It’s that time of year again. For many wrestling fans, video game enthusiasts, and armchair GM’s, the end of October marks the release of the latest and greatest version of the WWE video game, currently produced by 2K sports. This year, 2K boasts the largest roster ever, improved gameplay mechanics and physics, as well as graphical improvements over last year’s version. After a week with the game, I have poured through much of the new content and have played dozens of match types, so I feel like I have a pretty good feel for how this game stacks up to past versions as well as the rabid demands of the fan base. I have never reviewed a video game before, but for the purposes of this article I will discuss the graphics, gameplay mechanics, features, and bugs I have noticed within the game. Also, please note that I am reviewing the Xbox One digital download version of the game.
I am always willing to take a graphical hit for a more realistic and fun wrestling simulation, but I didn’t have to compromise much this year. The entrances are fantastic and one of the key improvements this time around. Enzo and Big Cass do their routine as they walk out, Finn Balor’s iconic demon entrance is dutifully replicated, and the New Day’s entrance, although not perfectly up to date, manages to capture the feel of the group’s real life energy. It is a little aggravating to see a photo realistic face for Bret Hart when our WWE champion Seth Rollins looks like he was made in the creation suite, but, as a whole, we are moving in the right direction for realistic character models. I wish I could give the graphics a higher score, but if you look at what is capable in other genres, even in other sports games, the WWE offering is noticeably inferior.
Now, on to what I consider to be the strongest feature of the new game. You won’t find arcade elements or button mashing here, it’s all about skill. A big issue with past iterations is that many matches devolve into reversal fests. Not this year, as each wrestler has a limited number of reversals that regenerate, bringing a new level of skill into countering opponent’s moves. Early on, I found myself out of reversals and taking a beat down all too often, but once I got the strategy down, this became a great improvement that has tremendously improved the realism of the game in my book.
Stamina also comes into play a lot more this year, as realistic elements of fatigue are introduced into your matches. If you run out of stamina, you will find yourself slowly getting up after hitting a big move, allowing the opponent time to recover and get to their feet as well. If you run around constantly, expect to be worn down and probably tapping out sooner rather than later. Rest holds have also been introduced, which drain your opponent’s stamina while at the same time allowing yours to recover.
Another new element is the overhauled tie up system. Instead of just charging the opponent, you can initiate a tie up that will result in a rock/paper/scissor style mini game. From there you have to circle the right stick to find the red spot and hold it there. There are a lot of animations that are possible from this and I have had a blast using two technical wrestlers and really battling it out in this mode. This is bar far the most realistic incorporation of chain wrestling into a video game that I have seen to date.
A lot has been said about the new submission system, with many users thinking the system is broken and in need of a patch. For a few days, I was firmly in this camp. I have played and mastered every single wrestling game since WCW Revenge, but I could not submit anyone to save my life. It didn’t matter if I slapped an arm bar on a healthy opponent with Heath Slater, or if I used Bret Hart to apply a sharpshooter to a severely damaged opponent after a half hour of play. I was hopelessly lost. Basically, a wheel appears with a red bar for the attacker and a blue bar for the victim. You must overlap the blue bar as the attacker or avoid the red bar as the victim. Trying to rotate the right stick to accomplish this will result in a lack of control. Your bar with stop suddenly and controls like a tank while the AI nimbly zips around with mechanical precision.
Even finding a good way to practice the new system is difficult. I settled on 30 minute iron man matches between submission specialists. I am not the best gamer and it literally took me hours, as well as a lot of trial and error, to record my first submission. The trick is to not panic, anticipate the AI’s movements, and to tap the stick in the direction you wish to move. You also have a much easier time if you have more stamina than the opponent, and I have found that using rest holds prior to submissions also plays a big role in getting those tap out victories.
Once I figured out the basic premise, I still had a hard time and it took a while to be able to submit someone with any accuracy, but now I can do it fairly well. The system is far from perfect and I still have gripes that a non-submission finisher can end a match with virtually no skill, but a submission finisher requires advanced precision within the mini game to achieve the same result. You also have to question a gameplay mechanic that makes you focus on a little wheel and completely miss the submission animations. That being said, now that I have the system down, all I want to do is go for submissions. Sure, it’s really hard, but I get a really strong sense of satisfaction from being able to execute a submission that a pinfall victory just can’t match.
It must be exceptionally difficult to transfer a pro wrestling match into a video game concept that captures the spirit of a worked match while also being fun for the player. This game does it as well as any that I have played. There is a steep learning curve, but once you get past it you are rewarded with a gameplay concept that is challenging, dramatic, and deep.
If everything worked properly, this would be an 8 or a 9. However, the trend of releasing unfinished games doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon and WWE 2K16 suffers from features that just don’t operate as they should. Take Universe Mode, for example. Since its inception, I have spent about 95% of my game play time in Universe, building my own wrestling world as I saw fit. However, this year’s version shipped with a glaring omission that makes the mode unplayable for me. You no longer have the option to set title matches, and can only play title matches on PPV’s that have rivalries created. This means no open challenges for the US title. It means no 3 or 4 way title matches. It also means that you can’t defend NXT titles realistically, unless you create 12 separate monthly PPVs that are exclusive to NXT. I like to turn off auto rivalries and book my own thing, with the option to change anything I want on the fly because, well, it’s supposed to be my Universe. Fortunately, this is supposed to be addressed through a future patch, but no release date has been announced yet.
Since Universe was ruled out, I wanted to give My Career a try. A big selling point on this mode for me was the app that would allow you to import your own face into the game. I suck at CAW’s so this was a great opportunity for me to immerse myself into a mode that has a lot of promise. However, here we are a week later and the app has still not released and no release date has been announced. For the purposes of this review, I started a My Career mode using a very well made Kazuchika Okada CAW, just to see how everything was set up. You start off with a tutorial and quickly get your first NXT match against Tyler Breeze. You start off with a very weak character so the learning curve is steep, but the mode seems much deeper than last years’ offering, and should have a great deal more replay value.
The Austin mode was highly touted by the 2K marketing team, which makes sense as Stone Cold is the cover star this year. Sure, it can be fun to go back and replay some of the highlights in the career of the Bionic Redneck, and this is the most detailed superstar showcase we have ever gotten, encompassing “stunning” and “superstar” Steve Austin. For me, Austin has been such a staple go-to for so many years that I am a little tired of playing with him. The younger generation who may have not seen the heyday of Steve Austin will probably get more out of this than someone like me who lived through it. Maybe a Flair showcase from the 1980’s would get my attention a little more, but I realize that I am not the target audience for this mode. Still, if you enjoy these types of showcase modes, you will enjoy this years’ version.
Once all the DLC released, the roster will be the best I’ve ever been able to play with. The CAW makers are already churning out some impressive builds, and pretty much anyone you want to see in the game can be replicated with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Most of my playtime focuses on current superstars in Universe mode, but this year we actually have enough roster depth to make a really fun old school universe roster. It won’t exactly be historically accurate, but I am just itching for a feud between Mr. Perfect and Ken Shamrock for the WCW US title. Once the universe mode is fixed and the Mr. Perfect DLC is released, my obscure wish can be realized.
Bugs: We have to talk about all the bugs for a moment. I have personally encountered an issue where superstars wearing custom alternate attire (I put the Shield back together for my game) do not show up in the cut scene that follows a victory. I was overjoyed to see the shield enter to their real entrance, complete with those cool masks they wore towards the end, only to be highly disappointed to see the WWE tag team titles floating around on their own after winning a hard fought match. This occurs with any custom alternate attire and will require a patch.
Another, possibly related issue is the custom alternate attires themselves. I have had to re download the shield attire several times because they keep disappearing. This may be due to the fact that they don’t show up as CAW’s when you download additional CAW’s and are being overwritten. You have two columns when you try to download a CAW, so for now I am keeping actual CAW’s in the left hand column and alternate attires in the right hand column. This is a new trick I am using so the jury is still out, but for now it appears to be working.
The Universe mode title glitch is my biggest complaint this year, but I have already mentioned it previously. The mode is useless to most Universe players as is so we are all just patiently waiting for the patch. We had a response from 2K on the official 2K forums on launch day that the team was aware of the issue and “soon” was the best time frame we could get, but it’s better than nothing.
Final grade and summary: 7/10
Overall, I am pretty happy with the game I bought, even if what I am playing is an incomplete version. Once the app is released and the bugs are patched, this is probably deserving of an 8 or a 9, but right now, with the game I have, I just can’t go that high. If you haven’t bought the game yet, I wouldn’t get in any hurry. Once you do buy, you should be prepared to invest some hours towards learning the complex submission system. Once everything clicks, the gameplay itself is the best we’ve had in a long time. I would be nice if a complete game complete game could be released at launch, but most of my major concerns should be fixed “soon”.