A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Gameplay focuses on teamwork, working towards goals, and improving yourself through hard work. There's a lot of conversation about what your created player is willing to sacrifice or do to be a star for the game, and an extra path to determine your career (with the option of the G League), giving players multiple options to explore their dreams.
Positive Role Models
Most players are based on real-life counterparts, most of whom are positive role models. The career mode focuses on a young player trying to make his own way while getting out of the shadow of his father, who was a well-known basketball player. While there are some choices that players can make that can be negative for them or towards other people, he's essentially neutral. Arguably, the larger star power is on a friend/rival that's clearly a better athlete, but seems supportive of the created player. Former characters from previous 2K installments make an appearance in the G League.
Ease of Play
In MyCareer, players have to focus on improving their athlete's individual stats to make him a more useful player on the court. Unless you're willing to pay for credits to make your character powerful, you'll grind through games to get credits to enhance your stats. The redesigned shooting mechanic will take lots of practice to get the timing right, and even then, it's possible that you'll still shoot air balls or miss shots, regardless of created players or all-star athletes that are on the court. Using the badge system helps, but you've still got to put in work and have patience to make baskets. Gaining access to The City takes a lot of grinding to raise your player rep as well, which many gamers may not want to return to after completing.
Violence & Scariness
Fouling another player is the extent of violence that can be committed.
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Online multiplayer is unmoderated, which could possibly expose players to inappropriate content.
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Products & Purchases
This is the latest installment in the long-running sports franchise. Tons of logo placement in menus, arenas, career mode neighborhood, and more. Brands include Gatorade, Beats, Nike, Under Armour, Jordan, Mobil 1, Tissot, and more. Players are presented multiple options to become a spokesperson for and face of companies in career mode. Players can also spend real cash to upgrade their teams and players. There are multiple ways to earn cards and in-game credits, but there are also new ways to gain content by playing MyTeam and other games. Separate versions of the game are offered with different amounts of content.
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.
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.
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