Returning to NBA 2K after a decade-long hiatus was a wild experience. The game’s more intimate story mode was a pleasant surprise, for one. But the major shock came with the appearances of Djimon Hounsou, Jesse Williams and Michael K. Williams. Celebrity involvement in mainstream gaming has gathered steam over the last decade, but it’s still surprising to see such well-rendered, familiar faces in NBA 2K21‘s campaign.
What’s even more shocking is the level of detail put into their individual character models and the uncanny valley dysphoria that often comes with putting real faces in games.
Djimon Hounsou looks like Djimon Hounsou. You can see every one of his pores, see the subtle sweat shine on his face. You can see all the little hairs on his salt-and-pepper goatee and even the individual hair strands of his eyebrows. You can see dry lips, and the subtle tension of a slight frown in his forehead muscles. When his mouth moves, it looks like an actual mouth.
It’s a far cry from the games of last generation, where bright eyes, strange teeth and baby-smooth skin immediately ruined immersion.
Next gen promised groundbreaking graphics and while not every game is able to demonstrate the graphical power and performance afforded by the Xbox Series X and PS5’s tech upgrades, they really do shine in NBA 2K21.
It’s great stuff, and Djimon Hounsou isn’t the only NBA 2K21 star who gets the gorgeous, ultra-realism treatment.
The game also stars Jesse Williams and Michael K. Williams, both instantly recognisable for their acting work. Like Hounsou, there’s a level of care and attention in each character model which feels like a staggering achievement. There’s beads of sweat pooling off Jesse Williams’ face in rivulets. You can see the subtle scar on Michael K. Williams’ face. Every detail is replicated perfectly, and even facial movements are rigged with enough subtlety to feel lifelike.
It’s mostly the sweat I can’t get over.
In fact, it’s possibly the one detail that feels genuinely next gen to me. We’re at the stage now where video game graphics are becoming nitpicky. It’s not just about rendering a scene or character anymore, it’s about all the subtle details. It’s about realism, the way eyelashes fold when a characters blinks. It’s about every individual pore and beard hair. It’s all about that sweat.
While NBA 2K21 isn’t a huge leap up from past games from a gameplay perspective, it really shines in the graphics and performance department. This game is slick and it feels like just the beginning of a next gen graphics revolution. If we’re already getting ultra-realism at these early stages (and on a crossgen title), the future is looking very shiny indeed.
Even though I accidentally called my player Duke and then it turned out his father’s name was also (coincidentally) Duke, or that I somehow made Quicksilver from Avengers: Age of Ultron without meaning to, I’m really enjoying my time with NBA 2K21.
The story mode is personal and keeps the basketball game interludes spicy throughout, no matter whether you win or lose. It’s also backed by some stellar performances from Hounsou, Williams and Williams that wouldn’t have felt possible even five years ago. Character models are gorgeous, the sweat looks fab and the uncanny valley is almost a thing of the past.
Next gen is finally here, and damn it looks good.