NBA 2K22 offers your star good role-playing as well as great gaming action

Football or baseball, Formula 1 or soccer, you can count on me to be a nice guy. That’s how I’d rather see myself, after all. In the RPG choices offered by franchises like MLB The Show, or in the narratives of Madden NFL’s Longshot or FIFA’s The Journey, I’ve always taken the high road. My friend Samit Sarkar played NHL 21revamped the Be a Pro career and found its limited story arcs — selfish superstar or stand-up team leader — to be no choice at all.

Return it to NBA 2K22 however – his MyCareer mode makes being a rich, self-centered jerk viable. It makes it realistic. And the developers at Visual Concepts and the actors in these scenes make it fun.

My first week in the league, I found myself caught between the general manager who drafted me and the coach who didn’t want me; chose a passive-aggressive social media fight over my playing time; recorded a diss track about rapper The Game; got chewed out by my old college coach; and gave an explosive interview in which I said I was thinking of a trade just 10 games into my rookie year.

I hadn’t actually considered demanding a trade, but the mischief that happened in my first week — with a side of Kendrick Perkins’ criticism of my conduct — made me rightfully believe that my situation with the Detroit Pistons was beyond repair. When the rest of my teammates played like smoking garbage in a 40-point loss to Brooklyn — and MyCareer is known for making up horrible plays for narrative effect — that was it. I plotted all the way to the Sacramento Kings. This is where I felt my player was best suited from the start, but because I performed so well in the pre-draft portion of MyCareer (which is played on the lowest difficulty), I was drafted No. 1 by Detroit.

Former NBA center Kendrick Perkins blasts you almost immediately and really doesn’t care what decision you make. NBA 2K22is MyCareer.

It’s not that the single-player career modes in other sports titles don’t offer ways to act or act entirely in your own interests. They’re just a lot more bland about it, and what’s more, their very limited story arcs just don’t present any incentive to make such disruptive choices. Madden NFL 22The backstory of “Face of the Franchise” is, if possible, even thinner than last year’s worn and holey configuration. The player character never develops a personality, as either/or dialogue choices all seem to result in the same team buff or player benefit.

MLB The Show 21‘s Road to the Show dropped the perk tree of its two predecessors, and with it the game lost all of its dialogue interactions. In the past, answering questions based on a personality type (“Maverick”, for example, or “Heart & Soul”) progressed the player to certain boosts and unlocks, improving and evolving the character. But even then, any beefy start with rival teams was very innocuous, even good-natured.

At one point Codemasters’ F1 series career sequel experimented with giving your driver an attitude, giving players the choice of answering questions from the press as either a “Showman” or a “Sportsman”. Racing teams were supposed to have a preference for one or the other, and you had to respect that to get a new contract or keep your current one. It never was, because winning trumps everything. In F1 2021, the post-race press conferences were well constructed, in that sometimes you get offended by a question whose answer will harm a relationship or someone’s morale. But that doesn’t do much to establish an emerging personality in your driver.

As inconsistent as the efforts are, these are the three series that do the most to give fans a role-playing component to go along with their gaming action. And yet, they’re all light years behind. NBA 2K22. I would say the aura of superstardom around NBA players in particular – a league with smaller rosters and bigger contracts creates even bigger celebrities, it seems – means that Visual Concepts and 2K Sports have to take extra steps to create the sense of off-the-court diving. And they do, although some of those inclusions can be a bit nasty.

“What the hell are you doing in my apartment, Jake from State Farm?!”
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports via Polygon

a lot has been done of NBA 2K22that’s pretty rude product placement and obnoxious and unremitting pressure on players to spend extra money, especially within MyCareer. Both are, in no uncertain terms, disrespectful to the game’s long-time player base, as well as to anyone who paid $70 (or more) for the base game.

But at least MyCareer, which in NBA 2K21 adds MMO-like quests and dozens of off-field objectives, also makes me feel like I’m exploiting a system in there that’s out to exploit me – much like the big business of pro sports. Moreover, it gives me the feeling that acting in my own interest is understandable and acceptable, even encouraged.

The player character in MyCareer constantly scrolls through a fake Twitter feed (whose authentic tone, again, is above other series’ attempts) and will find stans pleading their side in as much controversy as they see coming- grandfathers off my lawn like Perkins berating them not to shut up and be grateful. You have a personal manager, as well as your choice of two agencies to represent you, and all of them made my hit “Social Samurai” as I wiggled for more playing time sound like good business sense.

2K Sports gets away with the microtransaction hustle and in-game advertising of MyCareer – barely – because it’s committed to strong role-playing and lifestyle elements. The game’s publisher has been getting its hands on players’ cookie jars every year since 2014, but those players have always returned. I doubt they would if the solo career success story was as safe and as tasteless as Madden NFL 22The face of the franchise. I know that I would not tolerate being expected to conduct myself with joy and respect at all times in the materialistic and transactional society of the central city of MyCareer.

And it was pretty damn cathartic, heading into that pivotal game against the Nets, to vent my frustration on interviewer Candace Green and watch my fans grow and my personal “brand” skyrocket in just about every metric. In other sports video games, the first vituperation usually gives you a passive-aggressive suggestion that players aren’t supposed to behave that way.

I have come to expect it; Sports video games are big public relations for the leagues that license them, and developers usually want to present them and their athletes in the best possible light. Thankfully, it seems the NBA and 2K Sports have a trusting enough relationship where the natural conflicts and matchups of professional sports can be authentically presented and resolved. The result is a career where I feel like I’m part of the action, not a bullied target.