NBA 2K21 on next-gen is at the top of realism - article

NBA 2K21 on next-gen is at the top of realism - article
We at Digital Foundry have not been talking about sports for a long time, but the arrival of NBA 2K21 on the new generation of consoles has shown something really interesting also from a technical point of view. To tell you about the leap forward we witnessed, we mainly looked at the PlayStation 5 and PS4 Pro, but we didn't deny ourselves a few games on the Xbox consoles as well.

Such a marked improvement is really noteworthy: maybe it doesn't seem like it, but sports are among the most complex games to work on due to an incessant calendar that requires annual releases, and because of the constant direct confrontation with sport on television. A game like NBA 2K21 shows continuous refined interactions between athletes of the highest level, certainly not an easy thing to do, and the risk of being artificial is around the corner.

But why is it so complex? First of all, there's the difficulty of creating arenas and players, but it's when they're on the go that things really get tough. Realistic animations, momentum and collisions between players are real challenges. Visual Concepts, who have been working on the series since the Dreamcast years, are particularly capable on this front. Of course it doesn't take long to spot some graphic imperfection, but if you turn a blind eye, the impact becomes surprisingly authentic. In short, they look like real basketball games.

In NBA 2K21 we find a lot of players both today and taken from the list of old glories of the past, and in almost all cases the quality of the models is really high. The details on the shading of the skin, sweat and facial expressions animate them more than convincingly: players look around and react in real time. Of course, it's not perfect, and every now and then you notice a few too many fishy eyes, but overall we are on excellent levels. As in the previous chapter, the simulation of the tissues here too guarantees realistic movements and credible interactions.

Here is the generational leap of NBA 2K21: a real step forward compared to the old generation of consoles (and we are only at the beginning).

Watch on YouTube. By looking at the materials, shading and lighting, you see a real leap forward. It is above all in direct comparisons that the best realization of the skin and of the interactions between lighting and surfaces is noticed. The players are much more realistic, to the point that sweating increases as the competitive activity intensifies.

The same goes for the arenas, now embellished with new materials that make them even closer to their real counterparts. The colors are simply more natural on next-gen, and then there's the audience, an area where you really notice big strides. Each spectator moves independently and with details that even reach the individual fingers. Obviously, if you look closely, you can see interpenetrations and ball eyes, but during the game or replay the impact is considerable.

In terms of reflexes on the pitch, the impression is that we still rely on well-developed technologies. run-in: we don't seem to see ray tracing or SSR, but rather a system of reflections that is excellent for surfaces constrained to a single plane, just like the playing field. When you move towards the stands, shaders come into play to ensure an adequate level of distortion, all at an increased resolution compared to the old generation of consoles. This type of reflexes goes well with the need to create almost a mirror in which to perfectly replicate what happens on the pitch, both as regards the players and the movements of the ball and the goals of the baskets. Nothing new, mind you, but on next-gen we enjoy a greater level of detail.

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There is much more to discover on NBA 2K21, but this is a good place to start, although clearly the million dollar question is about comparing the various next-gen machines. Here, let's say the good news is that PS5 and Xbox Series X are practically identical: both at native 4K, both well defined. The PS4 Pro version we took as the representative of the older generation also enjoys native 4K, but obviously the graphics quality is not on the same level. Equally obviously, the Xbox Series S version is not exactly on the same level as it runs at native 1080p (but everything else is identical, only the resolution is lower than its big sister).

As for performance , we found no differences. Gameplay is always 60fps, while replays stop at 30fps. PS5 and Xbox Series S go straight without problems, while curiously we found some drops on Series X. The only difference between the manufacturers concerns the panoramic camera, which on PS5 is anchored to 60fps, while on the Series series, it occasionally loses a frame . This does not happen with the other shots, and it will hardly be noticed by the players, but we still have to report it.

NBA 2K21 is an excellent proposition on all consoles and amazes on next-gen. If it is true that the animations may be affected a little by the years on their shoulders, what we have seen is still the most fluid and realistic basketball game ever produced. Visual Concepts has set a pretty high bar when it comes to graphics quality, and this is obviously just the beginning for the next-gen. We expect to see improvements in the next installments of the series, and it will be interesting to see how other studios (like EA Sports) cope with the transition. FIFA 21, to say, uses the next-gen to offer a renewed physics of the hair thanks to the Frostbite engine, which we will soon analyze closely.

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