When NBA 2K21 on current-gen systems first arrived in September, it was basically received like the no.1 pick in the NBA draft that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. But it’s clear where the development team at Visual Concepts and 2K were putting all the focus… in the next-gen version of the number 1 basketball video game franchise.
Please make no mistake, NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is not its predecessor, specifically when it comes to how it looks and plays on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. When Visual Concepts said they rebuilt the game from the ground up, they were not kidding. NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is a completely new experience in many aspects but does incorporate some of the features introduced in NBA 2K21, first released back in September.
So where does NBA 2K21 Next-Gen win? Presentation…easily. Thanks to the powerful hardware in both the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the game now delivers an even more true-to-life NBA game experience. Players move better, and the contact feels real *disclaimer* I reviewed the game on Xbox Series X, so I didn’t experience the DualSense haptic controls. Ball handling feels amazing, along with the combination of new dribbling moves makes breaking defenders down fun again. Passes like alley-oops off the glass now look more realistic.
I was instantly blown away at how real the players looked and how Visual Concepts managed to get all of the small details like players sweating and even stretch marks located around LeBron’s tattoos on his arm.
NBA players and their on-court tendencies down to every single motion that fans have come to love are now possible thanks to the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s power. The arenas look better than ever, the crowd is much livelier and looks actually like… a crowd and not cut out figures. The new rail cam feature is a much-needed visual upgrade and gives you the feeling of experiencing an actual NBA game on TV, but in this instance, you’re playing it. Oh, and the color commentary, which has always been stellar, gets even better with the addition of more of the voices who call the action on the NBA courts on a nightly basis during the season.
Other cool touches that were not in the current-gen version of the game include running out of the tunnel and even your created player talking smack at one point to a person shooting free throws.
Another big win for NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is the addition of The W, a complete MyPlayer experience that allows the creation of a WNBA player. It’s a huge win for the franchise by welcoming in more players, especially women, and it helps put a spotlight on the WNBA and its players as the game’s story mode introduces you to the many stars of the league. The W lacks a cinematic story like MyPlayer but does allow you to build team chemistry, wealth, popularity, and progression by partaking in different activities on your day off. My only complaint is that you can’t use your created player in the newly introduced The City. Instead, you’re relegated to playing against friends online in a small gym, which is a bummer.
Speaking of The City, the large-scaled version of The Neighborhood, while it’s a grand idea by Visual Concepts, it falls relatively flat out the gate. What takes the fun out of Rookieville is that before your MyPlayer can enter The City, you have to rank up, and it’s honestly a grind that can get boring quickly. Also, due to everyone rocking the same generic gear, it gives of detention center vibes.
But once you finally earn your freedom, The City is a whole new world filled with new experiences and even has missions for you to partake in.
Another issue that plagues the game includes the pick n roll working too damn good in the game. Microtransactions still bog NBA 2K21 Next-Gen down(let them go, please). Finally, MyPlayer’s The Long Shadow, which has you take on the role of Junior, a local basketball talent trying to get out of the shadow of his b-ball legend deceased father, hilariously played by Jesse Williams STINKS. I found it quite laughable and unbelievable that Visual Concepts thought that Williams could be a basketball legend.
NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is easily one of the best graphically looking games out on both the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Visual Concepts delivered when it comes to breathing new life into the game by utilizing the power of Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. Unfortunately, some of the same issues like microtransactions, the new shot aiming feature, and the terrible MyPlayer story made the jump to next-gen as well. The City, which was is a refreshing idea, also stumbles out of the gate on launch. I can see some players getting turned off due to having to grind to get out of Rookieville. BUT, once those gates to The City open, it is an amazing new world chocked full of new experiences. Also, the fact you have to have the game on the same family of consoles to transfer your MyPlayer progression is annoying and limits your choices.
NBA 2K21 Next-Gen isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely better than the current-gen version of the game and a good launching pad for Visual Concepts into the world of next-gen gaming. The company is known for listening to its community of players, so we expect them to learn from the mistakes in this game deliver an even better game when NBA 2K22 drops.
Photo: Visual Concepts / NBA 2K21 Next-Gen