Among the numerous sports games that are released each year, I will focus on NBA 2K21. Despite the various opinions on the web about the state of annual sports game releases, I will approach this game with an objective and unbiased perspective. I am more interested in being impressed than disappointed with this experience and will document my thoughts.
As someone who is indifferent to sports, I prefer to be awed by cool basketball tricks and big comeback plays on the court. The team dynamic and cooperation towards a common goal draw me into the experience. However, the history, clothing, shoes, and vast array of players, names, positions, and tactics in basketball do not appeal to me. With that said, let’s take a look at NBA 2K21, the latest entry in the NBA 2K video game series – a widely renowned franchise with a significant budget.
I was immediately drawn to the MyCareer mode, where you start as a college basketball player and work your way up to the big leagues. This mode attempts to provide a personal take on the life of an athlete but falls short. The character customization is limited, resulting in generic-looking characters. The motion capture and voice acting are subpar, lacking the emotion seen in motivational scenes like those in the movie Creed. The facial animation technology is outdated and the development team put little effort into this mode. I expected character development, but decisions made during press conferences after games have little impact and interactions with the love interest are meaningless. While playing basketball is fun, other modes do it more effectively.
MyTeam mode is fun but riddled with microtransactions. I didn’t want to spend more money on the NBA, so I quit this mode quickly. The standard offline games were enjoyable but difficult to approach without prior knowledge of basketball. I had little understanding of how the stats impacted gameplay and believe that good game design should explain all necessary mechanics. I expected a gameplay introduction to demonstrate the key differences between stats, such as ball control, positioning, in-game strategy, and scoring. In contrast, Borderlands 3 clearly explains how each skill impacts gameplay. The only straightforward stat in NBA 2K21 was ‘Athleticism’, with accessible attributes like speed, vertical, stamina, reaction time, and acceleration. When I explored the ‘Inside Scoring’ stat and saw attributes like driving dunk, contact dunk, standing dunk, hands, and post fadeaway, I quickly lost interest because I didn’t understand their meaning or visual representation.
The gameplay is responsive, with modern motion capture technology enhancing character movement and input queuing adding to the realistic experience. This game prompted me to watch a real basketball game between the Suns and Raptors during March Madness. It was great to see my city represented at such a big event.
Overall, the game is catered towards those already active in basketball culture and offers little value to attract new fans. The monetization schemes are greedy and egregious, even compared to mobile games. I don’t enjoy gambling real money for virtual basketball players and 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