Review : NBA 2K22 : Swish

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Ahh, another NBA 2K game. The inflection in each person’s voice when they say that phrase can vary wildly, and it is often telling in how they view the franchise. Perhaps it is telling in how they view sports video games in general. It’s another year, and it’s another roster update that we need to pay full price to experience, right? Since sports games come out every year, incremental improvements may feel stagnant to players that are looking to play the newest game, searching for its bells and whistles, but how does NBA 2K22 compare?

NBA 2K was a different sort last year, and that carries over to 2K22. It’s not necessarily due to tons of innovation, though it does have a lot of features that differentiate it from last year’s game, but because it is actually two different games depending on whether you purchase the “current-gen version” for the PS4, Switch, Xbox One, or the PC (which is the current-gen version for some reason), or the “next-gen version,” exclusive to the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. The differences go well beyond the graphics, with modes and features being different or not included between the two.

In order to aid your purchasing decision this year, let me ask you 2 questions. The first question to ask is perhaps the most apparent: which version would you be buying? The follow-up question is: do you own the previous year’s version? In an effort to get you on your way as quickly as possible if this is all you are after, my opinion is this: if you own the previous year’s current-gen version (PS4/Switch/Xbox One/PC), stick with that one over this year’s current-gen version. In all other cases, this year’s game is a worthy purchase. Let’s break down why.

For those out there that may not have played an NBA 2K game before, it is simply the best series of video game basketball, and it has exerted its dominance for over a decade. To me, it is the best sports simulation across each of the sports, and I have played them all. MLB The Show is close, and the other sports games are making moves to close the gap, but NBA 2K reigns supreme.

It is all in the details, and it blows my mind how many little things you’ll notice in every game you play. Both versions have details in spades, such as mascots pumping up the crowd, cheerleaders doing actual dances from the NBA, cheerleaders and crew throwing t-shirts into the crowd, all sorts of crowd entertainment shows during time-outs and between quarters, dynamic emotions displayed from different players at key moments during the game, and so many more that there are blogs set up discussing the “little things” people have noticed in the games. Both versions have more of those little details than any other sports video game (though MLB The Show is insanely close).

What the next-gen version brings, however, is a lot more. During time-outs, the court is inundated with camera workers, people from the media, cheerleaders, dancers, mascots, floor sweepers, and everyone else you would see during an actual NBA broadcast, along with all of the coaches and players. Due to it being built specifically for next-gen, there are a lot more character models moving around in general than found in the current-gen. Audience members will catch wayward balls out of bounds and throw them back in. The crowd is much more dynamic, and it is much improved even from last year’s effort. Along with the improved graphics, next-gen NBA 2K22 will often have you wondering if you’re controlling an actual NBA broadcast.

But then we step onto the court. Across all platforms, NBA 2K22 plays a fantastic game of basketball. There is a caveat, however. A distinct difference can be found comparing the current and next-gen games. Make no mistake, if you’re picking up the current-gen version, you’re getting the best basketball simulation available for your platform. An incredible amount of little details are found on the court as well, and you will be amazed at the authentic play. It is absolutely recommended if you do not have last year’s version. However, even with some defensive and skill-based improvements which will be apparent to those that played last year’s effort, the gameplay and presentation may still seem a bit too similar to those that already own last year’s edition.

For the next-gen version, however, the game steps to the next level. It was already on its way last year since the next-gen version featured much-improved locomotion and AI logic, making for more realistic weight distribution, contested dunks, and the general ability to maneuver around the court without being stuck so much in animations. It succeeded at much of that, but was very much a work in progress. Those that have played a decent amount of that version are in for a treat, however, as the improvements in 2K22 will be felt immediately.

The next-gen version of NBA 2K22 (PS5 and Xbox Series X/S) is the best-playing game of video basketball I have ever experienced. It feels like the game I’ve wanted 2K to be for several years now. The 2K series has always towered as the premiere basketball experience in video games, but there were always certain issues that would creep in. While this year’s version isn’t perfect, it plays like a dream.

Locomotion continues to be improved, and moving around feels much more distinct between the players. Unless you’re playing as Zion Williamson or the like, centers and power forwards will lumber about, with each step being precise and weighted. The smaller and generally much speedier guards will change directions on a dime, and they often come with an arsenal of dribble moves that ensure their speed and agility is put to good use. And then we have the defense.

Finally, we can actually play some defense! This has been a struggle for several years. The CPU always seemed to be able to magically poke balls away or disrupt your passing paths, but it could seem like attempting a steal or block yourself would be a dice roll determining getting a foul, getting nothing at all for your efforts, or actually being successful. Even at high ratings, prior versions could find your hands passing through the ball, having only a small chance at success.

This year, you are rewarded for your defensive efforts. If your hands hit the ball, it will do something to the ball. If you are in position to block a shot when you rise up, and you’re not Muggsy Bogues, you’ll likely smash the shot attempt into the bleachers. It’s much more about playing intelligently this year, relying much more on skill than dice rolls.

If dice rolls are your thing, though, there are plenty of RPG aspects that show up in the game. From skill trees for coaches, general managers, and players, to a bevy of badges (upgradeable perks that offer incredible advantages to players that earn and equip them), including several new ones this year, progressing your players and team is a surprising joy. There are even special powers called “takeovers” that make your character a bit of a superhero once they heat up. The 2K dev team has been working these into the mix for the past few years, and the formula was arguably perfected last season. But NBA 2K22 finds a bit more added to it, and, along with the improved gameplay, the tangible application of your stats, badges, and skill tree choices makes this year’s game feel like the version that the team was striving for.

Should this be the first NBA 2K game you’ve played in a while, or ever, you may be overwhelmed at all there is to see and do in NBA 2K22. If you are remotely interested in the game of basketball, whether an old fogey like me reminiscing about the greatness of the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry, or a newer player arguing whether the Greek Freak is a better player than Kevin Durant, you will find a mode to enjoy in this package.

First off, you may choose PlayNow, a mode that will not only allow you to set up an exhibition contest between any team of your choosing, including a large amount of classic and historic teams, but it also presents the real-life games of the day and includes specific commentary for those teams depending on real-world storylines. You may play these against a friend on the couch, or take your talents online to test them against the world. Should you need to find some talent to begin with, you may go into 2KU which will teach you the ropes. And, finally, you’ll find Blacktop under the PlayNow menu as well, which will allow you to set up some street ball, allowing for 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 hoops taken to the streets.

When you’re ready for some more depth and longevity, MyNBA is the franchise mode, and you may play this in a variety of ways. You may elect to play the playoffs, setting the tourney up exactly as you like it. But the meat of the mode comes with setting up a multi-year franchise exactly your way. You may choose as many features to turn on or off as you like, including things like starting with a fantasy draft, changing the rules of the league, choosing the number of games in each season, changing the effectiveness of trades, specifying the quality of rookies coming to the draft, choosing how the draft works, adding or automating RPG elements, choosing whether you want to concern yourself with ticket, concession, and merchandising prices, choosing whether you want rookies to come with generated storylines to add some drama, and even whether you want your franchise performance graded so you can compare your success among the ranked leaderboards, along with so many other options. Oh, and you can set all of this up for a completely online franchise as well, including as many of your friends and rivals that you wish, with the rest of the unselected teams being handled by the CPU.

When you get the franchise started, you’ll notice it is a truly comprehensive experience. You may partake in as much or as little of the shenanigans off the court as you wish, but there is quite a lot to do for those that wish to fully invest in it. You can talk with your players, staff, and media. Do you want to have the most overpriced burgers in all the land? Crank those prices up and bask in the complaints of your fans! There are emails to read, social media blogs to peruse, skill trees to invest in, stats to compare, promotions to schedule, upcoming draft players to study up on, and countless other things. You can do all of these…or none at all. Just automate everything and enjoy the sport of basketball without any of the drama, if you so desire. It’s up to you!

Getting into your scheduled games is definitely something you’re going to want to hurry and get to, because it is simply brilliant. The presentation packages will have Shaq, Ernie, and Kenny from Inside the NBA introducing some of your games, and they will break down your game with halftime shows that may quickly highlight a few key things, or be incredibly in-depth, going over things like recent trades and their effectiveness, and their picks for player of the month, among many others. You will be greeted to the new season, spooked by ghoulish decals and overlays for Halloween, wished a wonderful Christmas, welcomed to the new year, asked to have a fine St. Patrick’s Day, and other surprises throughout the season, with commentary for each of those occasions along with insightful dialogue going over every aspect and storyline of the season.

Dialog is dished by several crews, as well. There are multiple commentary crews and sideline reporters that will change things up each game. The 2K team also took previous conversations from coaches and players and smartly integrated them into several situations that you may hear throughout the course of your games. Overlays will also appear, providing interesting statistics for the match and the season. One exciting addition to 2K22 is the inclusion of every single team’s PA announcer. Every PA announcer in the league will spout off their signature calls, and it is an insanely immersive detail that is quite a big “little thing.” Joined with all of the other little things and incredible details, the presentation in NBA 2K22’s MyNBA mode is absolutely top notch.

Alongside MyNBA is MyWNBA. The WNBA is included, where you can play as every team and player in their stadiums, and the inclusion is very authentic. Although you may play WNBA games in both versions, the next-gen version goes all out, allowing you to set up a franchise with nearly as much depth as the male counterpart. It includes RPG elements, fantasy drafts, rule changes, a ranked mode should that be your thing, and limited budget options (though you won’t be serving over-priced food in this mode, much to my chagrin). You can also set up exhibition matches online or off, and you may elect to play a playoff tournament as well. Finally, there is “The W,” which allows you to create a rookie WNBA player and build her up through a franchise with combined RPG and story elements.

Endless hours could be spent in MyNBA or MyWNBA, but if you’re ready for something different, perhaps MyTEAM has what you’re looking for. It’s NBA 2K’s trading card mode where you build a team based on the cards you collect, and it is loaded with activities for single player and online competition. It is possible to purchase packs of cards with money, but you are given a surprising amount of rewards through all methods of play in the mode. You can upgrade evolution cards and earn rare cards very quickly, allowing you to have a very good team much faster than similar modes in other games. There is a lot of fun to be had in the mode without needing to spend any money on the packs, but the option is there as well, and the store is constantly refreshed with holiday themes and other sets that you can collect. You may also buy and sell cards with others via the auction house.

If card collecting isn’t your thing, MyCAREER may be more your speed. Did you read the description about “The W” and wish there was a similar mode for the men? MyCAREER is what you’re looking for, and it is the swiss army knife of modes in NBA 2K22. It is simultaneously a story mode with RPG aspects, a career mode, an online playground for exhibition and competitive group-ups, and a sandbox mode filled with all sorts of things to goof off doing.

Like the rest of the game, the current-gen and next-gen versions differ. For current-gen, you will hop aboard a cruise ship filled with activities that will have you exploring the ship and doing all sorts of things to build up your player on their quest to be the best basketball player in the NBA and on the cruise ship. There is plenty to do to progress your career here, however you choose to build it.

Jumping to the next-gen version, though, the world is much more expansive. You create a lowly new character and begin a story adventure in “The City.” You will run around an expansive area picking up quests and engaging in activities, but unlike the current-gen’s version which already has a lot to do, the next-gen version offers so much more. Basketball is not your character’s sole ambition, and you may undertake a music career and dabble in the arts of the fashion industry. Something else that only appears in the next-gen version is the G-League which you can participate in along with college and the NBA over the course of your epic journey. As you progress your player with new skills, badges, and takeovers, you’ll also earn clothing and other cosmetic awards that you can show off during the numerous multiplayer modes.

You can also purchase premium cosmetics and items…along with skill points. This has been a divisive aspect of NBA 2K for the past several years, and it certainly shows up in 2K22’s game. While you progress and upgrade your way to greatness, there will be others that have purchased skill points to help accelerate the process. The game attempts to balance this by locking the total amount you are permitted to skill up until certain milestones have been achieved, but it is possible to purchase some degree of advantage which can definitely be a turn-off to players that want to play it “legit” and earn their way to the top. I personally do not think it takes too long to climb the ranks by yourself, but I’m one of those weirdos that actually enjoys a bit of a grind to progress in games. There are games that have much slower progression systems, but, depending on your tastes, it may still feel like a slog, especially when there will be others that are tipping the scales in their favor via their wallets.

Despite that divisive aspect, there is so much to do in MyCAREER even without seeing another player, so I do not hold the micro-transactions in as negative a light as some. But it is something you must be aware of in that mode, especially if you primarily want to play in online matches through MyCAREER mode. If you can make peace with it, however, it really is an exemplary experience…when it works.

Alas, I have to mention the negatives, and one of the major ones has been the amount of crashes that have happened, especially when trying to play online matches in MyCAREER. At the time of this review, a patch has come out that has alleviated this to to a degree, but some are still experiencing crashes. Future patches should smooth those out, too, but be aware of these issues. Beyond that, there are some strange bugs such as being unable to choose the standard Broadcast camera in some modes, including MyNBA. There is a work around(player lock a position, go to camera and choose broadcast which will now be there, and then turn off player lock), but these things should work out of the gate. Patches, again, will help with these, but it’s a shame these blemishes tarnish what is absolutely 2K’s best game of basketball in their storied history.

Whether it’s your first time ever, or you are coming back after a long hiatus, NBA 2K22 will blow your mind with its quality. Minor quibbles and business decisions do little to quell the on-fire overall package that you get, granting you hundreds of potential hours of incredibly detailed gameplay. It is the best basketball simulation in the industry, and perhaps the best overall sports simulation video game (I certainly think so). No matter what your tastes may be, if you have an inkling of interest in playing a video basketball game, or even a sports game in general, you will find nothing better than NBA 2K22. It continues to set the benchmark for sports simulation with its painstaking authenticity and awe-inspiring little things that you will keep discovering long after the season is over. The 2K team’s passion and love for basketball are apparent in each of the varied and engaging modes, and it is a game you will find yourself going to again and again to experience all it has to offer. And what it offers, more than anything, is pure, emotional, authentic basketball.

Final Verdict : 8.5

     Fun Factor : 9
     Technical Prowess : 8
     Time Investment : N/A
     Replayability : 10

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By Patrick Shields

I love the outdoors as well as the indoors, and when I'm not gaming, writing, or being musical, you can find me outside, climbing trees and getting lost off the road less traveled. It is a known fact that I've been blessed with the greatest kids in the world and an incredible wife who is an awesome nurse and my superhero. I've played games on nearly every system ever made and regularly go back to the classic games that helped raise this fine fellow. When asked which system or computer I prefer, there's only one answer: yes.

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