A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is the latest installment in the long-running basketball sports simulation franchise for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. The game doesn't include any inappropriate content, but players can be exposed to offensive comments in online play. There's a significant amount of branding throughout MyCareer games, as announcers promote Gatorade, blocked shots are promoted by Mobil 1, and Player of the Game is presented by New Balance. Players can negotiate contracts to be ambassadors of brands gaining virtual fans through your actions on the court, which in turn gives you more lucrative contracts. In MyTeam, branded shoes can be applied to athletes to give them stat boosts. Players will earn in-game credits by playing games throughout each mode. These can be used to upgrade a created athlete's stats, buy new clothing or gear, or earn new players for their created teams by purchasing card packs. It's also sold in multiple versions which offer varying degrees of content, though if players purchased the PS4 or Xbox One versions, the games will carry over to the new console version. Gamers are pushed to purchase credits to accelerate their progress through the game, which is particularly true when it comes to offsetting this year's newly redesigned shooting mechanic. Even veterans of the franchise that are comfortable with the shooting sticks or timing will need to sink in hours of practice with the shooting mechanic, which now also features an aiming element to make shots. This, coupled with a narrow accuracy meter, can make even all-time athletes miss wide open shots. Badges and player boosts help decrease the number of blown shots, but it will lead to frustration for many gamers regardless of the difficulty level they play on. The same can be said for the grind to unlock the new City game mode, which requires players to achieve a level of rep points before they can access the area.
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What's it about?
NBA 2K21 NEXT-GEN laces up its shoes as the first sports title to fully take advantage of the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S machines. Games will launch and load much faster thanks to the enhanced hardware, making it much easier to hit the court and get in a game regardless of the mode you're playing. PlayStation 5 owners will feel additional feedback during play thanks to the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback of the DualSense controller, which provides a richer sense of activity below the backboard or as your player's sprinting up the court on a fast break. Of course, there are the visual boosts, making the action on the court look more realistic than ever before. Coupled with this is an expansion to the action in the stands as well, so during matches, gamers will see more activity in arenas during time outs and other stoppages in play. There are also newly expanded items across the next-gen version of the game as well. The Neighborhood, which was a beachfront for the PS4 and Xbox One, has been replaced with The City, a massive location that includes larger training facilities and the return of team affiliations that lets players select a squad and play for bragging rights. WNBA players can also be fully created in this year's game, with a separate career mode called The W that lets players introduce their athlete to the league and build them into one of the superstars of the sport. Apart from league play, gamers can take on other challenges on the 3v3 MyPlayer court for WNBA players. The standard MyPlayer created athletes have also been revamped, so instead of matching your character to a set of ability wedges to determine your initial skill ratings for categories like shooting or playmaking, you now have a set pool of points to allocate as you see fit to make your character the way you want them to play. Players also have a primary and secondary takeover ability, allowing them to have a significant impact on the Otherwise, much of the gameplay is the same as the game released in September 2020, although in the Career mode, players now have the option to skip college and instead choose to enter the G League right out of high school, giving a more direct route to the NBA.
Is it any good?
Next-gen hoops have arrived, and while most issues have been addressed, grinding for levels and other glitches take their place, making it a good, but not perfect game. NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is built on the bones of the title released back in September 2020. That version got some things right, such as introducing seasonal play to MyTeam with daily and time-based goals to the overall goal of creating your favorite fantasy squad. Fortunately, the work you've done in the current gen version has carried over to this version, so you haven't lost any ground. That progress doesn't carry over to MyCareer, but for good reason. Instead of an outdated character with pre-made restrictions, you now get to create an athlete that plays the way you want from a sliding scale of potential stats. That means that if you choose to skimp on your points at the free throw line in favor of being a low post player, don't be mad when the opposing team goes all "Hack-A-Shaq" on your character and watches you flail at the charity stripe. This gives a much wider range of customization, especially when paired together with primary and secondary takeover skills that fit your play style, like having limitless range and boosting your teammates' skill meters as well. While there should've been more choice and character interaction within the story, at least Next Gen gives players the option to skip college and enter the G League directly, giving you a taste of the minor league pro life. For vets of MyCareer from previous years, you'll see some familiar faces on your squad, which is a nice narrative touch.
Technically, NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is amazing. Games load in seconds, and the visuals look phenomenal. The PS5's haptic feedback provides a nice touch to detecting exhaustion or how much effort you're putting out during a game (The Xbox controller responds similarly, but without the same intensity to its vibration.) For the most part, players look great – stars look very lifelike and close to their real-world counterparts, while some coaches and bench riding players aren't as impressive. Shooting issues have been refined, so you can actually be somewhat successful, assuming that you've put in practice to get your timing down. But the game still has some gaps. The WNBA career mode feels half baked. There's no real story here, simply giving players a text based option to promote things like the league or themselves, with results playing out in social media posts. Another issue is that you're automatically in the starting lineup of the team you choose instead of proving why you deserve playing time, which just feels unrealistic. Also, while the City is a gigantic leap forward with playable areas, hidden quests, and new courts thanks to the return of team affiliations, the space just seems empty. There are lots of storefronts and buildings that can't be interacted with, and the number of people in the City at any time feels limited compared to its size. Perhaps this is tied to the level grinding that you have to do to gain access to this area, which is problematic. Having this feature gated when players have been used to exploring, buying gear, and training their characters in The Neighborhood in older games just feels unbalanced. This is intensified by the technical hitches, lag, and disconnections during games that often pop up in online matches in Next Gen, proving that while NBA 2K21 looks incredible, some older issues are still lingering on the court in this vastly improved game.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about consumerism in sports games like NBA 2K21. Does including logos add to the realism, or are they only being used to push products? Is there a reason for a logo to be on every street corner in the game? Do you feel uncomfortable with an athlete that you create being a spokesperson for different products? Does it seem like the announcers should call out brands during their commentary of games?
How well does NBA 2K21 mirror the sport? Are there some elements in the game or in its various modes that you won't find on a real court? Should the game be closer to a true simulation, or is there space for arcade-like play and lighter elements in its many modes?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.