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NBA 2K21 no slam dunk, but it has a good story

The franchise delivers again with GM fun and compelling fiction.

The game’s graphics aren’t noticeably different from last year, possibly owing to new PlayStation and Xbox systems on the way this winter.
Business Wire

The back of the limo suddenly became uncomfortable.

In plopped a video-game version of Jim Boylen wearing a black suit, black shirt and navy blue tie. He seemed dressed for a funeral — appropriate, considering his demise as the Bulls’ head coach was moments away.

New general manager Joe Cowley was given four options:

Fire cordially.

Fire bluntly.

Fire harshly.

Don’t fire.

Sorry, video-game Jimbo, life isn’t fair, even in “NBA 2K21.” At the risk of spraining my thumb, I frantically moved the controller stick down to “Fire harshly’’ before the game could change its mind.

Video-game Boylen made sure to have the last word, responding, “If that’s how you feel, then I’ll be glad to go somewhere that respects what I bring to the table.”

Good spirit.

And just like that, in one day as the Bulls’ decision-maker, I addressed what it took months for Arturas Karnisovas, their real-life executive vice president of basketball operations, to realize: They needed a new head coach.

The writing and realism are still the beauty of the “NBA 2K” franchise. In both the MyGM/League mode and the MyCareer mode, the game has the ability to pull you into the story, whether that’s one based on real events, like cleaning house for the Bulls, or one with fictional characters.

In the latest version of MyCareer, actor Djimon Hounsou plays the wise coach and father figure to your player, with Michael K. Williams as the antagonist and family friend, Archie. Without playing spoiler, Archie was a close pal of your father, “The King,’’ but he also has had some shady happenings in his past. Do you stick with the family friend who’s trying to cash in on your rise to stardom from high school to college to the NBA? Or do you want to take this journey on your own, pulling away from your father’s legacy and those who were clingers to his accomplishments?

Is it “The Godfather Part II”? No, but for video-game drama, it’s as good as it gets. And it definitely outshines the sophomoric storyline in “Madden 21.”

But now the bad.

Graphically, “NBA 2K” is unchanged. If anything, it looks like it took a step back this season. Both PlayStation and Xbox are coming out with new systems this winter, so developers have had to prepare two versions of the same games to accommodate the coming system upgrades. Did that lead to cutting corners? Maybe.

Then, in the category of “If it ain’t broke . . .”, developers decided to mess with the shooting system in “NBA 2K21,” going with the Pro Stick option. Why? Players have gotten used to the timing of the old shooting system over the years, and once a player has that down, it’s a thing of beauty.

The early feedback from the Pro Stick option has not been stellar by any means. It kills the flow of what video-game hoops brings, and that’s why “2K21” earns a solid B+.

Still, the game remains the “it” franchise in the sports-gaming industry, and while this version has some flaws, the king is still the king.

Just be careful with The King’s friend, Archie.

Now, please summon Lauri Markkanen to the limo. We need to talk.