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Basketball Life Video Games

NBA 2K21 Demo Review

Part 1 of 2 : The Quick Games

TLDR : I went on forever with this review. I had a great time writing it, so it turned more into an epic ballad than a review. If you want the quick run down, the game is basically the same. The passing feels better and the shooting is harder. If you don’t want to read the next 3000 words, I understand. If you decide to proceed, I hope you have a laugh. I certainly did.

Remember the joys of a demo disc? Unlimited fun and a chance to give a game a really good test run. They don’t really do that anymore though. They have so much content removed and usually a time limit, so you can’t really get a good feel for the game. NBA 2K21 is exactly the same. It’s a very stripped down version of the game and if you take out 2KU, you only have 5 quick games and some MyPlayer (at the time of writing, I’m not sure how much). In all of these games, you can’t draw up plays, change settings or even look up the controls. I’ve decided to do this review in 2 parts. One on the quick games and one on the MyPlayer aspect.

I thought I’d skip 2KU and get right into one of my five “quick games”. You can select from one of four teams : the Milwaukee Bucks, the Los Angeles Clippers, the All-Time Los Angeles Lakers and the All-Time Boston Celtics. No point starting at the ultimate teams, so I selected the Clippers and I played against the Bucks.

The first thing I noticed is the “improved” graphics looked exactly the same as 2K19. And 18. Probably 17 as well. That’s ok though, I expected nothing else. They have basically been maxed out for a while and I’m not expecting any significant graphic changes until the next console generation.

Gameplay wise, the basic pass function seemed to operate better. So many times in previous games, I would find using “x” to pass was almost useless, because half the time it didn’t go where I wanted it to. I know you need to use the joystick to aim, but I’m not standing still when I pass. I want them across the court zingers! In this game, I found the passing much more accurate and I didn’t pick up a turnover until the third quarter. I couldn’t figure out a bounce pass, but I had the lob under control. That’ll do. The way I had the basketball moving, it looked like the San Antonio Spurs out there.

Defensively, I was ok. A little bit rusty but I knew it would come back to me. One play, Giannis tried to euro step around me. I was controlling Marcus Morris Sr. and I sent that boy packing! I smacked that basketball so hard it went flying into the tenth row! Please note, that is a massive exaggeration. I did block it though, please let me have this.

Anyway, that was about all the fun I had because I could not score. At all. You can’t look at the stats in the demo (ugh) but I finished around 20% on the field and 0% from downtown. Yup. Ironically, the only one of my players to score the ball well was Paul George (he was around 7/9 in this game). As I mentioned, I was passing the ball well and getting wide open looks. Nothing would drop. At one point, 3 of my players all had the “icy” logo attached to them. It was air ball city out there. I honestly could not believe the amount of air balls. I’ve never seen anything like it and I support the Chicago Bulls. My timing wasn’t that bad, I was always slightly early or late. I figured eventually they would drop, but they never did. One possession, I tried to get a half court 3 on the buzzer and the Bucks blocked me. Where was this defensive effort in the bubble?

On the final Milwaukee possession, I figured they would just run the clock down and take the shot clock violation. I was wrong. They held the ball and then jacked up a deep three. It air balled and they were whistled for a shot clock violation. “They force the shot clock violation! Great D!” screams an enthusiastic Kevin Harlan. The camera pans to coach Budenholzer and he shakes his head in disgust. I mean, he looks furious. 4.8 seconds. Time for one final play. A Hail Mary. I’d go to my playbook, but the demo won’t let me. I’m gonna have to wing it. One play. All I need is 58 points and I force overtime. Yes, that’s correct. At this stage I was down, 81-23. And Kevin Harlan is losing his mind in excitement. Bud is ticked off! I guess they still haven’t figured out how to make the commentary team and coaching staff respond appropriately to the overall game, not just the specific play.

I lose the game by 58 points and am ashamed. Time to go back to school, specifically 2KU. Surprise surprise, 2KU is limited as well. All it teaches me is how to shoot the basketball in different ways. Who am I to complain? I put up 23 points last game. Clearly, I need the practice. Time to get some shots up. I have no choice but to play as Kawhi Leonard, so I get started on my layup line. I spend around 10 minutes shooting the basketball in different ways and from different spots. I never get a perfect release. Not once. I get bored and leave. Time for another quick game.

I’m still mad at the Bucks, but I’m more mad at the Clippers. Time for a good ol’ fashioned beat down. I select the All-Time Lakers. After 1 quarter I’m shooting around 70% from the field but I still haven’t managed to hit a 3. Trust me, it’s not from lack of trying. All open looks, but nothing is dropping. I’m still surprised at the amount of airballs you see in this game. Even from mid-range, you see a lot of airballs. It doesn’t matter though, because this Clippers defense is garbage! I am carving them up and Shaq is feasting. Drive, dish, dunk, repeat (I feel like there is a t-shirt to be made). Shaq has a monster putback slam and gets called for offensive interference. I want to challenge it because the refs were acting crazy, but I can’t.

Marcus Morris is clearly a 99 overall in this game, he is so good. On one play, I decide to double team him (I don’t know why) and he proceeds to split the double team and then dunk on Shaq. Marcus Morris put Shaquille O’Neal on the wrong end of a poster. Speaking of strange plays, Landry Shamet waves everyone away and calls for iso. Crosses me over and sinks a stepback three like he is the Beard. No hate to Shamet or Morris, but both of these plays stood out as weird.

I’ve started to notice that the animations (on and off court) are still really awkward. So many times when I was driving baseline, my character would step out of bounds. Not just a toe on the line either, he would full on sprint out of bounds. A couple of very frustrating back court violations as well, they will sometimes take a huge step back if you try a dribble move. You can see it happening and feels like there should be enough time to prevent it, but it’s like the joystick is locked. You just have to sit there and watch the turnover, powerless to stop it. On one possession, I was playing as Kobe and guarding Sweet Lou Williams. He called for the pick and got a switch, he was now being guarded by Shaq. Usually I would switch control, but I stayed as Kobe. So A.I. Shaq starts playing like he is Kyle Lowry or something. He is in a low stance, swiping at the ball, shuffling his feet to stay in front and Williams couldn’t get around him! It was bizarre.

I will close on this game with two more out of place commentary quotes. The first comes from sideline reporter David Aldridge. I’m at the free throw line with Shaq (I finished 8/10 at the line with the big fella!) and Aldridge starts to talk about the new look Wilson basketballs. I thought to myself that it was cool, I hadn’t even noticed the change. And then I look at the basketball in my hands and am clearly holding a Spalding. The second is from the lovely Doris Burke. There is about 30-40 seconds left in the game. I’m inbounding the basketball and she talks about the importance of this possession because the game is not over yet. I’m up by about 20 at this point. Once again, improvement needs to be made to the commentary so it is relevant to the game. I win this one 83-60.

It’s time for the All-Time matchup. I select Boston and am ready to crush the Lakers. It’s pretty closely contested early. I want a technical foul called on Shaq because he throws the basketball at my bench after an offensive foul is called on him. I don’t get my wish. After the first quarter, the Lakers are starting to runaway with it. They are punishing me inside. It’s a regular block party. One possession, the blocked me (as Rondo) 3 times! I’ve noticed the A.I. never falls for a pump fake. I remember having this problems in previous years as well. It’s showtime now. They are having their way with me. They are passing behind the backs, alley-oops, block after block after block. It’s getting ugly.

I only have one chance to stage a comeback. I need to start making my three pointers. So I start playing like I’m the Houston Rockets. It’s 3 or bust! I draw the double team and dish it to Paul Pierce. He is so wide open. This was the moment, I got the shot up and I knew it was cash. Clank! It front rims and the Lakers grab the board. I am stunned. Stunned, but not defeated. I keep trying. I go to Larry Legend in the corner. Two guys on him and I hit a turnaround fadeaway jumper. Nothing but net. “Bang! Bang!” I yell in my best Mike Breen. I actually did, I wish I was live streaming. My daughter laughs. She thinks its amusing. She doesn’t quite grasp how important this moment is in NBA history. Maybe one day she will. The floodgates have opened. Pierce! Allen! Bird! All of a sudden, I cannot miss. Until I do. And then, I don’t hit another one for the rest of the game.

Just a few quick notes before I reveal the brutal ugly score. It was really cool seeing players like Havlicek and Russell throwing it down in some Chuck Taylor All Stars. It’s easy to forget they are the original basketball shoe. I had major anxiety whenever I went to the line as Russell. His release was so fast. It was legitimately stressful. Speaking of getting to the line, I drove hard as Bird and managed a ridiculous and 1. Larry is chest bumping like we just won the championship. We were down 40. Final score is 105-51.

I’m pretty angry by now. So I mess around a bit with MyPlayer. Check out tomorrow’s review for notes on that.

Mine turn to be the Milwaukee Bucks. The only team I haven’t played as and I will play against the only ones I haven’t played against, the All-Time Celtics. Gulp.

First thing I notice in this one, is they have completely failed to capture the glory that was Larry Bird’s moustache. It looks really bad in this game. I’m determined to win this one so from the start I am locked in. I am playing great defense and not settling for jump shots. Drive, drive, drive. I finally got someone to bite on a pump fake, but I’m not counting it because it was in the paint. I’m not even attempting any 3’s in this game. End of the first quarter and I’m up by 7, shooting about 65% I’d estimate.

Bob Cousy is slaughtering me. Not Bird, not Russell, not even McHale. Just Cousy. That’s ok though, because as I mentioned, my defense is spectacular. I’m forcing turnovers, travels, 3 second violations…I am smothering them. I’ve noticed that even the A.I. 3 point percentage seems very low. They’ve had a few easy looks and all of them have missed.

I’m up 10 at half time so I decide I can afford to have a little bit of fun. I’ll take some 3’s, but only in the rhythm of the game and only with good shooters. I miss my first 3 of them, but connect on the 4th. It was a complete fluke. I was Middleton, tried to pump fake and then pass. I ended up shooting a really contested and deep 3 by mistake, Of course it went in. I got a steal in transition and tried to run an alley-oop to Lopez. Or should I call it an alley-oops? It was brutal and I missed the pass by a mile. No defenders in sight. Part of me is starting to feel that this game has traded fun for realism and started to over complicate things.

In the third quarter, the Celtics catch fire. They can’t miss anything. I’m still defending really well, but I am powerless to stop them. With a couple minutes left they are up by 7. I get some important stops and a few big buckets by Giannis and am within 3 for the final possession. I bet you already know how this ends. I inbound, move the ball around and get Korver a wide open looks. Of course, it misses. I don’t even bother to foul because I’m too mad and just want the game to end. I vow to not buy this game when it comes out. Don’t worry Ronnie 2k, I make that vow every year. 78-73 is the final score and I have one quick game left.

Now that I have played as everyone and against everyone, this last match is dealers choice! I’m holding a grudge against the Celtics after that last one, so I am going to crush them. The only team I’ve managed to pick up a win with is the Lakers. So let’s fire up the All-Time rivalry, one last time.

We remain neck in neck for most of the first quarter. I get as much as 5 points ahead but they pull it back to a tie. I blame my daughter for running on the couch behind me. Please honey, daddy is trying to work. No luck. She is a relentless hell beast and she has been sent to destroy me. I blow my defensive cover and Bill Russell gets an easy layup for the lead. I blame my daughter again. She responds with a running knee strike that would make Kenny Omega proud. It legitimately hurts and I think I’m bruised. I can feel the muscles tightening already. That’s it, I’m putting her to bed. Hang on.

Ok, the beast is down. I hear her shrieks coming from the abyss but I won’t let that distract me. I cannot lose this game. I start to pull ahead again. I’m up 10 at halftime, this Lakers team is just very good. I’ve remained locked in on defense and as long as I don’t get cocky I should hold this lead. Kobe has been excellent so far. I even had an excellent release on a deep fadeaway 3. I was so excited. I paused and went to get my partner so she could see it swish. I don’t think she cares. I also had a cool play where I got a steal and went coast to coast for the slam. “Here’s Kobe” Kevin and I say in union. It’s actually getting weird how often we are in sync.

I was thinking of criticising this game for how hard it can be to steal from the guards (more on that in Part 2) but I changed my mind. In this game I ended up having a countless amount of steals. Even the bigs were getting involved. Kareem got a quick swipe and I was heading out for the slam. I got fouled. Should of been a clear path but the refs just don’t care. Sideline out of bounds. Whatever. Got fouled again and went to shoot free throws. Animated Kevin McHale looks really dopey.

I finally managed to do a bounce pass. I’m not sure how I did it. I tried to replicate it but failed. I did it again, but then when I tried the same buttons once more I threw a high pass and a turnover. I’m not sure. Please insert shrug emoji here. I need it for the segue. Speaking of shrugs, I had Kobe so hot he was doing the Jordan shrug. He finished on 33 points, about 85% shooting. Including 3 triples! Lots of dunks. It was showtime, baby! I withstand a late surge by the Celtics, to win the game 80-68.

After 5 quick games, what have we learned? The passing feels a bit more smooth and more natural. However, there where still plenty of occasions when the ball did not even go close to where I intended. The shooting has changed a lot. It is significantly harder and I have not figured it out. The animations are still clunky and awkward. The commentary is still irrelevant and out of place. Graphics are the same. All in all, I had a bit of fun, but not as much as I used to. I find every year this game gets harder and harder. The more realistic it gets, the less fun it is. Isn’t the point of a video game to be fun? Maybe I’m just getting older. I’m sure if I had the time and the patience, I’d be able to figure it out. I no longer have either though. I just really miss 2k7.

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