Finally! The gameplay has come back to WWE games! Yep, the first thing I’m mentioning here about WWE 2K16, is just how good it feels to play a wrestling game that mimics the ups and downs, twists and turns and amazing character traits/flaws of what was once normally a generic reverse-em-up with a few standout characters in amongst the roster.
Being a fan of wrestling games since way back in the days of NES, no game has managed to fully capture the atmosphere of the WWE. No Mercy for the N64 and Day of Reckoning for the Gamecube have been the closest thing in past years, but even these titans can’t touch what 2K, Visual Concepts and Yuke’s have managed in this year’s release.
All modes aside for now, as you’ll find later that there are a few issues, to not concentrate on the gameplay would truly be a sin.
First of all, the reversal system has been tweaked. It has been updated to stop you spamming R2 every time an opponent reaches for you or you anticipate his fist swinging back, ready to introduce your face to a knuckle sandwich… See, reversals are now limited. Each grappler has his own pool of these handy things, depending on his/her attribute associated with them. Jobbers will usually have around two or three and main eventers, like Seth Rollins and the Undertaker, will have four or five.
Once you run out of reversals, you’ll no longer have the luxury of stopping your rival from giving you a hefty beat-down, adding a measure of balance to the matches you’ll play. You can run, yes, or you can try to hit a full on assault to keep them down while your bar slowly fills up and you feel safe enough to pull off riskier moves, but mostly, you’ll get pummeled into mat-paste, making the match feel organic in a back-and-forth style, rather than an arcade beat ’em up where you can always be sure that you’ll win as long as you’re good at timing reverse moves.
It’s this to-and-fro that makes playing fun. If you watch wrestling, there’s rarely a time when you see a five-minute plus match where one guy beats the absolute crap out of his enemy, then pins for the 1, 2, 3 without any switches. I won’t say that it can’t be done, as you can do it with good effect if you play as a major wrestler vs a lower-card guy… It’s a bit more realistic in that sense too.
What makes it truly outstanding, is the fact that the more experienced or powerful names on the roster have a sort of boss-like quality to them. If you need an example, I fought John Cena in a forty-five minute match using Batista, absolutely obliterating his health bar in about ten minutes. Yet after four spears, three spinebusters, six Batista Bombs and a chair shot in a pear tree… He kicked out every time using either the new resiliency attribute (which gives you a free pin kick out when you have a stored finisher) or just because, well, because he’s John frigging Cena. He hit me with three normal grapples which gave him full momentum, allowing him a signature, which he hit, then bounced me off the mat with an Attitude Adjustment, lay on top of my twitching body and got the win… Now that’s a realistic match, especially where Cena is concerned.
Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Rusev and Kevin Owens to name a few, all have a pretty high chance of beating you, no matter how much you lay the smack down on them. It sounds like it’s unfair, and it is slightly, but it also feels like you’re interacting with a genuine WWE match, rather than just hitting buttons and hoping for the best. Add the crowd chants (which are sometimes hilarious), the new smooth feel to the animation, the more intuitive pin wheel and the addition of a submission system that’s quite a challenge to master in itself, but definitely doable, and you have a winning formula for the ultimate wrestling game.
There’s more, but I’ll come to that when I detail the different modes on offer from MyCareer to Universe.
This year’s Showcase (or story mode) is based on the career of foul-mouthed, beer swilling trailer trash icon, Stone Cold Steve Austin. A man well-known for his feuds with the best in the game, from Bret Hart and The Undertaker to Shawn Michaels and The Rock, just about every match The Rattlesnake fought was a classic. He drove to the ring in pick-ups, a Zamboni and even a beer truck, spraying the contents into the faces of his very own boss, Vince McMahon.
The mode covers all of these instances, giving you the chance to interact in the matches with included cut scenes that are triggered by pulling off the objectives that appear at the top of your screen, such as damage your opponent, hit a Lou Thesz press or grapple your opponent near the announcer’s table. When you do this, you’ll be treated to an in-game movie, showing you what happened in the real match.
It’s more of a history lesson, rather than a challenging collection of bouts, but it’s fun nonetheless to watch Stone Cold stunner his way through a locker room of childhood heroes while aggressively raising the one fingered salute to each and all who stepped into the ring with him. Each match offers you the chance to unlock arenas, era specific wrestlers and other goodies that you can muck around with in other modes. There’s even the chance to play as his victims and unlock even more through a list of challenges that you can play once you’ve finished with the timeline.
I’ll be frank, MyCareer was in its humble beginnings last year and was one of the most god-awful story modes that have ever graced the contents of a WWE game. It felt slow, boring and being stuck in dark matches and training nearly every week was monotonous. It offered little in the way of story and even when it did, it was so badly done that the mode was binned by most players after one playthrough. It honestly made me just want to slap the yellow off Vicki Guerrero and Triple H’s teeth the more I played it.
This year, MyCareer has been tweaked to death, adding all the nuances of the gameplay and AI smarts, while lasting longer and allowing you to build your created wrestler’s personality that sways who you’ll face, who you’ll tag with and how the management treat you in terms of major storylines.
When you begin with a low-level job squad member, created from scratch with the CAW suite, you’ll be under-powered, slow and a bit weak to say the least. Your first bouts will possibly be annoying and sometimes downright rage-quit inducing as Tyler Breeze’s stupid, pouting face sneers even more as you succumb to a three count for the fourth time from the selfie-taking, fish-faced tosser.
See, you’ll accrue points as you play that allow you to level up your lycra-clad grappler, giving you the chance to gain more power, momentum, strength and such that will make you a much more capable fighter… Unfortunately, if you lose, you get a tiny amount of points to spend and you can, in reality, end up jobbing for a good while before you start to get anywhere on the ladder. Once you start winning, things will begin to look up and that climb to the number one contender spot doesn’t look as daunting as it did from the first rung.
Then, you’ll have to fight the champion. Usually, Finn Balor or Kevin Owens, both who seem to suffer from the same sunlight-enhanced powers of Super Cena. I got absolutely pumped raw on my first title rivalry with Owens, beating him in a couple of matches leading up to NXT Arrival, only to reach the main event and play another hour-long match of finisher kick-outs and seriously trying to ‘accidentally’ knock out the ref so I could chair shot his rotund arse to the win… It still didn’t work.
So, I buggered off and got into a more manageable rivalry with an opponent who wouldn’t be as tough to beat, allowing me to gather maximum skill points and making Big Bad Malcolm strong enough to take on the champ again. It finally worked after the effort was put in and this is both a cool feature and a problem.
It’s more realistic to think that you need to work hard for a title shot, especially one that sees you raise it above your head at the end of an event, but seeing as most of your matches will be one on ones in your up-and-comer role in NXT, it’s a bit of a slog. Later on when you go for gold on the bigger shows and special events like Wrestlemania, more match types are introduced and give a bit more variety in what you do.
The best thing about MyCareer is that you can build up rivalries by interfering in your target’s matches. Running out when he’s showboating in the ring or walking down the ramp to deliver a beating that builds your rivalry rating up. After the event, you’ll be interviewed by Renee Young and you can choose whether you want to take part in a month of matches with the guy you just attacked, or move on to other things. These interviews also pop up after matches to influence your personality, whether you’re aggressive, cowardly, prideful or whatever way you want to go. It helps determine whether you’ll be a face or heel and that, in turn, influences who you can choose as a manager or tag team partner.
You can get into some tag action by using the same mechanic as the run-ins, choosing a match from the card to interfere in. If you choose to go in during the match, you can pull off a variety of things that can change the outcome of the match you’re watching from the sidelines. You can cheer when your chosen ally hits a big move to boost their momentum, you can distract both the referee and both competitors to great effect, sometimes changing the entire result of the match. Whoever you back, your ally rating will rise and when it hits the top of the bar, you’ll can tag with him. It’s a brilliant touch that adds variety and again, realism to the game.
The Authority will give you tasks to complete, sometimes stupidly out of reach, like do a barricade OMG moment that you’re miles away from unlocking on your abilities list with those precious SP that trickle in from week to week. The rewards are minimal and despite the additions, I’m still not feeling anywhere near as happy with MyCareer as maybe I should be. Others may disagree, but it’s still hard work rather than an interesting mode with enough to do to cover your fifteen year run to the Hall of Fame.
Luckily, Universe mode is spectacular. It allows you to play around with match cards for weekly shows and events, set up rivalries and fiddle with the rosters. There has been a bit of a to-do on the 2k forums about the inability to have championship matches outside of monthly events and some are not getting cut-scene storylines during rivalries, but in essence, Universe is truly what sets WWE 2K16 above previous year’s efforts.
The knack in getting Universe to work properly, is putting the time and effort in to balance your roster, tweak each wrestler’s alliances and enemies and not mess about too much with the match cards. These things help with building a good foundation for a realistic year of exciting bouts and interesting face-offs. By setting up intelligently, I’ve managed to see storylines develop naturally and often, usually one every rivalry match on RAW and Smackdown.
The addition of the roster’s characteristics, such as aggressive, prideful, desperate and such make each match a little more unique than in previous games too. For instance, play against a desperate wrestler and he may jump out of the ring when you’re giving him a good whupping and about to hit your finisher… He’ll dive under the ring and grab a weapon in order to get disqualified, rather than face the shame of a pinned defeat. Aggressive trunk-jockeys may get frustrated at you giving them a sound thrashing and go total beast-mode, throwing you outside, punching your face into much and slamming you off of every edged surface possible to wear you down. Others may just walk out on the match, leaving you with a count out because they’re a bit cowardly.
I honestly can’t believe how much effort has been put into the AI this year and how much immersion it adds to what was becoming a stale format. If you’re a fan, you’ll lose literally hours playing, just so you can see what nuances change the feel in the next match.
The cut scenes have also been given a bit of shine, with the usual ones like shaking hands with an opponent after a match and turning up after a bout to proclaim he’s going to take your title soon. There’s also the odd run in, before and after matches, sometimes during so they can distract the referee, like I said before with MyCareer’s way of allying you with another wrestler. The better ones see your rivals theme kicking up mid-match and distracting you, giving your opponent time to give you a good clout and turn the tables. There’s a great tag scene that sees you desperately trying to tag your rival partner in, who then jumps off the apron and disappears backstage, leaving you in a handicap match. There’s just so much personality injected into the game this year, that Universe is an amazing sight to behold.
Graphically, the game looks great. The venues, interviews, 120+ roster and presentation are crisp and clear. There are a few weird things however, like the Undertaker’s face from the 98 and 99 models which use the current 50-year-old Taker’s face scan… It’s obscenely off-putting for fans. Ken Shamrock looks as if he’s skipped every other part of the body day to work on his shoulders… Mostly though, everyone else looks like their real-life counterparts with only a few of these wonky models to take away from the visuals.
The sound department is a bit of a mixed bag, with a great eclectic soundtrack for the menu’s that can be tweaked to get rid of anything you don’t like or add any of the 120+ roster theme tunes while you shuffle through the modes looking for your next match. Every wrestler has his own theme with a few disappointments coming with missing era themes such as singular tracks for the members of The Nation of Domination. There’s no D’Lo or Godfather original songs to give to them, leaving them with the NoD theme, even if you split them up.
The announcing is slightly better than usual, but not by much. Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are joined by JBL who delivers his commentary with about as much enthusiasm as a man describing his day watching paint dry. It’s obviously hard to get across the excitement of a virtual match rather than a real one and WWE games suffer from this every year. I have yet to hear about anyone’s educated feet this year, however… Always a bonus.
The worst comes in the choice of voice actor for your MyCareer wrestler… Whether he’s a despicable heel, telling his opponents that he’s going to step over them on the way to the title, or a baby face announcing his undying respect, the lines are delivered in such a whiny, nasal tone that you’d probably rather there was no voiceover at all. Really, you’ll hate your own character by the time you reach your first event. Sadly, without a choice of accent or tone, you’re left with the most bland, badly acted mince that could be served. I’d rather listen to JBL’s flat performance at commentary over this drivel all day, every day.
The best thing you’ll hear while playing is the crowd, the magnificent crowd that apes the best 20,000+ attendance you’ll ever hear on live shows. Repeat moves over and over and they’ll begin a ‘Boring, boring’ chant. Powerbomb Tyler Breeze through a flaming table and you’ll set them off with cries of ‘This is awesome’… Have a great back and forth match with John Cena and in true to life fashion, the crowd will argue with themselves, singing the swing of ‘Let’s go Cena/Cena Sucks’. There are tons of interactions that are triggered by certain wrestlers, moves, taunts and actions and 2K have to be admired for putting so much attention into something that has been horrifically undervalued in wrestling games over the years. You really have to hear it to believe it.
The creation suite has been significantly upgraded this year, featuring the return of Create a Diva, Create an Arena, Create a Championship and with the new Create a Show mode. All have loads of parts to play with to build what you like, some more in-depth than others. The only thing that is glaringly problematic is the Diva creation… I will say this before I go ahead, this is not in any way meant to be sexist.
When I tried to create a Diva (Chyna in this instance), I managed to use the new photo tool to make a pretty true to like face model. Once I hit the body morphing, I ran into a huge problem… Breasts. Yes, I said it. In real life women come in all shapes and sizes and in real life, Chyna is rather well endowed. While trying to shape her chest area, I found that the breasts would go to a decent size, unfortunately, they also go pointy, like Madonna’s famous 90’s costume. It looks bloody awful and therefore, Chyna has lost her place on my roster this year due to not being able to create a body that matches her real form. I understand that games are getting a lot of flak for the alleged sexualisation of females, but again, women have shape and creators should be able to have the freedom to make CADs in the image that is intended.
Create a wrestler is much better, I managed to knock out a better looking Ministry Undertaker model (W.I.P.) than the Oldertaker that Visual Concepts added to the roster this year in less than a couple of hours. It has as many parts as you could wish for, the ability to add your own logos and face photos through the online importer and this year, by mobile phone. You can tweak a face to the point that it actually looks like the person rather than last year’s clone army of CAWs that suffered from same face syndrome… It’s truly amazing despite some glitchy problems with face deformation when you change the skin colour.
Speaking of glitches, there are numerous problems, both graphically and technically. Sometimes, when going for a grapple, you’ll reach through the other wrestler and miss entirely. there’s a spot of clipping, teleporting and weird invisible winning scenes when you use a created alternate attire on one of the existing roster. The forums state that these issues are being looked into and it might not be too long before we see some of them disappear. The good news is, that it doesn’t impact too much on the enjoyment of the game at all.
In fact, to finish this review off nicely, it’s hard not to get totally lost in WWE 2K16, especially if you’re a long time fan. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever get to playing a real life show with the special touches of personality, the crowd, the more careful gameplay and sitting watching your wrestler of choice get whacked around the head by a baseball bat, just because Seth Rollins thought you were too much of a jobber to let you pin him. You may take a week or so trying to work out the intricacies of the submission system, how to beat the big boys in the game and trying to stop Owens running away from a title match, giving you a win but retaining the title, but it is massively worth every minute of stress that the final minutes of a bout brings.
The best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be… Unless they manage to add a 25 years of The Undertaker Showcase next year, fix the CAD’s boob deformation and find some kind of Kryptonite that you can carry in your pocket when you fight Cena. If you’ve ever dreamt of the ultimate in wrestling games, this is the closest you are going to get, a genuine Slobberknocker of a title.
This review is based on a PS4 copy of WWE 2K16 provided by 2K.