Here we go, it's that time of year when EA and 2K release their annual sports sequels, ranging from NHL, NBA and with this their annual WWE wrestling game. They took the licence over when sadly, THQ collapsed and closed their doors for good.

Their first attempt just finished off where THQ had left it and as such, well it's charitable to say that that title was a tad patchy to say the least. Then came WWE 2K16 and we saw a positive step forward but it still needed work.  Then with 2K17 we got what was a bigger step in the right direction but still not quite there, it gave us WWE and WWE video game fans, though good vibes for this years....

The lights are bright, we step through the curtains...

And find that we have had a major upgrade to the graphics. Lighting and stage effects and pyro are the first thing that strike you. Clothing textures are sharp and for the most part, even the characters hair looks more realistic, lacking that cardboard stiffness when it comes to those with flowing locks.

Music is sharper, and the sound has had more than a cosmetic tweak. Impacts of blows sound genuinely meaty and our stars faces react to blows with winces and grimaces, and bodies show the scars of battles with bruises appearing, and when it happens, the sauce flows realistically. It did in the previous years too, but this time it looks better.

So it looks great...

So what else do we get?  Let's break it down shall we?

Career.

Creating a new superstar is the first step here. Customisation options are shall we say, numerous. From height, weight, skin tones, musculature and battle scars to the outfits. 

The tutorial sees you stepping into the WWE performance centre, where the trainer Matt Bloom shows you the ahem, ropes.

You will learn the new countering gimmicks and submission hold/escape mechanics. I personally chose to use last years to be honest as I am not a fan of general bashing buttons like a maniac, but the final choice of course, is yours.

There's a new lifting mechanic that takes some getting used too, and with it a new countering mini game. Get hoisted up on someone's shoulder and mash the B button (more button mashing, shame) to counter the lift, land behind and either escape or counter attack.

From here you are in NXT and then...well this section seems very short in duration and it's not long before you find yourself either on Raw or Smackdown and depending on the way your storyline branches, you'll gain friends, enemies and either the praise or the ire of your bosses.

How you go is your call, stay fan friendly (face) or become a villain (heel) your call. You can TRY and walk a thin line between the two but that's tricky but then again, that could be the career modes ultimate challenge.

Universe Mode

Universe mode is where you'll see the simulation of the TV shows with the exception of 205 live (a show that focuses on the cruiserweight division), this is a good way of earning in game currency (more of this to come) for the guy you have created for career mode, which is cool.

And yes, you can create a guy or woman, for Universe mode and that's all fine and dandy BUT and this for me is a BIG but you cannot import your character from career mode or vice versa. But why?

It makes no sense too me at all. I had created a guy for Universe and one for career with the intention of importing both ways and creating two halves of the same tag team but no, that sadly is not possible.

But it's in Universe mode that you can edit the rosters, change the sets, create a new brand entirely or wipe the slate clean and rebuild the WWE as YOU would want to see it. Want to rename PPV's? Go ahead, knock yourself out.

Design new ones? Again knock yourself out or you can even rebrand the WWE as Ring of Honour or Impact Wrestling! 

Download other folks creations too, in the shape of men, women, alternate arena's, belts etc etc, the world is your oyster.

And if you look at the shows roster, examine the stars stats and you'll see that they have their own objectives they want to achieve. Help them and the boosts they grant you, will aid your characters progress in the ways of bonus Virtual Currency etc. So there's a game within the game and we haven't even touched upon online play...

Online

Online has the usual player vs player modes but there are also PPV themed online events. Completing these events again grant special bonuses and extra gear and stage props and perhaps new stars? (Not at the moment but it's hinted at that that is the way it will go)

These themed events play smoothly, much smoother than last years version and the servers are by far more stable. There can be lag in rumble matches and some odd glitches graphically here and there but apart from these issues, all is smooth enough.

Gear, props....do we mean loot boxes?

Well yes we do, but you do NOT need real money to buy them. They differ in rarity and and like the card boosts in Forza 7, these give you bonuses to apply to your wrestler in online matches that have a limited duration, one match to three depending on rarity. You also can unlock clothing, hair styles, move sets etc and as I suspect, eventual new superstars from past and present.

Plusses and minuses.

Plusses:

In depth game play.

Customisation options aplenty.

Smooth gameplay (see below)

Very slick presentation, this game is going to look sweet in 4K.

Backstage exploration is back, get side quests, make enemies and allies alike.

Very enjoyable RPG elements.

Minuses.

Occasional lag in online gameplay

NXT part of the career is way too short for me

NO female career despite the TV shows banging on about a Woman's Revolution for women's wrestling.

Loot boxes, I don't mind them to be honest, but some may find them a pain in the ass.

Will it appear to non wrestling aficionados I don't know. 

On the whole

We have a very very good game here, BUT still not perfect but they are getting there. If they can tweak things again then I feel 2K19 could be the one we've been waiting for all these years, BUT 2K18 is a step in the right direction and heck it's fun.

Even non wrestling fans could find this a good laugh with mates on the sofa and online is nice and friendly and not intimidating.

It comes highly recommended.

Thanks X Box for the code!