NBA 2K21 Next-Gen Review: The Good, The Bad, And The Bottom Line

With extensive improvements upon its best-in-class graphics and gameplay, competitive and community online features, and deep, varied game modes, NBA 2K21 offers one-of-a-kind immersion into all facets of NBA basketball and culture – where Everything is Game.

Many are wondering if it’s worth it to purchase the next-generation version of NBA 2K21 if they already own it on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, or if the game is any good at all.

I’ve played a ton of NBA 2K21 on current-gen, but I admit, I experienced it with one foot out the door in anticipation of the next-gen release. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the next-gen version for awhile, and I’ve already logged an obscene amount of hours on it in a variety of modes.

Let’s take a look at the good, bad and the bottom line with the next-generation version of NBA 2K21.

Graphics and Animations

The Good

  • Mostly Beautiful Visuals – Some of the renders and screenshots that you can pull are simply amazing. Even screens of objects, hands, legs, shoes, etc. will sometimes cause an even longer double take than we’ve seen in previous games. I’d heard one of the console manufacturers felt 2K was the most beautiful next-gen game, and I can see why. With the exception of a few factors–that I’ll discuss shortly–2K on next-gen looks phenomenal. Most of the videos you’ll see on YouTube don’t do the game justice because of system limitations for capturing. It looks fantastic on a 4K screen with HDR and the right color balance.
  • Stunning Environments – To put a bow on the visual love, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the environments. They are as alive as I’ve ever seen in any sports video game. It feels like the arenas are a living organism and if you’ve ever been to a live NBA game, you know how busy the building is all the while the players are on the field playing, and the coaching staff are doing their thing on the sidelines. 2K21 on next-gen accurately captures that hustle and bustle, and it’s best appreciated during the pre-game festivities.
  • Smoothest Animations Ever in a Basketball Game – The beauty goes beyond still shots. Watching the players and objects move on the court is an amazing visual. I felt like I was in that iconic scene from American Beauty when Wes Bentley is describing that floating plastic bag. It seems a little over-dramatic, but basic movements and physics like that in 2K are awe-inspiring.

The Bad

  • Inconsistent Renders – Some of the player renders are straight port ups from current-gen, and a good number of them weren’t all that accurate on those consoles. Some of the players with darker complexions have been baked to a degree that makes them appear almost impossibly dark. Perhaps some of this is a product of HDR which can accentuate the black levels of your picture, but players like Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics and Taurean Prince of the Brooklyn Nets come to mind with this issue. That said, it appears help is on the way with players still being scanned.
  • Still a Good Amount of Clipping – One of the things I’d hoped to see less of on next-gen was clipping. Unfortunately, the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 has just as much passthrough as the current-gen version. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is virtually impossible to eliminate this completely. However, because it is such a commonly referenced issue, I felt I needed to inform everyone who has yet to play the game, that clipping is still present.

Gameplay, Realism and Fun

The Good

Sound Rebounding Tech – 2K might have found the most realistic and balanced rebounding system they’ve had in series history. The best way for me to represent this aspect of the game is to say, every time a rebound goes to a player, I feel as though I understand how they came down with the ball.

Great Expressions of Speed and Weight – More than ever, I can feel the difference between bigger guys and the smaller guards. Players run, dribble, jump and handle differently. It’s hard to put into context how important that is for immersion. This is further enhanced on the PlayStation 5 because of the haptic feedback on the controller.

Impact Engine is a Winner – There are two areas of the gameplay that I love more than others. The Impact Engine is one of them. The number of contact dunks, chucks, and other more subtle collisions in the game help to create some of the most exciting sequences in the game. There are some outstanding gameplay moments that stem from this upgrade that are only possible on the next-gen version.

The Bad

AI Teammates Still Make Egregious Decisions – In 5v5 gameplay, I still find myself wondering why my A.I. teammates make such horrible decisions. They still aren’t reacting appropriately to double teams, and on offense, there is an inconsistent respect to spacing. This can create some maddening moments of gameplay.

Ball Tangibility Still Needs Improvement – We’ll talk about clipping in a second, but that will be more related to what happens in respect to player bodies. Ball tangibility is arguably more impacting because when the rock is interacted with, it’s imperative that contact is respected and reflected in the gameplay. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. I’ve seen a few passes travel through the sides of players, across a guys’ shoe, etc. This doesn’t happen enough to kill the gameplay experience, but it occurs often enough to mention it here as a negative. In fact, it might be the single biggest criticism I have of the game on any level.

The Bottom Line

NBA 2K21 on next-gen delivers a fun and deep hoops package unlike anything else we’ve ever seen. It’s not just about enhanced visuals. There is more under the hood in almost every area. This isn’t a perfect game. There is room for improvement in multiple areas, but what it does excellently far outshines the smaller, and much-easier to absorb shortcomings. 2K has again set the standard on a new console, and everyone else is playing catch-up. The fact that this game was developed during a pandemic is inspiring.