Monday, November 23, 2020
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NBA 2K21: Give it a Shot?

With another basketball season set in motion, 2K Sports has released their next annual installment of their popular NBA 2K series, a PC and console basketball game. NBA 2K21 was released on Sept. 4 with 30 NBA teams and respective players, and there was a re-release for next generation consoles (PS5/Xbox Series) on Nov 10. Following the initial release, competitive teams for the game began their tryouts in October, which run through December. 

Sports games are a platform where athletes and non-athletes alike can play competitively together without regard for intrinsic physical attributes, with the only prerequisite being one’s motivation to pick up the controller. It is not entirely uncommon to see streamers, casuals and competitive gamers break those controllers more than the NBA 2K series due to shortcomings in design. NBA 2K21 is no exception as it has managed to drop the ball in fulfilling year to year improvements fans have been longing for.

The visual experience of the game is certainly something to boast about. The graphics have drastically improved in comparison to its predecessors. With upgrades to include the highly detailed physique of fan favorite NBA players, finer details like textures and lighting took a giant leap in preparation for its fifth generation porting.

Though the aesthetics have improved, the stiff gameplay has not dynamically changed. Online games are bombarded by internet connectivity issues — a problem that the series has reputably limped through. FlightReacts, a highly popular Twitch streamer and content creator in sports games, refers to the game developers as “lazy” people who consistently do not “listen to the fans.” However, there are still fun moments in its gameplay. The dunk and dribble animations are satisfying and fun to perform with the press of one button. The new park, The City, is also worth mentioning. The new park offers players a beautifully modern setting where they can progress their skills or interact with other players online. The park is divided into four areas, each offering a distinct atmosphere to play in. 

However, the stiff gameplay will not keep 2K’s loyal fanbase from eagerly delving into its eventual release on the upcoming fifth generation consoles, which some standby to give their criticism of until they are able to get their hands on these recently released consoles.

Offline gameplay is certainly worth playing if you want to keep a cool temper rather than the typical frustration that would arise from online play. MyCareer, the story mode that is far from a peripheral feature of the game, is a relaxing experience that depicts your character navigating their basketball career from high school to the professional leagues.

The microtransaction issue from previous installments has continued to a lesser extent in 2K21. Virtual credit can now be earned by grinding in season passes, so the pay-to-win scheme that was previously used to unlock in-game features has been less integral to one’s progression in the game.

For long term replay value, sports games often only have a yearly life cycle until the next installment. To keep the interest among its players, games would typically release new content and updates which clean up bugs and glitches. But over the last two installments, online and offline 2K leagues have become increasingly prominent and have kept the game exciting on a competitive level. Last year, the NBA 2K League hosted a tournament with $25,000 at stake, while other competitions had cash prizes up to $300,000. The NBA also promotes competitive league tournaments, including low-stakes competitions featuring pro-athletes playing 2K. The drive for skilled players reaching to be top-ranked offers a new dimension to the online experience for the game, and 2K21 is beginning to garner attention among esport gamers. This aspect of the game has built in its own subcommunity, where fellow players train against each other to sharpen their skills in hopes of being invited to join League teams. 2K21 may be the esports diamond in the rough that will give the series a much-needed rejuvenation.

Overall, NBA 2K21 receives a solid C rating when averaging the reviews from game magazines and fans. The persistent faults of the game justify the score, though the upgrades are nothing to scoff at. The developers did many things well, but still could not resolve shortcomings from previous installments. At this point, it’s about one’s willingness to accept the game’s flaws and play it with mindless enjoyment. After all, there are many pockets in the game’s features and communities worth embracing. 

Jaidee Maximo Villaflor is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. He can be reached at jaideev@uci.edu.