When I reviewed NBA 2K21 last year I compared it to ‘The Flu Game’, the infamous match-up between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz in the ‘97 Finals where Michael Jordan put in a game winning, 38 point performance while shaking and sweating profusely, regularly leaving the court to vomit. The sabotaged pizza at the heart of NBA 2K21 was VC, the in-game currency needed in virtually every game mode. On the court, just as Jordan was in the Flu Game, the action was sublime, but it was dragged down everywhere else by this insidious infection. NBA 2K22 is still crammed with monetisation, but the comparison no longer feels apt. It’s no longer anything like the mid-’90s Bulls team; it’s more like the early ‘00s Lakers. It’s good, but it’s soulless and joyless.
The monetisation is worse than ever. On PS5, before you even start the game up, the offer to buy coins is advertised to you. Most frustratingly, coins are too tied to so many modes. In FIFA, the monetisation is similarly predatory, pushing you constantly towards Ultimate Team, the mode NBA 2K’s MyTeam directly riffs on. But at least in FIFA, this is confined to Ultimate Team. In NBA 2K, it goes to both MyTeam and MyPlayer mode, so even though it looks like the game gives you a few coins for free, if you want to experience every mode the game has to its full potential, it’s near impossible without investing money since you’ll need to spend your free coins, and you simply don’t have enough of them for both.
But hey, what else is new? It’s a heavily monetised sports game, so guess what – the microtransactions suck. Last year I was able to enjoy the game nestled amidst all of the vomiting, but now that doesn’t seem so straightforward.
Clearly, the early ‘00s Lakers were a phenomenal team. Like the mid-’90s Bulls, they won the three-peat. But where the Bulls had Rodman’s charisma – and Jordan and Pippen knew exactly how to manage it – the Lakers had a still-immature Bryant constantly sniping at coach Phil Jackson, the very same Phil Jackson that juggled Rodman and Jordan’s egos with ease. In the mix, Shaq had no time for Bryant, despite their fantastic link-up play, and the two superstars on the team were constantly feuding – a far cry from Jordan and Pippen’s closeness. This is what NBA 2K22 is like. It’s good, but it doesn’t make me happy.
Footstep for footstep, NBA 2K is probably the best sports sim on the market. It has the same slick pacing as FIFA, but with more realism. Added post controls this year give you additional individuality, though FIFA still has it beat for flair and unique movements, NBA 2K is much tighter in one-on-one scenarios and when it comes to shot precision. No other sports games come close. Sorry, Cricket 19.
The problem is FIFA makes you feel like you’re playing the game, while NBA 2K makes you feel like you’re watching it. Every dunk, block, pass, and steal is sponsored. You can’t make a substitution without the game reminding you to buy Gatorade. The game constantly stops for cheerleaders, courtside reporters, and yet more advertisements. Off the court, it’s even worse.
You’ve probably seen Jake from State Farm in MyPlayer mode, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can wander around the shopping district, where brands such as Adidas, New Balance, and – yes! – State Farm can all be advertised to you. In this game that you’ve paid $70 for and are constantly being asked to pump more money into to buy virtual cards, you are free to wander around a fake city and browse through an endless array of adverts. I say wander, but you can also skateboard if you’d prefer. Seeing as this is a basketball game though, while skating is faster, it’s also naff. It gives you a faster way to experience all of these garish advertisements I suppose.
MyPlayer mode is where you take a young nobody from nowhere all the way to the NBA. For some baffling reason though, the game does all it can to keep you off the court. You can make a fire mixtape with sick bars about SpongeBob if you’d like, all while raising your online profile. You play as an influencer you see, and like Jordan in the Flu Game, that’s a concept that made me quickly sprint to safety before vomiting everywhere.
Look, influencers, I get it. My job is writing what I think about toys all day. None of us have parents who think this is a real job. You chase that bag, make that money, Tik those Toks. But it’s not Influencer 2K22, and I just want to play some basketball. When NBA 2K22 lets me, it’s great – but it’s far too interested in making me do something else while trying to sell me things that have nothing to do with the sport.
NBA 2K22 is an almost impossible game to rate, because it’s a damn good basketball game at its core. The biggest problem is how it tries to be anything but a basketball game, and while that doesn’t damage the overall quality on the court, it makes it hard to root for it. It’s the ‘03 Lakers, and I hate the ‘03 Lakers.
Score: 3/5. A PS5 code was provided by the publisher.
PETA is campaigning for its chicken mascot Not A Nugget to be added to Smash Ultimate.
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