When PlayStation 5 received its grand unveiling after months of frantic anticipation earlier this year, NBA 2K21’s next gen trailer captured the public imagination more than most other announcements.
The short teaser – which saw a sweat-soaked Zion Williamson shoot hoops in a gloriously-detailed practice court – gave us a first glimpse of how Visual Concepts were ready to maximise the opportunities presented by next gen consoles. The early hype has been justified by a slew of announcements in the weeks and months since, with in-game visuals, gameplay adjustments and a big innovation in the WNBA experience.
NBA 2K21 on next gen is the real deal – and it’s a statement that’s been underlined one more time with the real MVP announcement: ‘The City’.
‘The City’ is NBA 2K’s ambitious attempt to build the largest virtual basketball community of all-time. Developing on the free-roam nature of ‘The Park’ (NBA 2K14 – 2K18) and ‘The Neighborhood’ (NBA 2K19-2K20), The City is an open-world, towering, modern metropolis that brings basketball’s impact on street culture to life in the biggest way yet.
The mode gives 2K ballers an opportunity to compete with other gamers outside of the authentic NBA experience, inspired by the sport’s ubiquitous impact on cities all over the world. Where ‘The Park’ lets you walk onto an outdoor court and play other gamers in a pick-up game, and ‘The Neighborhood’ brings together dozens of courts in a single location, ‘The City’ is a living, breathing, sprawling habitat that’s comprised of four boroughs, city centres, sprawling plazas, skyscrapers, and more.
It’s a truly ambitious project that demonstrates the scale and power of next gen consoles, especially when in the hands of games developers with vision.
With four boroughs, each area of ‘The City’ has its own personality and as you travel between all manner of locations by BMX or by skateboard, it’s hard to not draw comparisons with iconic open-world games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, and more. NBA 2K21 isn’t bound by genre conventions – and while rival sports games have attempted to branch into their own story modes in the last handful of years, mixing sports sims with RPG, nothing of this scale or innovation has ever been realised.
NBA 2K21 gamers will see their characters – or MyPLAYERs to give it the official term – start their journey in ‘Rookieville’, which sits just off the water’s edge on the southern side of the city. As your own personal baller ranks up by playing on the cluster of basketball courts, the gates of ‘The City’ will be flung wide open where you work your way through the in-game boroughs, each of which is controlled by a different ‘Affiliation’.
‘Affiliations’ return to NBA 2K21 for the first time since ‘The Park’, and brings a depth of competitive rivalry to the game mode. Upon graduating from Rookieville, MyPLAYERs will be assigned to represent one of the four rival factions and join the in-game battle to crown the best squad. Whether you join the North Side Knights, the South City Vipers, the Beasts of the East, or the Western Wildcats – you’ll be playing for your Affiliation’s right to run the city with in-game tournaments and major events throughout the game cycle.
Another new addition to this aspect of the game is ‘Mayors’ – with each Affiliation repped by a Mayor who will hold influence on your day-to-day experience in the city. The role of Mayor will be filled by some of the biggest names from the NBA 2K community, and they have the power to design courts, create murals, select the affiliation’s uniform, and create playlists that will soundtrack play within their respective boroughs. Mayors will also be interacting with gamers via in-game polls and messaging that brings the community of ‘The City’ together in real-time.
The aspect of community is essential – and ‘The City’ has been built to support hundreds of MyPLAYERs simultaneously, with the individuality of each player marked as a major improvement. Each MyPLAYER has total self-expression, with the ability to dynamically chain together dance moves proving a big update on the automated dance emotes of games gone by, while you’ll be encouraged to ball out as you move around the city by dribbling as you walk and taking place in Garage Hoop Games, Gatorade Court Rentals, and endless challenges and mini-games. You’ll also be able to make your MyPLAYER look more customised than ever before, with a long list of new hairstyles, accessories and apparel added to this year’s game – including all your favourites like Nike, Jordan Brand, adidas, Under Armour, PUMA and more.
The last generation of consoles saw game developers start to understand that the days of sports sims being limited to the court (or the pitch) is at an end. In the same way that contemporary athletes are contributing to wider culture in a more impactful way than ever before, sports games need to wake up and follow their IRL heroes by finding a reason for existence outside of “traditional” play.
While NBA 2K has always been leading this charge, ‘The City’ is a true line in the sand for what sports games can do on next gen. This is a genre-breaking development that is a bigger sign for where gaming is headed than any graphic improvement can ever provide.
The future is freedom, the future is community, the future is customisation. The future is NBA 2K21 and ‘The City’.
NBA 2K21 is available on November 12 for PlayStation®5*. Pre-order via 2K now.
*PlayStation 5 required to play the next-generation version of NBA 2K21. The PlayStation 5 console will be available on November 12 in the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, and November 19 in the UK and all other regions.