Unlike the Madden franchise, which has long been content to churn out virtually the same game every year, the NBA 2K series likes taking chances. Each new iteration of the game tries to find ways to improve player experience, whether that be through the MyCareer story, MyTeam, or the gameplay itself. With NBA 2K21, the franchise made one of its worst and most frustrating changes in its history, albeit with good intentions. The development team decided to overhaul the shooting mechanics for this new game, hoping to make a more precise experience for players, but it turned out to be a recipe for disaster.
Any and all conversation surrounding 2K21 at launch was focused on this new shooting system, which required players to aim with the same stick used for shooting and dribble moves. It's an infuriating system that would force long-time players to relearn the fundamentals from the ground up. For those in the 2K League, this might be an interesting change, yet it's nothing but a frustration for more casual players. Fortunately, the 2K team listened to those who had purchased the game and issued a fix for the shooting system over the weekend, allowing players to choose between the new and old controls. No one wants to go back on a feature they worked hard developing, but the decision to fix the shooting absolutely saves NBA 2K21.
This entire review shouldn't be devoted to just one mechanic in the entire game — and it won't be — but the shooting affects every aspect of 2K. If a change wasn't made, the game would be borderline unplayable for many. The fix has allowed both ways of shooting to exist, so more experienced players can learn the new format while the rest of us can continue with the game we enjoy.
While 2K has always tried to be innovative with its storytelling in the MyCareer mode, a lot of the stories themselves have been a bit ridiculous. The focus on a cinematic experience has brought forward tales of a street basketball player getting sent straight to the NBA, or a journeyman bouncing through the G-League before becoming a coveted star. In 2K21, the franchise gets back to reality in a much-needed way, providing its best MyCareer story in years.
This new journey follows your player in high school and college, trying to come to grips with the looming shadow of his basketball-playing father. It has its moments where things don't make a lot of sense (like you and your rival getting selected to the same NBA team with the top two overall draft picks), and some of the dialogue is a bit iffy, but it's a massive step up from recent iterations of the game. This story feels real, and a performance from Michael K. Williams brings it home.
The big concern with MyCareer, and with most other areas of the game, is its appearance. The graphics aren't any sort of step up from 2K20. In all honesty, it often looks worse on the surface than last year's game. 2K21 comes in a next-gen year, so a lot of time and effort probably went into the graphics for the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions, but that's not an excuse to punt on the current generation platforms. Facial hair shouldn't move on its own or look like it was drawn with a marker. Characters shouldn't have necks that bend in multiple places when they're having a conversation.
These graphics don't interfere with the actual gameplay, though, so that issue isn't a massive one. In fact, most of the game can be explained with that same mindset. There are little changes and issues to be found throughout the game, but none of them really feel like too big of a deal. 2K21 is still a very playable game that fans of the franchise will be happy to purchase. Without that shooting patch, however, it would have been a much different story.
Rating: 3 out of 5
NBA 2K21 is out now. A copy of NBA 2K21 on PS4 was provided for the purposes of this review. It was reviewed on a base model PS4.