It’s that time of year already? 2K is back with this year’s basketball installment in NBA 2K22. I had taken a break from last year’s release, as I felt things were becoming rather stale. It seemed as if small, minute improvements were made year-to-year, but felt generally the same with a lack of evolution. I also wanted to see what 2K could do with their basketball simulator after about a year of next-gen console availability. I could only imagine how they’d take advantage of the graphical capabilities on ninth-generation consoles. While I was pleased with what I found, I was not all that surprised. NBA 2K22 has the infectious formula that keeps us all coming back, with an interesting new twist on MyCareer mode. However, its reliance on the classic formula and monetization really keeps me from being blown away by what this entry holds.
Let’s start with good old-fashioned basketball. Every year, the control scheme in the 2K series seems to slicken a little to increase the sense of realism on the court. I think that this year is the biggest jump in the right direction they’ve had in a long time. While on offense, holding the ball feels weightier than ever in your player’s hands. You’ll still shoot by holding a button and use movements of the right stick for that classic, precise feel. Defense is as nuanced as ever and timing is key. The input delay that plagues most sports games is mostly absent in this installment, which may be hard for some veterans to adjust to. I found myself going for steal blocks a little sooner than I should have on certain plays.
Automatic timeouts are back to help out your strategy if you find yourself on the losing end. You can turn these off in the options menu, of course, making it entirely optional. Generally, I would say that gameplay-wise, everything is what you would expect it to be, just more responsive and reliable than previous years. This year’s soundtrack is the best I’ve heard since NBA 2K17, with appearances from Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Metro Boomin’, and Thundercat. The genre variety of this year’s soundtrack was also a breath of fresh air with a collection of indie-pop and EDM tracks to compliment the standard hip-hop bangers you’d typically find in an NBA game.
This year’s MyCareer mode really plays out like the fantasy of an aspiring NBA player. You take your player on a journey after deciding how to make your way into the NBA. You can do this as a college student and get traditionally drafted, sign an NBA developmental contract, or skip both of them and claim yourself ready for the NBA draft. From there, you meet new friends, coaches and work your way up to big leagues to earn rings and win championships. What caught me off guard about this year’s MyCareer in a pleasant way is the amount of detail put into the character building. You’ll get an RPG-style stat list that you can use points to truly make the baller of your choosing.
There wasn’t a lot of room for player face customization, which was disappointing. You can upload your face like previous games, but with varying levels of success. The free roam aspects of the game feels like a complete afterthought, however. There aren’t animations for walking through doors so the awkward pause while transitioning between rooms can really throw you off and suck you out of the game. The loading screens and abrupt pauses that separate MyCareer sections are also rather lengthy. The lack of a seamless experience makes things a little underwhelming. Players also often spawn into each other during free-roam, making for a mess on screen with an occasional fps dip.
My only real true problem with NBA 2K22 is the over-reliance on microtransactions. Almost all of your player cosmetics require some sort of real-world investment. There’s an ad to buy the game’s currency on your home screen before you actually launch it. It’s difficult to make your MyPlayer feel personal to you because most of the customization items are lock themselves behind paywalls. With annual sports games, players expect it at this point. However, I still think it’s a bit predatory and unnecessary.
This year’s presentation is great. Everything is easy to find and menus aren’t confusing or overwhelming. A neat feature that I’m looking forward to using is NBA Today. It’s a mode that lets you play the current day’s real-life NBA game in 2K22 with all of the current injuries and suspensions that reflect the real world in-game. A great feature for the diehard NBA season head.
As you’d expect, all of the current, All-Star, and legacy teams are available to play. Online play is surprisingly fluid and far more reliable than in previous years. In past NBA 2K titles, I often found myself wanting to leave online matches mid-way through due to the awful lag that I’d experience. There is little to none in this year’s installment. Player models are striking and more detailed than ever. Seeing realistic beads of sweat running down Lebron James’ face was really something to behold. It’s exciting to see what 2K will do with the technology the new generation provides. Visual Concepts has a reputation for going all out with their modeling in games, and 2K22 is no different.
Overall, NBA 2K22 is serviceable, if not slightly better than average. The game functions as it should, but it’s clear where the focus is. The graphics become more impressive each year, especially for the newer platforms. Gameplay isn’t very different, but it definitely has a level of polish that I didn’t see in previous years. It’s just too bad that the fun of the game is bogged down by the clunky transitions and the constant nagging to spend real money on in-game items. NBA 2K22 is exactly what the franchise has been; a fun, familiar, and accessible competitive sports title.
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