We played NBA 2K21 – Hands-on demo impressions

The latest installment of the NBA 2K franchise is almost here, but after last year’s dud, can Take-Two make a slam dunk?

After a rough launch of NBA 2K20, a game filled with bugs and poor gameplay, Take-Two is looking to bring new life to a series that desperately needs it. While NBA 2K21 on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 could achieve just that, we’re not so sure if that will be accomplished with next week’s release on the current generation consoles, at least based off of our initial impressions of the game.

Like most fans of the NBA 2K franchise, we had a chance to play the NBA 2K21 demo that launched on August 24, and we jumped at it — pun intended. The NBA 2K21 demo only had three game modes in it: MyPlayer, 2KU, and Quick Start games. 

In MyPlayer, you could customize player builds, add badges, and test your player in games. However, the experience was limited, as you were only able to play Exhibition games.

The 2KU mode gave players an opportunity to fiddle with the controls, some of which are new, as well as practice through tutorials. 

The third and final game mode available was Quick Start games. Players could head into Exhibition action with the Bucks, the Clippers, or miscellaneous all-time rosters such as the Lakers All-Time Team or the Celtics All-Time Team. The demo restricted players to five games in Quick Start, meaning that our time with the new game was short. However, we were able to get a pretty good idea of how the initial gameplay will be, and we weren’t all that impressed.

As far as gameplay goes, it feels very much the same as it has in previous NBA 2K games. The graphics and animations were essentially untouched, and considering that a new NBA 2K21 game is in the works for the next-gen, as well as the fact that Take-Two has basically maxed out what it can produce for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, no one should be caught off guard by this. The AI felt slightly different, but the changes were really not all that noticeable.

The one key change made to this year’s gameplay on the current generation was the Pro Stick modifications. The developers changed up the RS/R3 shooting controls to freshen up the game. In NBA 2K21, players need to flick RS/R3 down to take a jump shot, while moving the RS/R3 stick up will allow you to take a signature jump shot. The reason for this change, per NBA 2K Gameplay Director Mike Wang, was to get the most out of the capabilities of the Pro Stick.

During our time with the new game, it did add a little bit of much-needed change, as now it does feel easier to dribble in 2K21. However, this addition might not be enough to truly deliver fans of the NBA 2K franchise a better simulation experience, since much of the other gameplay aspects remain the same.

Still, it’s very early to get a true idea of what NBA 2K21 will look like come September 4, when the game launches. Feedback from NBA 2K players could lead the developers to make modifications to the gameplay. In addition, it’s still unknown as to how things will work out in other modes that were not included in the demo, such as MyTeam and 2K Beach, which will replace The Neighborhood. 

But after a rough launch last year, Take-Two needs to deliver a strong game in 2020, and not just for the next-gen consoles. If the demo is any indication, though, NBA 2K players may need to wait until the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launch before that actually happens.