I re-created my NBA 2K20 participant’s look in NBA 2K21 with ease, making this 12 months’s story mode appear to be a direct sequel, albeit one the place my man has gone again to school to work his manner up from nothing … once more.
Same participant, identical sport, identical story.
For some motive, this nonetheless labored for me — till I pulled again into MyProfession, the mode which The Long Shadow, half narrative, half onboarding, will get new gamers fired as much as play. Or perhaps till I went over to MyCrew, the card-collection/fantasy sports activities mode tied into the foreign money system that additionally builds up a MyProfession run. NBA 2K21 doesn’t give me a greater motive to spend my digital paper there, both.
Oh, don’t get me improper: NBA 2K21 will nonetheless gobble up hours of my time, similar to final 12 months’s sport. That’s the advantage and the disgrace of all of it.
Let’s begin with the advantage, which is that Visual Concepts’ manufacturing values and apparent dedication to every annual sport as a creative proposition could make the limitless purgatory of sports activities video video games — it’s actually good, similar to final 12 months! — really feel contemporary and value exploring. The studio’s items for aptitude get an important showcase with The Long Shadow.
Earnest performances, from Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) because the deceased dad casting mentioned shadow, and the clear, show-don’t-tell writing and dialogue elevate a basic-as-bread story into an excellent popcorn film. NBA 2K21, with The Long Shadow, will get what different sports activities video games largely haven’t of their experiments with narrative modes: I don’t simply want a backstory I can consider, but additionally one I’m proud to hold ahead.
That means some type of private journey or transformation for the star, and supporting characters with some depth and likability. Given each likelihood to be a preening overdog, newcomer Vince Washington turns the character Hendrixx Cobb right into a heat, plausible good friend as a substitute. Michael Okay. Williams (Omar from The Wire) is simply shady sufficient as a streetwise mentor to make an endgame alternative — one the sport even pressured me to rethink! — each affordable and personally regrettable.
But the disgrace is that even in its finest and most distinctive choices, NBA 2K21 is simply too just like NBA 2K20 for me to offer my suggestion a lot supporting materials past a intestine feeling, a type of “yeah, it’s fun; go play it” temper. Hell, NBA 2K20 additionally introduced in a man from The Wire for its story, and gave the participant character a swaggering however lovable rival to measure up in opposition to, too. That’s NBA 2K21 for you: It labored final 12 months, so in fact it really works this 12 months.
There are adjustments, even upgrades, within the gameplay, however by themselves they don’t justify restarting MyProfession or MyCrew. In different years, or in different sports activities titles, new controls or changes to the core sport can nonetheless make me go, “OK, now I actually wish to play profession with this.”
That’s not what I get out of Shot Stick Aiming, a brand new management scheme geared extra towards skilled gamers in search of a steeper problem. Shot Stick Aiming requires the participant to heart a wedge on the shot meter with the correct thumbstick, along with releasing that stick on the proper time. I couldn’t determine it out, however gamers who’ve mastered the previous timing-only system may discover it price a glance.
In introducing Shot Stick Aiming, Visual Concepts rejiggered the remainder of the correct thumbstick inputs for ball-handling strikes (known as the Pro Stick). This went a lot better for me, and the Pro Stick, as a modifier for my participant motion, feels extra conscious of intuition, fairly than requiring discrete and deliberate decisions. As such, I can create extra space from a defender and beat my man off the dribble, the place I used to be by no means good at doing so earlier than.
Even so, that’s good to have, however by itself it doesn’t make me wish to re-spec my MyProfession participant to make the most of these new skills. Nor does it make me wish to dive into MyGM with expert ball-handlers like Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. In reality, the shortage of consideration given to MyGM for a second 12 months (MyLeague retains its WNBA improve, however has none of MyGM’s role-playing) makes NBA 2K21 appear to be much more of a genuflection to new and informal followers keen to spend, fairly than a nod to hardcore lifers who anticipate just a little extra effort within the sport’s longest-playing single-player modes.
Which, sure, brings us to the compulsory point out of microtransactions. MyCrew in NBA 2K21 remains to be the identical arms race of grinding and real-money purchases, nevertheless it’s gotten an enormous shift in tone, away from final 12 months’s virtually grotesque on line casino themes.
Simply put, now you can get extra worth out of your group and time on the court docket with out spending cash. An trade, the place gamers can redeem a dozen or so grunt-level playing cards and gamers for a much bigger shiny card, has been added to the sport. And there’s a season/battle go element whose reward tiers are earned solely by way of gameplay. Money, digital or in any other case, has no impact on both. This is a step in the correct route, and it appears to talk of a 2K Sports chastened by the dangerous look MyCrew gave NBA 2K20.
But a change in tone is actually all it’s. The finest efforts of NBA 2K21 are elective, like Shot Stick Aiming; variants of a theme, like The Long Shadow; or a extra respectful relationship with the participant, like MyCrew. And in the event that they aren’t a case in opposition to sticking with final 12 months’s version, they aren’t a lot of a case for moving into on this 12 months’s, both.
NBA 2K21 is now obtainable on Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One; it will likely be launched on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X later this 12 months. The sport was performed on Xbox One utilizing a obtain code offered by 2K Sports. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. You can discover further details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.