The renders for the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 look good, but I haven’t been as blown away by them as I’d hoped.
Forgive me if I was spoiled by the technological leap I experienced firsthand at the unveiling of NBA 2K14 in San Francisco, back in 2013. 2K held a private event that I was privileged enough to attend, and it was there they unveiled the iconic trailer that featured Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” as a musical backdrop for the most impressive visual enhancement I’ve ever seen in my decades of fandom for video games.
God, I love this song. This is video game trailer/preview perfection.
To this day, it ranks near the top of my all-time video game moments lists, right alongside realizing I had to use a different controller port to defeat Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid.
The moment I saw LeBron James, James Harden and others in the trailer, I knew without a doubt the leap to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One was something serious. That experience and 2K’s history of innovation trained me to look at their product as the pacesetter in these kinds of races.
Because of this, I’ve been looking to the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 to be the game that wows me for the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s graphical potential. From a standpoint of gameplay improvements and new concepts, I’m not sure 2K could have done a better job of introducing new features and improvements on old ones. The visuals obviously aren’t bad. In some instances, I’ve loved what I’ve seen, and in others, I’ve been underwhelmed.
My issues are largely with the player renders, and those exceptions can be narrowed down to two areas. First, it’s the shading and skin tones. Some players look either too dark or the color itself is a bit muted.
The LeBron and Damian Lillard renders below are two examples:
Lillard looks perhaps a shade too dark, and LeBron’s image is like a gray-ish brown. Perhaps there is some sort of passive filter on that screen shot because it was for a ratings reveal, but there is something about it that doesn’t resonate with me. I will admit, all of the video footage 2K has released must be viewed in 4K to get the desired effect, so I will reserve my final take on that front for when I have the game in hand and it’s on my monitor. However, I’m leaning toward the thought there is something a little off with the skin tones for some players.
The second issue has nothing to do with monitors or filters, but could have a ton to do with the pandemic. The player bodies don’t appear to be any different than they were in the current-gen version of NBA 2K21. In some instances, there may even be some downgrades.
The LeBron render above features what appears to be a less-muscular version of The King, and there are other players that I’ve seen in the previews whose body types don’t appear to have been upgraded. I was hoping to see players completely remodeled from head to toe, but that’s not what we got.
It’s very possible this was 2K’s intention, but the pandemic might have put a squash on that plan because it limited the developer’s access to NBA players for scanning. That’s something that hasn’t been communicated, which is understandable because it could create a thought that 2K was unable to do everything they wanted for next-gen, thus it won’t be as great of a product as intended.
Mind you, none of this means the next-gen version isn’t worth picking up, or is even a graphical failure. These observations, if confirmed upon playing the retail version, just mean there is still room for significant visual improvement for NBA 2K22.