NBA 2K21 [Review]: Stuck In The Bubble.

“Monsignor” Travis Moody

I’ve been covering the famed NBA 2K series for almost a decade, starting with NBA 2K13. That game has frickin’ Justin Bieber in it and I still graced the sports title with a 5/5 score. As years passed, NBA 2K14 was a slight step down with glaring omissions, but with LeBron on the cover the series still packed enough goods to be King, and NBA 2K15 brought back many of those modes and kept up with the consistency. Next up was NBA 2K16, with the Geekdom Gamescast co-reviewing the Steph-centric sequel, loving its improved playcalling, custom arenas and mind-blowing animations.

The next five years haven’t been so nice, but compared to its on and off “competition” — EA Sports’ often disastrous, oftentimes invisible NBA Live series — 2K proved to be a far stable option, with its cinematic MyCareer often shining through the murky blacktops full of microtransactions, failed servers and pesty bugs. NBA 2K17 was another solid entry, but so solid that we cannot find our podcast review. As for NBA 2K18, MyCareer was a bust, and this is around the time that “the grind” of boosting your MyPlayer (without paying for it) really got to people; but that year did add KG and Kobe (R.I.P.) on commentary, and threw in some cool cinematics to MyGM. In all, it was a solid 4/5.

Oh, these past two years tho. While I actually adored NBA 2K19‘s MyCareer Mode (teaming with Michael B. Jordan was dope! MyPlayer flat-out dominated at Center!), playing the 2K Hoops Summit, and Bill Simmons‘ genius guest color, the general consensus was not kind. I suppose I let the hate flow through me, and I just about skipped out on NBA 2K20. I let GHG’s Myke Ladiona and Dana Keels takeover the review reigns, and they both enjoyed the tightening realism of 2K’s core gameplay, its WNBA addition and the solid MyCareer/MyLeague modes that I.. barely touched. Despite 2K being in my Top 5 all-time favorite video game series, I needed a year off. I guess.

Enter NBA 2K21. With video game delays abound, having just finished possible GOTY Ghost of Tsushima, I needed something fun and quick. UFC 4 is solid, but not much of an addiction; Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 is lovely, but seems more fit around friends who offer party-favors; and Marvel’s Avengers is solid superhero fun but has its own share of mindless frustrations. Thus I was hoping for something with this year’s 2K hoops title, and that something is the same.. thing. It’s literally the SAME THING. I’ve always been a 2K apologist, overlooking and ignoring any and all hate for the series since it has arguably been far superior to almost every Madden in the past decade. I’ve always been a proud 2K Hooper who was alright with its “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Sure, the grinding and servers were often broke, yet I ignored those mishaps anyway. I loved escaping into the solid stories of MyCareer with MyMoody and the basketball gameplay year-to-year in MyLeagues simply could not be stopped.

But I’m playing NBA 2K21, trying a multitude of modes — even watching the season premiere episode of 2KTV to hype me up for this year — and it’s just.. all the same. I could have spent this entire review writing a “normal” review. Why though, when you can just read Myke and Dana’s write-up of 2K20 from last year. It’s virtually the same game from Virtual Concepts, so if you want to read the differences, away and here we go…

    • MyCareer this year casts The Long Shadow, a solid, albeit unspectacular story that takes your baller through the last day of high school to deeper than last year’s college play to.. the NBA. I dominated the college scene with alma mater of Kemba Walker and Jesus Shuttlesworth which was actually a ton of fun, and thanks to having the Mamba Edition (with all its extra VC) I was able to have my man ranked an 81 where it wasn’t so tough to score, pass and rebound (defense is still a bitch in this mode though, especially with the sticky-boots slow speeds they hand you off the rip). Yet, despite going for around 25/5/5 per, I still didn’t get drafted. I think!?!? It asked me which team to choose, so I went with Portland, seeing how Dame is on the cover and our rapport/banter could be fun and all. Immediately the mode shot me into Free Agent mode, where I chose, of course, the Celtics.. but it was painful, playing few minutes and not being able to do anything about it. I’m not about that Grind again. MyCareer went from solid to meh for me real quick.

  • Funny, but… are they ever gonna give MyCareer players a choice of voice? Sorry not sorry: the guy Vince Washington sounds nothing like me. At least Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire!) was cool as my street agent until he couldn’t offer me a Jordan or Nike deal and I went with some corny ass rich white chicks who cared more about their Starbucks refills then getting me some moolah. After a solid relationship angle — and a nearly forgotten college one; Coach Djimon Hounsou, what was the point? — the whole “who do I sign with?” section of MyCareer was dull AF.
  • It didn’t take long for my other go-to mode MyLeague to really piss me off. At first, the addition of 6 expansion teams (or was this also in 2K20?) to my fully customized league was thrilling. So I changed all 30 NBA teams to their “All-Time” counterparts, with the hopes that some very elite players on those respective benches could make for some worthwhile expansion. Wrong. Since I chose an expansion team (there were some dope downloadable ones already up on the server; a couple even had love for Naruto and Black Panther), I was unable to turn off the whole “protect elite players from expansion draft” deal. I was left with Michael Porter as a first overall choice, and it only got worse from there (Dwight Howard, etc.). Yeah. No thanks. So I spent all that time spent customizing this MyLeague, only for 2K to tell me I was gonna wind up with 15 bums against essentially 30 other Hall of Fame squads. There was no option to go back and switch to a normal team, or anything. What a horrible waste of time.

  • So we are at NBA 2K21 — more than a decade since 2K Sports added its world famous TNT-styled presentation — and we still don’t have halftime and in-game highlights/references from around the Association. We still don’t have Plays of the Week highlights. We still don’t have an “Inside The NBA” type post-game segment where they show a little more than couple highlights from the game and Player of the Game. It’s still, literally, the same shit. Much like Madden’s shoddy Franchise Mode, nothing here feels like I’m part of something bigger. I did notice a logo overlay for the NBA’s opening night that I never noticed before, though that’s it. The presentation has always been superb but hasn’t changed. At. All.
  • Speaking of which, how are you not gonna include the NBA Bubble? That’s easy money right there. Having the option to play in the Disney Bubble down in Bay Lake/Orlando, Florida would have been a charming, highly marketable way to sell the game. Sure, Visual Concepts and 2K may have not have had time to include an element that completely changed the way we view professional basketball from home; having to overhaul the entire game’s presentation surely would have taken some work. But isn’t that what we pay the $60-100 for? Isn’t that what live updates/DLC, etc. are for? How cool would it have been to play the NBA the way it actually is in this day and age? We could see the virtual board, hear the implemented crowd effects and signature stadium sounds, see coaching personnel with COVID-safe masks, hear the commentators talk about the adjustments players have had to go through under the Bubble, etc. Now, doesn’t that sound exciting to you?

  • Here’s one thing 2K21 did introduce: Shot Stick Aiming. Yet, for those like me who hate shooting with the stick, this is a non-addition. They at least improved the Pro Stick for dribbling, making pivot shifts feel more inclusive. Again, minor changes to a game you paid a lot for.
  • MyTeam… don’t even get me started. Just.. don’t. OK, OK — at least 2K21 allows players to redeem a number of $h*% player cards for someone that can actually help you out, and that’s appreciated. And honest gameplay is at least required to earn some rewards this year over VC. Surprising.
  • Next-gen, next-gen. By now you already know that the Mama Forever Edition ($99.99 MSRP) is required to get the free upgrade from PS4 to PS5 or Xbox One/X to Xbox Series S/X. I’ll have to update the review once I get my upgrade, but this review comes courtesy of an Xbox One X and, without Halo or any cool exclusives at launch for the next-gen Xbox, I don’t think $500+tax is worth a free upgrade to a game I score… 3/5 Bibles.

-Travis Moody