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NBA 2K22

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'NBA 2K22'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 30, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

NBA 2K22 is the next installment of the premier NBA video game basketball simulation series.

Buy NBA 2K22

My created player in NBA 2K22 is strutting down a runway in the middle of the city, getting eyeballs affixed to his choice of glitzy sports jacket, suit pants and the Js on his feet. I can pick how he wants to turn, pose and otherwise sashay for the crowd in an effort to build up the fashion aspect of his personal brand. He can check his phone to see the reaction from my followers. After this, he can get into the recording studio to lay down a debut rap track (I can pick what he says), then perhaps help him promote an up-and-coming rapper who he hopes to eventually sign to his yet-to-be established record label.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, basketball is played.

This is where I find myself every day with the latest next-gen interaction of 2K's basketball franchise, which is still one of the best forms of video game hoops (the others being the past few versions), but has turned its career mode into a strange RPG hybrid that reflects — depending who you ask and how old you are — the pinnacle of youthful social media fantasy or a chance to become a creature of fame you'll be annoyed you created.

The bulk of my 2K22 experience was spent in MyCareer, where I guide my created hooper through his rise into the ranks of the NBA and beyond. I like MyCareer because it's an avenue for players like myself who don't necessarily want to hop online and play with others all the time, and there's a concerted effort to build some kind of dramatic narrative with some famous faces attached. Last season's version put you in the shoes of a football-playing kid named Junior whose dad was a local basketball legend. The kid makes the switch to hoops in high school, plays through college, and then embarks on a journey to the NBA while he has flashbacks of playing ball and talking to his dad, who passed away. Sure, a little hokey, but it was earnest and salt-of-the-earth enough for me to connect.

That is not the case with MP, the hero of 2K22, whose backstory is as a talented and extremely popular teenage YouTube basketball influencer who not only wants to make the NBA but also become a music mogul and fashion icon. Ambitious. It's not that I think this is impossible — LeBron was on magazine covers as a teenager, Zion had a legion of Instagram followers before he stepped onto the court at Duke, Dame is actually an excellent rapper and Russell Westbrook has walked actual fashion runways — but it's a lot to do at the same time — or, as the kids might say, extra. Actually, they might say, "nah, he tweakin'," but we're coming off the rails a bit here, which is really easy to do once you see the amount of things MP can do once he tackles the expanded, next-gen version of The City and its take on open-world role-playing.

In addition to progressing through games or situations to get through your hoops career, NBA 2K22 breaks down every aspect of MP's professional life by breaking them down into "quests" that fall under categories like "career" and "personal brand" or "city quests." Everything your character does can add or subtract points to facets of MP's personal brand, which is also broken down into several categories like "free spirit" or "corporate" or "solo/team player" or bigger things like "music" or "fashion." Give a glitzy, candid answer during a press conference? You get points toward "flashy" or "free spirit." Answer some music trivia questions from the snob who runs the local record store? Boom, here are some points for the music category. Walk down a runway? You know what happens. The more you do these quests, the more MP's various facets level up and open up other opportunities, such as endorsements or gear.

Many of these quests feel like a collection of superficial distractions that range from intriguing to outright silly and ridiculous with some pretty outrageous product placement. One quest had me meet Jake from State Farm (and it is Jake from State Farm), so he could talk to me about being a good neighbor and also pointing me to an actual State Farm store, where I could get actual State Farm gear to put on my created player. And I did it! I even got fashion points for walking down the damn runway in my State Farm hoodie. I've played hundreds of hours in RPGs and bartered with many magical merchants, but this is the first time where I feel like I actually sold my soul.

Some quests are rabbit holes that also look like they took some effort to dig. During the Eastern Conference Finals, I did a series of music-related quests that led to an actual rap beef with The Game, who is actually in the game long enough to either want to work with MP or annoy him enough with menial and unusual requests to the point where MP has the option to lay down a diss track. All through this, I'm asking, "How the hell did we get here? This is my fault! I just really want to play ball." You can just play ball, if you truly want to ignore a large part of MP's narrative framework, distracting as it may be. Perhaps you can squeeze in a meeting with a designer to talk about your look (or "lewk," if you prefer). Basketball, but make it fashion.

Take away the outside stuff, and you're left with things that have to do with actual hoops, where some of the story and gameplay elements caught my attention more, but also got clouded in real-life sports tropes that occasionally didn't fit with what I was actually doing on the court. When presented with a choice, your version of MP can choose to go to college, declare straight for the draft, or try to sign up for the G League. I've done the college and G League route, and I found the G league route to be a little more entertaining than college because I got to avoid the college chants — and floor spacing and awful AI teammates. I played well enough to be projected very high in the NBA draft, and I got to hear compelling pitches from two agencies, both run by badass ladies: one an established monolith that specializes in sports, the other an outside-the-box entertainment firm with a growing sports division, a la Roc Nation. I picked my agent, got picked high in the draft, and off I went.

There are goals and milestones during the course of your career, but in NBA 2K22, you're already at a disadvantage when you run into a pair of old sports adages: The Coach Who Didn't Really Want You and the Hot Take Analyst/Hater. The first one almost makes sense, as general manager/coach disagreements happen all the time, but during one of my paths, my player was picked first overall, but my playing time still suffered. If someone's supposed to be a top-tier generational talent, they play — especially if they're the No. 1 overall pick. I can't see a coach being like, "Nah, I want my way," and sitting a guy just to prove a point. I was intrigued by the awareness of the player empowerment era reflected in my potential choices, which was either be the good soldier and play my way into the lineup, go over the coach's head and hit up the GM, or go scorched earth on social media and create outcry from the public over my lack of playing time. I thought it was a fun way to challenge my sensibilities. I went with the first option and navigated several postgame media minefields along the way.

As for the "hot take" stuff, I understand its existence in the game, but it also felt forced. Actual NBA on-air personality Kendrick Perkins (who I find entertaining and quite cool in real life) relishes the role of constant critic, but he's definitely on a storytelling rail here, no matter what you do. For instance, my rookie heading into the All-Star break was leading the league in scoring and 3-point-shooting percentage and actually started in the All-Star game as a rookie. No other rookies were present. Later on during the season, one of my tasks is to watch a Perk video, where he bellows that MP "hasn't separated himself in the Rookie of the Year race!!!!" Let's review: league-leading scorer, All-Star Game starter, dragging a truly sorry team into the playoffs and dark horse MVP candidate. I don't think even real-life Perk would hate that.

I haven't talked too much about the actual basketball, mainly because it's still good and has added a bag of goodies ranging from animations to some new AI behaviors. It feels faster, and I felt like I had to make my decisions and movements a lot more quickly. I also had to alter the way I set up scoring opportunities in the past, as blowing by defenders is a little more difficult, especially with a still-developing player. Even at the lowest setting, this is no longer a game for the casual person to pick up and start shooting around. The controls are intricate, and I feel like you need a basic understanding of NBA offense to give yourself a reasonable chance to score. My created player was a shooting guard in the mold of someone like Devin Booker of the Suns, and I had to learn counters to how opposing teams defended the pick-and-roll each time, along with utilizing a variety of screens and quick plays to spring myself for good looks or to take advantage of passing lanes that opened up when defenders rotated to help. If your general play standard of video game basketball is running down the court and trying to dunk on people or shoot a bunch of open threes, you will not succeed often. That's a little disheartening for casual fans who might want to try a basketball game, only to face a schematic mountain.

My biggest issue with this game is the biggest issue a lot of people have had with the series for years: the utter inevitability and dependence on microtransactions and VC, the virtual currency this franchise uses for people to "buy" things for their created players, be it clothes or actual skill sets. If you want more, you can earn it through playing or use real money to buy chunks of it.

From a MyPlayer/MyCareer standpoint on a casual accessibility level, you have no choice but to use it if you want to upgrade your created player to a passable plane of hardwood existence where he's not blowing layups, getting picked to death or generally getting destroyed. You'd have to grind or, if the frustration builds, pay up to build your character faster. You get 100,000 VC to start with, so with some skill and some sensible rationing of upgrade points and time, you won't be completely hopeless. Where I worry is with people who'll be tempted to keep spending just to get to the next level, along with collecting digital Jordan or clothes or whatever — and almost can't stop. That's dark territory, and I'm sure other people have addressed it. It just feels gross, and it's not a price one should be tempted to pay to access what's already a vast and otherwise captivating world of all things basketball, even though The City and some of the quests can be quite buggy.

NBA 2K22 is generally a beautiful representation of next-generation console hoops, but it's a little disturbing that many of the newest things I noticed didn't have a whole lot to do with basketball. The on-court product is good, but it's not perfect. Basketball is still my favorite sport to watch, and I love the game, so I'll keep playing, but I can probably put the music and fashion career on hold — and I don't need to spend any more money.

Score: 6.8/10

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