Luka Doncic is perhaps the finest all-around player in the NBA, capable of scoring, rebounding, and playmaking with the best of them. So it’s fitting that he lands the cover of the NBA 2K franchise in the year that the game delivers one of its finest all-around efforts.

"NBA 2K22" signals a reascension for the finest sports gaming franchise of the last two decades. Last year, the game had strengths, but it had gaps too: Franchise mode wasn’t always stable (I lost several simulations after Year 10), the on-court gameplay had a series of minor frustrations, and several star players didn’t look like, well, themselves. Chalk it up to the first year of next-gen consoles, perhaps, and the challenges of developing in the COVID-19 era.

And with "NBA 2K22," watch as the game evolves. This year’s game pushes NBA 2K back to wear it should be, and overall, feels like a much cleaner, more polished experience. That improvement starts on the court, where subtle adjustments make the game feel more realistic, and far less difficult. It starts with a more robust shot meter that finally gives you the feedback you need to understand why shots make and miss. It’s vertically oriented instead of horizontal, so it takes some getting used to, but once you’ve adapted, shooting feels far more natural and fair in "NBA 2K22."

That’s not to say that it isn’t challenging, because it is. Different situations, shrink and grow the shot meter, even for the finest jump shooters — and one such situation that’s seen hefty attention is fatigue. Now, the effective portion of the shot meter will shrink as player fatigue increases, making even open shots that much harder. Suddenly, there’s legitimate consequence for riding a single NBA star too hard, so you’re forced to manage roster minutes more carefully. In previous years, I might push, say, Steph Curry to play the full game. Now, that can’t be the case; much like the real NBA, you must carefully manage and allocate minutes, and rotations suddenly matter.

Another place of serious adjustment: The blocked shot. New blocking animations and variety make playing defense more fun in "NBA 2K22," and they allow you to challenge shooters in new ways. Coupled with more varied steals animations, offense no longer feels completely overpowered. There’s virtue to playing good steady defense in "NBA 2K22." And it’s fun and rewarding to do that when the end result might be a volleyball swat of a block, or a perfectly timed steal that rolls on the ground until you pick it up seamlessly and float in for a breakaway score.

Coupled with consistently splendid visuals, it’s a recipe for solid on-court play, and that’s bolstered by a strong off-court collection of options. The Franchise mode returns and it’s much the same as it was a year ago, but slight tweaks have been made. To mirror an NBA era that has coaches for use about everything, from shooting to sleeping, "NBA 2K22"′s franchise mode has you hire a full complement of coaches in the offseason.

You can now fill out a scouting lead, domestic and international scouts, and everything from sleep trainers to post shooting and post defense experts. And sure, it can seem a bit dry, but "NBA 2K22" keeps it fun; former players are often available for hire. For a second straight year, you can also hire females to your coaching staff as well. The menus here can be a bit overwhelming; it would be great if "2K22" helped you sort for former players or search for specific coaches more easily.

Another slight blind spot for the Franchise mode: Fake players. Right now, the G-League rosters are filled with fake players, and those players very easily grow in ratings to become factors as your Franchise mode rolls on. Dealing with this can be annoying and ruin the immersion of the mode. Ideally, NBA 2K would roll out a full G-league roster, but in lieu of that, you have the current annoyance. It’s not awful, but boy, is it annoying to gaming purists.

The WNBA also returns for a second season, and this time, 2K gives it the full franchise treatment via MyWNBA, and the package there delivers just about everything in the MyNBA mode. MyWNBA is only available in its full glory on the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, though. Still it’s a wealth of content. (Next move: Let players match WNBA and NBA teams in exhibition matches.)

Add in a host of strong legends teams for a second straight year and the overall package for "NBA 2K22" is a strong one. Tiny missteps aside, it’s the ultimate basketball video game. Fitting, given the guy on the cover.


'NBA 2K22'

4 out of 5 stars 

Available on PlayStation platforms, Xbox platforms, Nintendo Switch 

Reviewed on Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch 

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