NBA 2K21 is almost upon us and, as usual, Visual Concepts have made various tweaks and improvements to the on-court action. It sounds like the goal is to make NBA 2K21 more natural-feeling and accessible to new players, which is the direction the series has been going for a couple years now. Most notably, shooting and the Pro Stick system are receiving fairly significant updates. But before we get to that, you can check out the first NBA 2K21 trailer below (featuring gameplay from current-gen platforms).
The Pro Stick
The Pro Stick has been a staple of 2K basketball for years now, and for the most part, has largely gone unchanged since its inception. For NBA 2K21, we saw this as a big opportunity to freshen up the game on the offensive end. In past games, you could hold the Pro Stick in any direction to take a jump shot. That was limiting us from utilizing the right stick as a fully featured dribble stick. So this year, we’re making a pretty significant change to how the Pro Stick works. In a nutshell:
- Hold RS down = jump shot
- Hold RS left or right = escape dribble moves
- Hold RS up = signature size-ups
- Tap the RS = quick 1-to-1 dribble moves
- Tap the RS with Sprint held = quick momentum dribble moves
With this change, we’ve been able to greatly expand the dribble move arsenal and give you access to more moves in a more intuitive control scheme. After a game or two, it will feel second nature and will have you breaking ankles in no time! Along with the remap, the moves themselves have been overhauled to be much more responsive and chain-able. Street moves have been moved to a tap of the left trigger as well, so you won’t be firing them off by accident when you’re breaking down defenders in the Park.
Dribble moves weren’t the only thing that benefited from the Pro Stick upgrade. Jump shooting and finishing at the rim were points of emphasis as well. We really wanted to make scoring the basketball a skill both from the perimeter and at the rim, so we brainstormed and prototyped a number of various shooting mechanics for this year’s game. What we settled on was an idea conceptually similar to something we tried in NBA 2K17… Shot Stick Aiming. Aiming didn’t really work that well in NBA 2K17 because it was a bit buried, didn’t have much skill built into it, and didn’t give the user any feedback. We took those learnings and used them to create a better solution this time around.
For NBA 2K21, when you shoot with the Pro Stick, the shot meter changes from a timing bar to a targeting system. So instead of trying to stop the shot meter when you reach the perfect release window, you adjust the Pro Stick in real time to hit the ideal center aim point. The target window resizes dynamically based on player ability, shooting range, and how well the shot is contested and can also shift to the left or right based on the shot’s degree of difficulty. If you miss the target too far to the left or right, your shot will miss in that direction. And as I mentioned above with the new slider sets, even the slightest degree might be the difference between a make and an airball on Hall of Fame, while it’s quite a bit more forgiving on the easier difficulties. You also won’t be penalized for using the entire shooting motion to find the sweet spot. In other words, you don’t have to time your release when you’re shooting with the Pro Stick. But if you want to take it to the next level and know your release, you can lock in your timing and aim by either centering the Pro Stick or by tapping one of the triggers when you reach the apex of the shot. The lock in will be indicated by a brief flash on the shot meter. If you can time and aim well, you will give yourself the best chances at making the shot.
The aiming concept also applies to finishing layups, replicating the idea of having “good touch” around the rim. As you’re driving you can still hold the Pro Stick in any direction to start a layup, but this year, you’ll want to quickly swing the stick to move the aiming tick to the center of the target. Aiming layups well can help overcome shot contests and help you finish through contact. Personally, it has been hard for me to go back to the Shot Button after getting used to Pro Stick shooting. And because shooting with the stick offers a bit more complexity than just holding and releasing a button, it also carries a greater risk/reward. If you can master shooting with the Pro Stick, you’ll have a higher ceiling for getting greens and making tough shots, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the shot method of choice for many competitive 2K players. But since I know some will ask… yes, there is an option to disable Shot Aiming if you really want to go back to last year’s controls. On the shooting animation side, you can expect a plethora of new shot types, including Harden’s unique 1-foot running fadeaway. And a quick note for all the Park players… we’ve added over 40 new Park Jump Shot Landings for you to show off with when you hit from outside.
Last year we introduced signature dribble styles, which gave Magic Johnson his unique upcourt waddle, Steve Nash’s finger licks, and much more. This upgrade has now made its way onto the defensive end with signature defensive motion styles. Here’s the list of players you can model your player’s movement after: Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Pat Beverly, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green. In addition to this, movement has undergone several refinements, both with the ball and without, to provide a more consistent and responsive feel on the sticks.
Sounds fairly promising in theory! I’m particularly interested in the new approach to shooting, which I’ve always found a bit fussy in the NBA 2K games. Want to try out the new mechanics before NBA 2K21 launches in September? You’re in luck, as an NBA 2K21 demo will be available on Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on August 24.
NBA 2K21 hits the hardwood on PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Stadia on September 4. Next-gen Xbox Series X and PS5 versions are also planned. 2K will be only be offering a “free” next-gen upgrade to those who buy the $100 “Mamba Forever” version of NBA 2K21.