Sports games are a different beast, by nature. Developers ask their players to pony up full prices each year for what amounts to a roster update and a few tweaks to the features. Because of this, I’ve taken to skipping years when it comes to certain sports games, so when I get a new one to play, the game feels fresher and the upgrades seem deeper and more substantial. That’s what happened this year with NBA 2K22. I’ve skipped the last two years — and all the controversies those games brought with them — and have come into 2K22 with a new perspective. That payoff has made it worth it, and I’ve had more fun with this game than I have in recent 2K experiences.
NBA 2K22, as expected, takes the idea of professional basketball and opens it up to the fans. The game is stacked with features and game modes for all types of players. For the casual fan, there’s the deep franchise mode in MyNBA. For the hardcore player with deep knowledge of the Association and its history, there’s MyTeam. For the player who has dreams of being a superstar, MyCareer has you covered. And each mode has bells and whistles galore to make the basketball experience as thrilling as it is in real life.
MyNBA allows players to take control of a team and run the day-to-day operations, or just play through all the games in a season, of which you can determine the length. It adds complexities to the idea of being an NBA exec that goes deeper than just hiring a staff, drafting or signing players, and negotiating contracts.
MyTeam allows players to create teams with cards of players, past and present, and build super teams. These teams can be used in various game modes, both solo and multiplayer, to earn VC (virtual currency) and rewards, including additional packs of cards for more players, badges, contracts, and gear. These types of modes are often my favorite to play in sports games, as it’s fun to create a dream team of players and then constantly build, tear down, and rebuild that squad with each new player I acquire. NBA 2K22 is generous with their superstars, giving the player uber-stacked superstar cards early to make you competitive, no matter when you come into the game. Playing games across the various modes add XP to your season total, and each level unlocks even more goodies. It’s addictive, and the one mode I’ve played more than any other.
Rounding things out is MyPlayer, which takes the career simulation and merges it with The City mode. You’ll create a player and take them on a journey to either NBA superstardom, or you rule the street circuit and semi-pro. Developer Visual Concepts has stuffed MyCareer with so many brands and advertisements that it’s almost comical. Still, I can’t entirely fault the whole experience, as if you watch any NBA game, you’d see the same push of branding and personal “me first” attitudes.
While NBA 2K22 is stacked with things to do, how you do it is equally important. In terms of gameplay, 2K22 begins to show its issues. As I’ve explained, it’s been a few years since I last jumped into this franchise, and the gameplay changes between 2K19 and 2K21 are shocking. In the quest for realism, Visual Concepts has taken the fun out of the game. Moving players on the court feels like driving a tank; unyielding and painfully static. The shooting meter is finicky at best, and the addition of stamina draining to do simple moves like dribbling is a real head-scratcher. I get no consistency with my players, and it doesn’t matter who I’m controlling. Kobe misses open shots and seemingly has no dribble separation. Kareem Abdul Jabbar should own the paint, but gets bumped off his dribble by even the smallest shooting guard.
One thing NBA 2K22 gets right is how Paul George fades away when you need him the most — it’s as frustrating to play with PG13 as it is to be one of his fans. He’s definitely a guy to avoid focusing on when building a team; there are much better options in this game to lead your team.
NBA 2K22 on the PlayStation 5 is one of the best-looking sports games I have ever played, hands-down. I love MLB The Show and its presentation, but Visual Concepts runs circles around it with their player models. Most sports games have players with well-constructed faces and lighting, but Visual Concepts takes it further, with realistic sweat and the players’ eyes — those eyes look and react so realistically that I often feel the players are staring right at me through my monitor (probably questioning why I’m unable to use the shot meter correctly to drain open jumpers). In terms of graphics, NBA 2K22 is on a level by itself, and no other sports game this year has come close to it.
NBA 2K22 is easily the most visually impressive sports game on new-gen consoles — to date — and it is stacked with so many fun things to do for both the hardcore and the casual basketball fan. Visual Concepts gives proper reverence to the stars of the past and highlights the young up-and-comers. Sure, the game stumbles in its attempts to create a more realistic on-court experience, but, as with all things, it gets better and easier to play with practice. Stepping away from this franchise has really helped me put NBA 2K into better perspective, and I’ve had more fun with 2K22 than any other NBA game in the last six years or so. If you too have given up on the constant advertising and in-game, real-money grabbing, maybe it’s time to lace up the Jordans and get back out there. You won’t be disappointed.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by 2K Sports.
NBA 2K22 is the best-looking sports game of this generation, but flashy looks and incredibly deep game modes can't mask the on-court issues that plague this year's offering.