from NBA 2K20