Well it's that time of the year again when the latest WWE wrestling game hits the stands. It's been out a little while and we have had time for the dust to settle so we can take a peek under the hood of this year's iteration.
2K have a darned good reputation for their sports sims, giving us NHL2K17 and NBA2K17 every year and when THQ sadly folded some three years ago or so now, it was only logical that 2K would step forward and take over the reins.
The first release under the new management, WWE2K15 showed some promise but it was clear that THQ's system was still being used with a few minor tweaks. This didn't show much promise for 2K16, but they proved us wrong. We had a new grapple system, a modified and refined submission system, and a larger roster.
The graphic presentation was enhanced as well, with some cool lighting effects, textures and it showed that they were on the right track but they still didn't quite hit the bullseye. So fans kept their fingers crossed that 2K17 would take us back to the glory days of THQ's best titles, such as Smackdown VS Raw: Here Comes the Pain. But did they succeed?.....
If it ain't broken, then don't fix it....
First thing I noticed the first time I loaded this game up and played an expedition match, I was impressed that once again the graphic quality had been amped up by quite a few degrees. Gameplay was smoother for the most part (I'll get into more detail in a little while), the sound was sharper, and for most of the roster, rendering of the wrestlers was improved though there are a few that still do not look quite right, but when you have such a big roster to work with, it's understandable that not all of the wrestlers can have the same amount of attention to detail that we think they may deserve.
Like it says above though, if it ain't broken then don't fix it....which brings us too....
Gameplay or getting to grips with the system.
Last year they gave us a new grapple system, described as a kind of paper, rocks, scissors system or wagering if you prefer. Well that's back and it's been tweaked so it works smoother and feels altogether more 'authentic'. It's now possible to string together longer grappling sequences, and the back and forth flow of matches is more authentic.
However they have given us a new button masher system for countering submissions that simply put, does not work for me at all. Thankfully the old system from last year is still there if you want it, and trust me, it works far better than the new system...to an extent. It seems far easier for a.i. players to lock in a submission and no matter how healthy or strong your star is, it seems harder to escape the submission. The balance feels like it needs to be refined a tad.
The paper, rock, scissors, grappling is as said back, and sharper this time around, that's good. The ladder match though has a new mini game. You are presented with a radial display with a 'ball' that you can manipulate with the right stick. You use the ball to break through 'shields' that block the middle of the target like device. Break the walls and hit the centre and bingo, you have secured the briefcase, or contract or title belt.
This is fun and quite intense, but unless I am doing something wrong, you cannot initiate grapples at the top of the ladder, and have those classic battles that we all remember from the past. Why this has apparently been taken away is anyone's guess. It's a shame.
Backstage shenanigans, character building and more!
Yes it's true, the backstage brawl is back! You can play this as an exhibition match or during TV programming in career mode or universal mode. And it's jot just a case of being restricted to one area either, press the action button in front of a door and bingo, you are in a new room, including Vince's office! Weapons can be used such as chairs, trash cans (though in the latter case wielding the weapon seems a little unwieldy) anything else left lying around within reason. Oh look a bookcase, swing the opponent by the arm and Irish Whip him (or her) into the furniture. This is great fun and it's just tempting to play this mode as much as possible!
Every match you participate in, win, lose or draw earns you VC or Virtual Currency that enables you to buy new belts, new stages for PPV settings, new stars and women wrestlers (they are happily no longer called Divas) and the VC also acts like an RPG style XP system where you can increase your wrestlers stats such as endurance, strength etc and can unlock new move sets, appearance items, managers etc.
Making a star has a lot of options, far too many to mention here (and we don't do 'spoilers') even down to the amount of err baby oil a star may have?! You can determine how he/she looks outside of the ring as well as inside but it doesn't end there...
Character building is also applied to your wrestlers alignment and shenanigans with foreign objects, rule breaking in normal matches can swing your character from baby face to heel, and of course obeying the rules swings things the other way around. But that's not all....
Talking the Talk...
Your created star has a chance to determine his fate with what he says in backstage interviews and in universal mode, you can sway the crowd with in ring promo's. You can select the subject matter, such as self promotion, face or heel turn, form a tag team or indeed break it up, call someone out etc. You'll get a time limit during which, you select a response and see what happens in response. Pick the right ones and string together a coherent promo and you'll gain heat or love from the fans whatever way you want to swing it. Ramble and make it incoherent, and you 'lose' but you will gain VC for doing this so it's worth it. Heck you get VC for ALL game modes so go for it!
Online and DLC.
Online play has some new modes and again VC is earned by playing on line. You can play privately with your buddies on X Box live, or take on someone at random from anywhere in the world. You can play a one on one battle, a tag match as you would expect, but there's a new mode, the Streak mode. This thankfully does not mean you have to play butt naked but you face a series of matches against random opponents stringing together as many wins as you can. This is challenging but fun and the real good news is, if your opponent 'rage quits' then you continue to play with the A.I. controlling the opponent, so if you win, in comes the new human opponent.
It's all cool and good fun.
But is it all good in the WWE Universe?
Well here we go, the bottom line is this. It's good, no it's very good but still falls short of being the perfectly polished gem we were hoping for.
Loading times can sometimes be patience testing for one thing and online play can experience some unexpected and unwanted drop outs. Character A.I can sometimes be puzzling and despite a HUGE patch that fixed some glaring errors there are still some what the heck was that moments. Just last night, I watched the ref get stuck running in the ropes and had to stop myself from yelling at another one to get down into position to make the 3 count.
You can fight backstage and even in the crowd, but fighting moves seem limited amongst the crowd. It doesn't always acknowledge that you are trying to hit the finisher in a backstage area, but if you have a high flyer that has a finisher that comes from off the turnbuckle or ropes (such as Finn Balor's Coup-De-Grace) then you may struggle to find the right circumstances to initiate it so be warned if you want to have a backstage fight, otherwise it's all good and works reasonably well.
It has a LARGE roster as it is, with plenty to unlock. As of writing this I have just got the first DLC package that brings us three new stars, Nia Jax, Nakamura and Apollo Crews. But this apparently was an alternate option to the Goldberg pre-order package. So if like me, you got Goldberg
pre-order, you don't get these guys, but if you did get that package, you will have to pay for Goldberg later! These stars are NOT covered by the season pass. Why??
The showcase mode we had the last two years, is for now absent, but will be a future DLC package that will be free if you have the season pass. Add to that the NXT and Legends pack, we shall have a good amount of DLC stuff to come and with the fan created arenas. titles, and stars then we will have plenty to amuse and entertain us.
Engaging game play
Nice visuals, for the most part likenesses have been improved upon from last year.
In game physics are cool, wrestlers show bruises, bleed and now their faces grimace and wince when you land a heavy enough blow.
If you don't like the new game play options, then you can switch back to the 'old school' controls of last year.
Why oh why do we not have the right commentators for the shows? You are stuck with JBL, Cole and Lawler for ALL shows?
Commentary is repetitive and not always accurate. I have heard women being referred to as 'HIM" for pete's sake!
Unexpected and unwelcome drop outs during online play.
A.I is sometimes dodgy, referees not dropping for the three count, running on the spot against the ropes come to mind straight away
Fighting in the crowd needs some tweaking, nice touch but not quite polished enough.
Attacking a wrestler in the prone position is not always as responsive as it could be, we have that old annoying standing wrestler trying to grab thin air or the 'stumble'. No version of this game has as yet been able to eliminate this issue, maybe next years?
It's a very very good game, the best one we have had for some years despite all of the negatives listed above. With some tweaking before release, we would have had a Must Buy on our hands, as it is we have an engaging game that should appeal to wrestling fans and combat game fans alike. Definitely worth a look.
Thanks to X Box for the code.