WWE 2K16 Review (PS4)
Developers of wrestling games may have one of the hardest jobs around as they must try to emulate a scripted/staged event by introducing elements to make it feel like a real event.
In short, that type of juggling has rarely resulted in video games greatness.
The folks at 2K are back (in conjunction with Yukes) to give wrestling another go this year. Last year, I called the game above average -- with promising additions in terms of modes and gameplay features. Everything wasn’t quite working right, but there was hope for the future.
Strangely enough, this year I feel less hope and more disdain for the title. There has been work done, but I’m not sure any of it has made the game truly better -- just different.
In the Ring
WWE 2K16 is, in essence, a fighting game. You can call it anything else you want, but at its core the game is a fighting game, and those games are made or broken by their control scheme.
This year, 2K has separated the controls for strikes and grapples even further to ensure you have better control over what you want to do. This also includes new striking positions so you can have more moves and more control in the ring.
Perhaps the best way to describe the execution of this idea is as a mixed bag. The new striking positions are welcomed, but the timing and flow of many matches makes you feel as if you don’t have much control at times. Instead, at times it feels like the AI decides if you or your opponent gets to perform a move when you both initiate at the same time.
That also results in many funky looking moments as the game can look far from clean or polished in the ring. For example, there has been more than one occasion where my Superstar has tried to run against the ropes only to run into some sort of invisible force field that stops my momentum.
Reversals last year were out of hand, and thankfully 2K has brought us some help this year with a new system that limits the total amount of reversals you can do and also introduces major and minor reversals.
While I personally think it was lazy on some level to solve the issue of too many reversals by artificially limiting how many can actually happen, it does create a strategic element within the game. However, for newcomers who are not aware of the limit, they’re going to be super frustrated towards the end of a match when they’re no longer able to reverse moves like they were earlier.
(For the record, and while I have not studied it, I’m pretty sure AI opponents are not playing by the same rules when it comes to reversals -- at least it feels that way.)
Timing reversals requires quick reactions, which has not changed from last year. Major reversals are extremely difficult to pull off (at least for me) but when you do they’re big events in a match.
The AI itself was said to be improved, but I only saw some minor improvements in tag team matches where my teammates and opponents actually behaved as teams.
The chain wrestling and new working holds are still as fun as ever, and the ties where you can have a clean break or a cheap shot is well done. The natural progression of both of these systems allows you to really feel like at least parts of the match are what you see on TV.
I'm not a fan of the submission system because it just feels too artificial. Having a mini-game is fine, but having one with orbs to give you a bonus during the fight? It just seems like there was a layer introduced here that should have never been introduced.
The new pin system is also something I must give some kudos. The mini-game to kick out is panic-inducing if you miss it the first two times. On top of that, the new pin varieties and interactions are well done.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing with the gameplay is that it too often lacks the cerebral nature the developers were going for and devolves into a mishmash of fervent button presses and furious mini-games that oftentimes can be difficult to control. Everything just doesn’t seem to connect and mesh just yet, and it makes for a disjointed feeling inside of the ring at times.
The Stone Cold Steve Austin showcase mode is well done, and I think we should have expected this to be the case. The presentation package and the matches chosen give you a glimpse of the reality of the '90s-era WWF/E -- and to me really makes me wish we could have that era back in some ways (and not back in others). The commentary during the matches is pretty well done, and you’ll journey through a classic era of the WWE.
Showcase mode, for all intents and purposes, is worth at least a rental of this game because of the ride it takes you on. The mode itself is easily the game’s strongest component, and I do highly recommend it.
MyCareer's premise is that you start out training at the lower levels of the WWE in the NXT program. From there, you work your way up through the ranks to try to become world champion.
New this year are interviews that let you show some personality. You can also choose to interfere with rivals, form tag teams and create alliances. In short, MyCareer really improves on last year's experience in most every way. While not as strong of a selling point as Showcase, MyCareer should keep you busy.
The problem I think I'm running into with MyCareer is that the mode has already begun to feel somewhat repetitive as you move deeper into it. There's a clear pattern you follow, and while you can make choices to change things up, you'll be back in a familiar pattern in no time. MyCareer is a mode that should appeal to wrestling fans, but casual folks may not be as apt to give the mode everything they have.
The creation suite this year has much more in terms of options, including the ability to create a diva (otherwise known as a woman to humans), a championship, arena and show.
All of these options are excellent on the surface, and the team at 2K is on the right track. That being said, the delays in the menus when changing items and adjusting your superstar makes creating anything a complete and utterly miserable experience.
If you want to see how several different pairs of elbow pads look on a superstar, you will experience menu delays multiple seconds in length while switching back and forth between items, which obviously makes creating anything just an absolute chore.
The options are now there though and anything can be created, you just may need to possess the patience of Job to get the job done.
Here’s the deal with WWE Universe: On one hand it offers you the ability to set rivalries, add shows, add title belts, superstars, move them between shows, and do all sorts of cool things to create your own literal WWE Universe. And with the game’s huge roster, you can have a lot of fun.
However, there’s the other side of the mode. That is the side where just when you think "hey I’ll book these two guys in a title match on Raw," only to find out that you actually can’t book title matches. Or the side where you want to create a feud between two guys to see who the number-one contender is (or next up as they say) only to find out you can only book three rivalries a show.
Then there’s the annoying menu pop-ups for all rivalry matches I still have not figured out how to get rid of yet.
It's as if the goal of Universe mode was to give you all sorts of things you think are cool, only to then hit you with a low blow at the next turn when you then try to do something that seems relatively basic yet is artificially limited.
It just feels like, no matter how you slice it, Universe Mode is a frustrating experience.
The commentary this year is improved with the three-man booth of Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler. However, it’s still not what I’d call good. Considering last year’s atrocious effort was one of the worst I have seen from a sports game, improving upon that effort was not going to be a huge problem.
In terms of the graphics, the game is a mixture of good and bad. Some superstars look great, others look terrible. In addition, long hair still does not work or look right on the wrestlers. Walking animations for some superstars in their entrances can look horrible, but others are more spot on.
The crowd will do some basic chants, and sometimes will react to the action the ring -- but generally crowds feel dull and lifeless. Even the chants seem to be there just to be there and don't add a huge dimension to the games presentation. A big match just does not feel big no matter how hard you try to close your eyes and convince yourself otherwise.
Simply put, WWE 2K16 is a mixed bag. The gameplay, at times wants to be really good, but I am always brought back to reality by something that is equally bad. This weird dichotomy within the game has you screaming, “YES! YES! YES!” and then you realize Hulk Hogan is actually the third man and you are throwing trash into the ring in disgust.
The gameplay is rather average thanks to the issues I can find. The new additions are great, but the technical and balancing issues are going to wear on people over time (just like reversals last year). The modes are decent, but there is nothing in this game that will keep you playing for months unless you can overlook the obvious shortcomings in Universe or MyCareer.
I struggled with my final rating for WWE 2K16 because of this Jekyll and Hyde type of performance. I suppose those looking for the good and willing to ignore the bad will find plenty of positives, but those who care about a game that is functionally sound will find plenty to be disappointed in here as well.
WWE 2K16 feels unpolished and incomplete on one hand, but on the other hand it can be fun and even deep as well. At the end of the day, it’s above average, and I can only hope this is the last year the series moves sideways.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)
Edit: The original incorrectly stated there were no crowd chants. This appears to have been a bug in my copy (I was originally missing commentary as well). After doing the same procedure a second time the crowd chants did appear -- so I updated the review text to reflect that.