NBA 2K21 PS4 Pro review: NBA 2K21 has been released in its yearly fashion from 2K Games, but is it that much of an improvement over last years title for it to jump above and slam the ball through the hoop for the fans?
The problem with annual releases is that it is hard to make a vast amount of improvements over your last title for the game to stand out. Unfortunately this does feel like the case with NBA 2K21; its not a vast improvement over last year. Now, we are at a point in gaming where the PS5 and Xbox Series X are about to release and a lot of developers are focussing on those machines.
We know that NBA 2K21 will be available for next gen consoles. When Sony aired the first PlayStation 5 reveal, NBA 2K21 was part of the game line-up with some stunning looking graphics, but that leads me to question if developers have been looking to put more work into the next gen graphics and performance over a games actual quality.
I’m not saying the above is all bad. AIR Entertainment have a PS5 on pre-order ready to review this game again when we can get hands on with next gen, but currently on the PS4 Pro it does feel like it was just a direct continuation of last year.
The first thing I always like to do with games like this is to design my own player and through the player creation I managed to design the exact same looking player that I had last year. I had wanted to use 2K‘s joint mobile app for the game to scan my own face into the game, but it didn’t work. I had tried with last years title as well and had the same issue. I had started to scan my face in the way I was told, moving the camera on my phone around my head and it started to scan but there were 3 or 4 frames of my head that it refused to take. No matter how much I tried to capture them, nothing. I then closed the app down and tried again, but every time after that it refused to work at all so just gave in. As I said, last year I had the same issue of it not scanning my face.
Once my player was built I started off in the Career mode. Your player takes to the college courts to start his career. I dont want to give story specifics for risk of spoilers here but the entire story of getting into the NBA felt too much like the Career from last year and there were numerous times where I was very tempted to just skip past it all straight to the NBA Career. The courts that have been designed for the College game do look really good however. Not as clean and polished in looks as the NBA for obvious reasons, confusing painted lines all over from other sports that may take part in the gyms which all adds a great touch.
Once all of that is out of the way and you get your draft pick within the NBA for a major team then its business as usual for as long as you want to continue going with it. Training to level up your stats and playing games which is about it other than a few cut scenes to work out sponsor deals to bring in more money, work on your fan levels and team chemistry. All of which have featured in previous titles.
I understand that the world has and is still going through a pandemic and therefore developers have really had a hard time in creating games due to lockdown restrictions. It is difficult to give a true scale on how much that has impacted on games that were in development and how many shortcuts had to be taken to reach release obligations. With all of that in mind, I don’t really want to be overly critical however I do feel that as next gen is 2 months away, the release price for this years current gen game could have been lower especially when you do look at the next gen trailers, it promises to blow this game out of the water in every way.
One of the better parts of the game for me at least is the MyTeam game. I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the general idea of building a team of all star players, playing games to rack up the money and buying better players that. The problem here lies with microtransactions. The only way you can really level up fast is by buying VC (Virtual Currency) or you are left to grind out mundane tasks to bring in the money. Luckily however, over last year, they have tweaked the evolution cards.
You will start your MyTeam career with one of these cards, to level up you have to complete certain tasks on court. Last year once you had completed the said tasks the card would level up and on to the next set of tasks. This year you can choose different paths for evolving the player focussing on the likes of athleticism or playmaking for instance allowing you to focus on the teams play a little better depending on your play style. Unfortunately though, there just isn’t enough different ways to enjoyably grind out upgrades for your team. Microtransactions are always a point of contempt, but in a game like this they are painfully obvious, especially when you take the game online.
The Neighbourhood is still the central part of the game for your player. This year it is set around beachside courts surrounded by all of the shops that have featured before. You can spends your game winnings in these shops for aesthetic purposes; buying tattoos, clothes, shoes etc for your player but they all do feel grossly overpriced for the amount of money that you win through games within the game. The only sure way to be a force to be reckoned with here, especially against other players is to plough money into player upgrades. You can level up everything yourself and avoid piling real money into the game, but it will take a very long time. The balance of reward is small compared to that of what you win.
The online also feels unstable. I had instances of the game crashing when I tried to access certain areas, especially if they require a loading screen. I often wonder what happens with the numerous crash reports that I sent through to Sony, if anyone can shed some light on that please let me know! Whilst playing online games the game connection would kick me out (and trust me, I have a strong enough connection rate for that not to happen). Trying to get into a game online would sometimes be impossible; standing myself on the mark to say I’ve got next on court and it would just leave me standing there when all the other players take to the court and I would have to shut the game down and reload.
I am hoping that all of these issues are removed when it comes to the next gen, but as it is it is seriously frustrating at the best of times and does spoil what is still a good game. Patches have been implemented already, but none have addressed the issues.
When the game flows it is a joy to behold. Fancy ball handling moves are lovely to watch when you use them to wrong foot an opposing player. Replays of seeing your player dunking the ball clean over the top of a standing defender clearing his head in the process. Signature fancy dunks and the sound of the net swooshing from the ball going clean through without hitting the rim in the process are all great but its not as easy as that.
The shooting system from last year has been tweaked and unfortunately for the worse. You can opt to use the right stick to control your shots with precision direction which will allow you to pull off some spectacular moves, or you can use the good ol’ shot timing mode by holding the shoot button and releasing at the right time. The problem with the shot timing method is that it is all out. The majority of shots that I took were right on the mark for a perfect shot but missed by miles. Last year I was shooting in exactly the same way and shots were flying in when I needed them to.
Difficulty levels do seem to be upped this year as well; the game feels harder to play and presents more of a challenge to win games which is a good thing on the whole, but again there are issues with the AI. Numerous times I encountered them attacking and then just standing with the ball on the edge of the 3-point line until the shot clock ran out and the ball was passed to my team.
Defence seems to be more based on running into attacking players rather than being able to stop them. It is too easy for the AI to simply run past your defence and not really be able to challenge for the ball. If you do get the chance to challenge for the ball then 9 times out of 10 you will commit a foul. Moments of swatting the ball away from the basket were few and far between as was stealing the ball from the attackers. OK, I’m probably not the best basketball player in the world, but I’m not quite that bad. They have made the game harder to master which is always a good thing, but not sure it has been pulled off quite right here.
Overall the game does look great. There are improvements over last year in some areas, but not really enough to make it worth running out and getting, especially if you own 2K20. The overall graphics feel the same as well as a lot of the play. Movement does feel smoother and when dribbling it feels like the handcuffs have been removed from last year allowing more freedom in your moves if your skill of the game allows it.
Shooting is a sore point and it seems that it is not just me that has been having issues with it when looking through online forums. That being said, I do feel that my skill within the game has been tested and is slowly improving the more time I sink in to it. As I refuse to spend money on microtransactions, that is a lot of time playing trying to gain money to improve my player within the game. It feels as if 2K ave lost focus on the fun that you can have on court focussing more on how much money can be extracted from peoples wallets
As I have said, I hope all of the issues I have raised in this review are addressed for next gen, but at the moment I am feeling more pessimistic about the future of the game rather than optimistic. I will however review the PS5 version of the game as soon as I have my hands on the console and report back if the issues are still around or next gen blows this gen away.
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