Unless you’re LeBron James, an athlete’s rookie season is often an opportunity to show glimpses of the potential you may deliver in your career.
This is what ‘NBA 2K21’ presents in its first season on Sony’s PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X and S. There is a solid foundation highlighting what this pro basketball series can become, once it can shore up other parts of its game.
As the trailers for this next generation “NBA 2K21” have shown, individual players resemble their real-life counterparts even more closely. Images of stars including Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and New Orleans Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson – also the game’s cover star – look astounding.
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It goes deeper. The experience inside the arena is more vibrant. It’s brighter, giving you a better view of crowds who do more than just sit in their seats. During a free throw attempt, I watched opposing crowds pick up thunder sticks – those long balloons you clap together – and smack them together to distract the shooter. There’s even a moment where you can see individual fans get up and walk up the stairs like they’re headed to the bathroom. These small details help create a more realistic atmosphere.
As for the action, collisions between players feel more authentic, whether it’s when taking a charge or bumping into a defender in the middle of a layup. Dunks also feel more ferocious, with the rim rattling or players hanging off the rim. Shooting is tweaked to let players change the arc of their shot depending on how quickly or slowly they pull down the thumb stick.
“NBA 2K21” on the newer consoles boasts the same shorter load times as fellow video games on the platforms. In fact, arguably no other game has benefitted more from this than. Jumping from the select screen to the arena is immediate.
One thing that’s clear from playing this version of “NBA 2K21” is they saved all the important upgrades for the new consoles (sorry to PS4 or Xbox One owners of the game). The most notable new feature is The City, a sprawling experience within the game’s MyCareer mode, where players can create their own virtual athlete and guide them toward NBA superstardom.
Here’s how it works: Once you embark on your career, you start in high school. Eventually, you pick a college and play up to four years before entering the NBA Draft and starting your pro career.
This is where The City plays a role. At any point, you can head to local pick-up courts and play against other online. The goal is to supplement your skills and advance even farther in your career. Eventually, players level up from these rookie-level courts and advance to other courts within the city to prove yourself.
Among some other new features: updates to the card-based MyTeam mode adding seasonal content and the ability to trade in cards. There’s also The W, an expansion of its addition of the WNBA allowing players to create their own women’s basketball player and guide them to glory.
Still, this rookie season of “NBA 2K21” on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S is not without some kinks. In the half court, for example, players not in your control like to stand around. If you play on PS4 or Xbox One, you’ll notice AI-controlled players move better off the ball without any instruction. They set screens or sprint along the baseline to get open.
For the next-gen version, every play starts with your teammates standing around the three-point line, waiting for you to call a play. They literally will not move otherwise.
There’s also other minor stuff, such as hands going through bodies or a player making a weird pivot to walk in another direction like they’re a robot. There’s also the vacant stares players make, which are kinda horrifying.
Despite those weaknesses in its game, for year one, it appears “NBA 2K21” is off to a strong start for next-gen consoles.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.