This review is based on the next-gen (Xbox Series X, Series S) version of NBA 2K22.

With 2021/22’s NBA season not too far away from tipping off, a brand-new edition of NBA 2K makes its way onto next-gen consoles just in time to give b-ball fans a wealth of slam-dunking sports action to get stuck into. This time around developer Visual Concepts has brought in some neat changes to shooting and defence, added tons of new animations, improved upon last year's rather controversial shot meter and introduced a new fatigue system that'll see you need to play that little bit more strategically during matches. If you're an NBA 2K fan there's certainly plenty here to enjoy and it all looks, sounds and plays better than ever.

Considering that it’s pretty much the same core contingent of modes on offer in this 2022 update, long-term fans of the franchise will know what to expect for the most part when jumping in here. MyCareer, MyTeam, Blacktop, the WNBA, MyLeague and a bevvy of online options all make a return with a few extra bells and whistles, and although the career mode has been given a shake up, it's pretty much business as usual outside of the cool new City area that’s been added to MyCareer on next-gen consoles.

For us though, it’s mostly the important tweaks that have been made to the core gameplay in NBA 2K22 that give things the biggest lift here, making for a better game of basketball than we saw in last year's effort once you hit the court. Defending feels much improved and noticeably more aggressive, getting your blocks and steals in and covering the hoop from the opposition's attacks feels more satisfyingly impactful and AI defenders do a much better job overall of covering your players so you don't slip into a rhythm of making the same shots time after time.

The shot meter has reverted back to something more akin to its usual form too and you can choose whether to make your shots via timed presses of the Y button or by flicking the right stick. It's taken us a little bit of learning to get the slightly altered timings down on our shots - we've been missing a ton of wide open three-pointers - but the way in which the shot meter is now tied to Shot IQ, positioning and fatigue, makes for a much more satisfying feeling game of basketball.

Indeed, you'll really need to factor fatigue into how you go about your business at all times as a using a tired player makes it much harder to post well-placed shots, you'll want to consider who you've got on the bench, as well as slowing the overall pace of your game right down, taking your time and not just holding in the sprint button as you move around the court. It just feels more considered and engaging overall.

All of these new gameplay elements make for a much smoother, slicker on court experience on next-gen and it’s one that looks better and loads in and out of modes faster than ever before. There are lots of noticeable improvements in animations and player models and, although stadium crowds could still do with a little work, this really does feel like a true next-gen 2K offering.

Off the court, as we mentioned, most modes are business as usual this year, with MyTeam especially giving us some serious deja-vu as we loaded into its menus to find a game setup that looks virtually unchanged from what came last year. There have, however, been online drafts added to the mix - something fans have been asking for over the years - as well as one new way to play online tucked away in MyTeam's menus. "The 100" gives you 100 points and challenges you to prove how good your defence is against other players, those points getting whittled down for every basket scored against you in matches. You'll get bigger prizes the longer you can keep your stash of points at a high level, and then get busted back down to the bottom tier of in-game goodies once you're all out.

As far as MyCareer goes, it definitely feels a bit more disappointing this time around in terms of its actual story with lots of cheesy dialogue and scripting that, to be honest, we're more than a little bored with at this stage. We just never felt any real connection with MP, the social media sensation turned Basketball pro who we get to control here, and we reckon the narrative elements of this mode could do with a real shake-up going forward.

However, things aren't all bad with MyCareer as it’s had a pretty massive restructuring for NBA 2K22 that implements a huge new City open world area that’s now tied directly into goings-on during the narrative portion of the game. It may be a little clunky during transitions between indoor and outdoor areas, and there’s far too much running around to be done when picking up quests and the like, but this is still an impressive first outing for a revamped mode that gives players tons of minigames, customisation, multiplayer options and fashion/music elements to sink their teeth into. We’re still not entirely sold on MyCareer overall, but this new structure feels as though it could be something to look forward to as it becomes more polished over the next couple of years.

All in all then, even with a lack of really big new features for most modes, NBA 2K22 definitely continues to deliver a ton of slick basketball action for fans to get stuck into, the core gameplay on the court is noticeably improved over last year and that new City area is a decent amount of fun to muck around with. It may still reek of microtransaction shenanigans and some modes – most especially Blacktop - are long overdue overhauls, but there's no denying NBA 2K22 is a top-notch entry in the franchise that gets it right where it really counts. This is the best the series has played in years once you hit the court, it looks and sounds fantastic, and feels like a proper next-gen effort that’s gonna keep us well and truly busy until next year’s version inevitably rolls around.

Conclusion

NBA 2K22 is an excellent next-gen addition to the franchise on Xbox Series X, delivering revamped gameplay that feels better than ever before on the court, smoother transitions between modes and all manner of graphical bells and whistles to boot. My Career's new City area has been well implemented and could well be a huge timesink for those who are into that mode and, although there's no other major changes to speak of, what's here is undoubtedly still the slickest basketball ticket in town right now.