It was obviously a very small field of games (really only three traditional titles made the cut here), and overall, this was an odd next-gen launch in many respects. So when it comes to selecting the Best Next-Gen Sports Game in 2020, it’s not that the award comes with an asterisk, but it is the most obvious award we’re giving out this year. With that said, both the staff and community selected NBA 2K21 as the winner here.
We did think about not giving out this award, but I strongly believe console launches and sports games go hand-in-hand and so we still wanted to do something here to award the start of a new console generation.
NBA 2K21 is technically the “only” next-gen sports game that came out at launch because Madden and FIFA were “free” upgrades, and they both came out weeks later as well. This gave 2K the platform to showcase what next gen could be all about. The developers did not quite succeed in proving next gen is “worth it” I don’t think, but it’s still a solid upgrade that just comes with some of the now usual 2K issues. There is still an overabundance of microtransactions, the new MyNBA mode is riddled with bugs that make playing multiple seasons nearly impossible, you still don’t want to ever force baseline because it gives the offense a huge advantage, and there’s just many missed opportunities with the new components of the game that make stuff like The City cool, but still not as special as it could be.
There’s no question something like The City could be one of the most impactful new modes to hit the sports genre, but 2K struggles to get out of its own way either due to technical issues or microtransaction issues. On top of that, while some legacy bugs were crushed or improved, there’s still stuff in here like rebounding your misses being too easy, online latency still not feeling smoothed out enough, and so on that hold it back.
Nevertheless, I am still having more fun with next-gen 2K than I did with current gen, and on top of that, it might be the most fun I’ve had playing in an online league in at least five years. I think that’s saying something because the online leagues are still buggy, but playing another “sim” player is just very enjoyable on next gen. The help defense is flat out bad, and some of the defensive settings don’t work, but when you play another human trying to play some semblance of NBA basketball, stuff like pick and roll defense is not as busted, and it’s fun going up and down against like-minded players. I don’t feel like I’m handcuffing myself, and there’s enough variety in how you can play to make different types of teams stand out.
Community Vote – Best Next-Gen Sports Game
- NBA 2K21
- FIFA 21 (Tie)
- Madden NFL 21 (Tie)
I also don’t want to overlook some of the technical aspects that shine here. NBA 2K21 next-gen is impressive looking much of the time, and it’s the only sports game that really pushed the boundaries here at launch. Again, not everything worked out, but 2K did try to push modes forward (MyNBA, WNBA, The City) and make this feel like a new game.
That is the biggest difference between 2K and FIFA/Madden. FIFA and Madden both have next-gen strengths, and I do actually feel hopeful about both franchises moving forward, but clearly these were half-measure titles. The modes are not different, the graphics are improved but not on 2K’s level, and the presentation did not get the same kind of love either. I think FIFA shines brighter than Madden when it comes to presentation and graphics. FIFA does still look great at times, and some of the presentation moments like the late-game celebrations are really, really dope.
Madden has the foot planting updates that have detractors and fans, but the OS community overall likes what happened with the speed and feel of Madden on next-gen consoles. The pass coverage was obviously a disaster at launch, and the Madden developers will once again have to decide what route they are going to take. Are going to fix and improve the AI, or will they revert to just making the user OP again so users can clean up the mess of the AI by being able to cover three routes on a play with unrealistic speed — making it more like current-gen Madden.
With FIFA, the developers did not fix the crossing and midfield issues, but like Madden, it still does feel improved overall on the pitch. Again, this is why I feel somewhat hopeful about both games, but we need to see the path these games take moving forward to really assess if this first year on next gen was a sign of things to come or simply a mirage.
Bottom line, NBA 2K21 wins here and it’s not close. However, it’s fair to say we’re perhaps waiting until next year to really judge how next gen will end up feeling during this new console generation.