NBA 2K22 Review: Great Basketball, Rough Package
NBA 2K22 is the best playing title in the series’ long history. Big improvements on defense make a huge difference, and the revamped shot meter is a significant step up from last year’s version. In addition, added depth when it comes to moves like the alley-oop raises the skill ceiling and provides a better experience for long-time players.
The truth for many years has been that what you get out of an NBA 2K games depends entirely on what you’re looking for. The gameplay remains rock-solid, and a wide variety of modes provide a huge variety of experiences. Many of the series’ biggest strengths remain virtually unchanged for years, though, while numerous new additions feel terrible.
Welcome To The City
Let’s start with the biggest addition to NBA 2K22. The City is a sandbox where you create your own character and work to take them to the top. Playing basketball is a big part of this, with streetball, leagues, and a variety of challenges to help you develop your player into an NBA superstar. There’s just as much to do off the court, though. Grow your personal brand, build your style, get into races; this mode is filled with things to do.
Too bad so much of it feels terrible. The city is definitely big, but getting around this huge place is never fun. Your character moves so slowly, and he gets caught on everything. You can hop on a skateboard, or in time a bike, but none of these control well. Moving around the city doesn’t have to be the draw, but it shouldn’t feel this bad when you spend so much time doing it.
That Sweet State Farm Drip
That’s before getting into the nightmare of branding here. Any sports game is going to feature brands. Things like Nike, Adidas, they’re part of the culture for better or worse. So playing on the Mountain Dew court or seeing banners in the background are hardly deal-breakers. Do I really need to sit through lectures on the importance of Gatorade, though? Or hang out with Jake from State Farm? There’s a line, and The City is way over it.
Even if The City isn’t for you, there’s still a wide variety of ways to play. Many players will jump into My Team, where you collect cards, level them up, and build the best team you can. It’s actually a lot of fun, but anyone familiar with FIFA’s Ultimate Team knows the drill here. Trying to go free to play here is awful, with the pace of unlocks horribly balanced. This entire mode is designed to force players to spend real-world money. That’s no big deal in free-to-play games, but when it’s a part of a $70.00 title, I’m a little less inclined to be forgiving. This is really something the development team should consider spinning off into its own free-to-play title.
Play Your Way
Playing online still feels great, though, and you can jump into single matches or a variety of season modes that play well. My online experience was largely positive, with solid connections and smooth gameplay. Offline, there’s always single matches, a playoff experience, or the mode which has kept me busy for twenty years: franchise. This allows you to take over a team or group of teams and lead them through the years.
This mode hasn’t really changed. There are a few minor tweaks like the ability to remove teams from the league instead of just adding them, but they’re minor. Still, it’s so fully loaded that there’s a ton of fun to be had. You can also jump into a single-player WNBA experience now, which is nice, though it’s pretty bare-bones compared to The City. In some ways, though, I didn’t mind this. It focuses on the basketball and removes running around a janky city in slow motion.
Meet Me On The Court
Once you step on the court, everything turns around, though. The team at Visual Concepts has done a fantastic job of building on the game’s already great base. No, like most sports games, this isn’t a huge transition. The little things this year feel bigger than in many others, though. The shot meter introduced last year was solid, but I had some difficulty finding the right timing with it. This year’s version is easy to use and lets you get a great feel for when to release the ball. It does a great job of helping players get a feel for a team full of players.
Even more important, the defense has seen an overhaul this year. Perimeter defense feels a lot better now, with top defenders really being able to put the clamps on someone with a hot hand. It feels awesome to silence a crowd and terrible when you just can’t despite your best efforts. Funneling players to your bigs feels natural, and shot-blocking has taken a huge leap. It feels natural, allowing big men with great shot-blocking ability to put their stamp on the game in a way that has been difficult in recent years.
AI on both ends of the court has improved. Defenders move together, recovering to open players far more smoothly. On offense, off-ball movement is the best I’ve ever seen in an NBA 2K game. Finding open shooters after they cut around your pick and roll put a huge smile on my face.
The perfect shot now leads to a little cinematic, which did a nice job of highlighting the moment without taking me too out of the game. Perhaps these became a bit too common, but it was nice to see a reward of some kind for getting my timing just right. The rest of the game’s presentation is more of a mixed bag, though. It looks great on the court with fantastic player models and strong lighting. You really feel the power of the PS5. With everything else looking so good, though, the developers still not quite getting the eyes right stands out, though.
Perhaps more importantly, the game’s menu system is a mess. Over the last couple of years, Visual Concepts have worked to streamline what had become a deeply dense menu. There are so many options here that presenting them all in the open can feel a bit overwhelming. Now you’re only shown a limited set of options that look great. The problem is that now it’s almost impossible to find certain features. Even something as simple as downloading an online roster I found confusing as so many options are now buried behind layer after layer of menus. Each page looks less cluttered, but now options have to be buried. It looks better, but it’s far less functional.
NBA 2K22 offers the best on-court experience in the history of the series. That’s no small thing for a franchise long known for rock-solid gameplay. The problem is that so much around that experience feels incomplete or messy. NBA 2K22 provides such a wide range of experiences that many players will get what they need from it. The overall package, however, is a lot more uneven.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: 2K; Developer: Visual Concepts; Players: 4 (10 online); Released: September 10th, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $69.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on an NBA 2K22 review copy provided by the publisher.