Published on September 13th, 2021 | by Paul Stuart
NBA 2K22 PS5 Review
Summary: Much improved over 2K21 and the best 2K in ages, NBA 2K22 is a strongest game still bogged down by legacy virtual currency and gameplay challenges.
The sad irony of NBA 2K22 (2K22) is that it now blatantly obvious how a possibly great game over-reliant on micro-transactions to achieve its true potential.
For the PS5 player, 2K21 was decent…but flawed. An arguable visual upgrade from last gen at best, it offered little elsewhere over PS4 brethren beyond quicker load times and improved textures. 2K22 improves on literally every aspect of 2K21, but strangely defaults to virtual currency to truly maximize the game. Meaning, unless you’re in on the Anniversary Edition and/or willing to invest heavily in virtual currency…it’s gonna’ be a bumpy ride in key modes.
Let’s start with the good stuff, and there are oodles of it. Visually, the game presents so much more consistently than 2K21. No more blockiness or irritating glitches…and the dynamic sweat system is so cool. Also love the wonderful lighting effects, jersey textures, starting lineup intro’s (and accompanying fans holding lights), clearer in game-menus, massively improved halftime show, also amazing player models. Audio is likewise stellar, with real-life public-address announcers for each stadium (making immersion incredible!), great interview segments, best soundtrack to date, enhanced commentary, and no more annoying ambient music overload. Having multiplayer mics integrated into the DualSense is great. This is a truly gorgeous presentation on the PS5, and dramatically upgraded from the science experiment feel of 2K21.
Gameplay also improves across the board. Gone are the cheese pick-and-rolls, where computer AI exploits its own counter AI for wide open give-and-go’s en masse. Players now auto rotate to provide help side d, and there’s finally loose ball deflections and accurate possession decisions by referees. Paul Westphal-esque run and gun to the end will get you blown out fast; you’ve been warned!
The new shot meter factoring in defensive dynamics is great. Perhaps the most significant gameplay improvement in 2K history, it now reduces the available shot make window based on defensive presence. Yes, you can hit very difficult shots with star players (sporting bigger windows), but it won’t be easy. Moreover, the new shot meter punishes for blind bravado, and produces short shots and air balls (indicated by a red meter) when your third string shooting guard believes himself Dame. (Note: there’s a current visual glitch on semi-panoramic cutaways when making perfect shots, where only 2/3 of the player is visible.)
The struggles? Dribbling is still right stick spam heavy, AI defenders too sticky on switches, and the mid-range and triple threat games non-existent. Specifically – and while the player sliding of 2K21 almost gone – it’s way too difficult to create space as a dribbler, likewise prevent ball handlers from turning the corner on D. Superstars can compensate (hesitation dribbles and sprint corner turns/covers), but expect lots of frustration with anything short of all-NBA players. This means the mid-range game is almost dead except by perfect screens and like release points. Spectacular drives are sadly similarly rare, mainly the product of incidental contact which open up driving lanes. In contrast, AI and/or over-empowered human opponents can easily turn corners to the hoop. And they do it ALL THE TIME.
But…this all goes out the window when operating as Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, for instance, who – being so ridiculously leveled up – can do what almost every other player can’t. Sadly, the same can’t be said of reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, bedeviled by sticky AI defense and teammates who don’t automatically rotate to maximize his point forward status. Forget about his patented floaters as well…even via the shot stick. Denver becomes a catch and shoot team when it should be one heavily reliant on motion, ball screens and strong drives to the hoop. The same can be said about other upper echelon squads that don’t default to endless 3 pointers. Triple threat is also impossible to skillfully execute, as there’s never any space to fade back, around or truly Euro-step. Luka Doncic is disappointing. Amazingly, however, these are all significantly better done than in 2K21…which felt like wading through molasses.
Game modes are likewise significantly upgraded…but also with catches. The City – exclusive to next-gen – upgrades a formerly robotic MyCareer mode into one that literally changes by the day. Instead of a scripted pathway to the NBA (and accompanying eye rolling cheesy scripts), The City features oodles of gameplay options to advance storylines and/or improve player traits/unlockables by wandering into game/story/purchase selections all seamlessly intertwined…and across different neighborhoods. I absolutely adore this upgrade decision, as it now an open world/environment experience that could easily serve as the sole reason to play the game. Having timed seasons on top of it…even better. Most players will likely default to this mode, as well they should. I did encounter an annoying bug where a needed NPC (to advance early story lines) wasn’t able to be interacted with. I am confident, however, this will be quickly patched.
Every other 2K22 mode is an upgrade over prior. MyTeam features significantly more diverse veteran player cards from opening packs (loved the choices this time around), also the option to ‘send’ them in for grading for even more unique upgrades. (As a sport card collector myself, this makes me giddy!) Ditto a long overdue draft option. Again, with a catch.
The catch? To succeed at The City and MyTeam requires endless virtual currency (VC). While default created players begin with more skills versus 2K21 to truly compete online – as in, make a basic jumpshot – to be worth a damn requires oodles of expended VC to make it a non-frustrating experience. The alternative is to play as Billy Hoyle, endlessly scrapping for rebounds, setting picks, and watching those smart enough to purchase said VC’s blowing past you with significantly upgraded skills. Zero fun to be had.
The same can be said about MyTeam’s challenges, where default player packs are abysmal and the mode way too hard to score any victory without upgrade help. You will lose otherwise and often. This is a sharp contrast to NBA Live’s versions of challenges, where hard, smartly fought contests can produce victories against even highest rated AI players. As challenges where the best unlocks emerge, this no small point.
Digging deeper, I liked the extended focus on WNBA mode, to include its unique MyCareer option. It’s clear 2K spent some time making this mode shine…to include commentary that knows this league and its players well. Franchise mode get slight boosts as well.
What got old quick was almost 10 minutes of uninterrupted commentary about NBA social justice movements. I respect and understand the W/NBA commitment to this movement, but it would’ve been better served interspersed than en masse. Also, generic commentary tends to weirdly cut out for periods and for no reason. Last, commentators will refer to players as those ‘off the bench’ to include those in starting lineups. Once more, this can be patched.
Balancing all of the above, NBA 2K22 is easily the best current next-gen sport title available. It is gorgeous audio and visually, and significantly better to play than on last gen. This latter point became known when I was accidentally given a PS4 review code in tandem, and was able to compare the two versions. Gameplay was so different as to be jaw dropping. Presentation discrepancies even more dramatic. Last gen is last year redux.
Despite all of its gains…and perhaps I’m being over-critical…but NBA 2K22 remains a gorgeous but ultimately non-fun experience unless for those who spend lot of money on VC. Yes, you can grind, but this alternative would take dozens of hours and hundreds of painful losses online/offline. Also, the solid improvements to the shot meter, off ball defense and overall AI cannot overcome the lack of on-ball spacing, right stick spamming requirements, and/or omnipresent sensation of being stuck to a defender indefinitely.
Still and unlike previous years, while the payola will dominate online heavy modes, I remain confident most of the current gameplay shortcomings will get hammered out via patches. This is the best 2K game at launch in seemingly forever, and it’s clear serious work went into getting this right. Akin to Madden, NHL, etc., I long for some competition to keep them honest.