Sports video games have long looked good, but even at their best, they’ve always looked the slightest bit synthetic, from the way players moved and animated, to the slightly empty look they held in their eyes at critical moments. Each iteration of a sports game pushes for a bit more realism, but the progress generally arrives in micrometers, not leaps and bounds.
And then there’s the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 Mt, the first sports video game built for the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. And with this title, Visual Concepts and 2K Games do, at long last, push the sports gaming genre forward. For the first time in recent memory, we’re getting a sports game that takes a leap, delivering unparalleled visuals, and a stunning library of customizable modes. The result is a sports video game that has something for everyone -- even if there are still little missteps here and there.
Start with what NBA 2K21 gets right on next-gen consoles, because there’s a ton here. And the most noticeable improvement is those visuals. To say this is a good-looking game takes away from a series of great-looking sports games on the PS4 and Xbox One; Madden, NBA 2K, and MLB’s The Show franchise have all had their moments.
On next-gen consoles, NBA 2K21 simply looks wildly better. Players look and move and animate with incredible fluidity, and at long last, they move with a sense of weight and heft that doesn’t feel synthetic. That means a seven-footer like Javale McGee lumbering about while the likes of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook fly up and down the court. NBA 2K has long understood speed, but now the movement feels smoother and more realistic.
Other on-court mechanics shine as well. Positioning yourself to grab a rebound has felt solid in 2K for the last few years, but on next-gen, the story of every board plays out even better. Timing your leap, blocking out, and finding position all feel natural, and every rebound feels satisfying.
NBA 2K21 also continues to refuse to carry over saves from previous iterations of the game. It would have been nice, for example, to find some way to let me play my last-gen 2K21 franchise in the current version of the game. Such a carryover would present challenges since the modes in both games aren’t fully parallel, but some workaround would have been great. There’s also still no way to carry your 2K21 save over to next year’s game; MLB The Show solved for this years ago, and it would be nice for it to make an appearance in the finest sports game out there.
Still, it’s an overall terrific revamp for NBA 2K21, and a game that has something for everyone, especially when you consider that MyTeam and MyCareer also have plenty of other fun to offer. And the WNBA game has also never been quite this satisfying, delivering grounded, strategic basketball.
It all adds up to the top sports gaming hit of 2020. Need a sports game on your next-gen console? This is it.
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