WWE 2K17 Review (PS4)
Franchises that release annually have to walk a fine edge. Play it safe, and the complaints often include words like “tired” or “roster update.” Stray too far away from the core gameplay or throw in too many new features, and critics will cite gimmicks like Madden’s vision cone.
The WWE franchise has another tightrope to walk, as it needs to transform scripted events into a competitive combat game, all while incorporating the entertainment elements the brand is known for.
In other words, 2K has to do a lot of things perfectly to craft a decent and captivating WWE game. WWE 2K17 falls a little too far on the safe side and doesn’t quite go far enough with the entertainment aspect to be a truly great game. However, for wrestling fans, there is still a lot here to like.
2K, on its website, claims the company has “shifted the gameplay experience focus from an arcade-centric, fighting game style to simulation-based gameplay.” Put another way, don't plan on precise responsiveness, but expect lengthy canned animations. While this may sound negative, it generally works. But as I mentioned in my initial impressions, this reliance on scripted action can lead to moments where the game seems to play itself. This usually happens near the end of a match, when reversals and energy are low -- in other words, exactly when you want control.
The limited reversals return from last year, and create a level of strategy I enjoy. Likewise, the match rating system encourages you to use a variety of moves and charts all the big moments of a match. In fact, the match rating creates a meta-game that encourages you to replay matches just to increase your score.
New additions include automatic roll outs in larger matches. From there, wrestlers will try to recover energy while in relative safety, though you can force the issue with an early recover. A button-mashing mini-game for submissions returns as an option, and is generally preferable to the spinning rings from last year.
"In fact, the match rating creates a meta-game that encourages you to replay matches just to increase your score."
One of the more ambitious additions is the inclusion of the “Promo Engine,” otherwise known as the verbal jarring that occurs between a wrestler, his/her opponents and/or the crowd. Basically, it mirrors a string of dialogue choices in a RPG; the goal is to pick a sequence that makes sense. I really like that 2K is trying to incorporate the “other side” of the sport into the game. While it’s fun to imagine your wrestler amping up the crowd or calling out a rival, the choices don’t always seem to make sense. Also, there isn’t actual recorded dialogue, which can pull you out of the moment. Finally, this feature is not explained particularly well, and while I tried to keep my responses thematic and coherent, I didn’t always get a good score.
In fact, not much is explained fully in WWE 2K17, despite the game’s complex and situational controls. There isn’t a tutorial, and the game links to a very minimal website for the “manual.” I would like more explanation and guidance, if not an interactive tutorial to refresh my skills.
"I really like that 2K is trying to incorporate the 'other side' of the sport into the game."
All of the main modes return, and the roster is deep -- though you need to spend in-game credits to unlock a large number of them.
While I haven’t experienced many of the more serious glitches, the forums are bathed in reports of misnamed matches, missing commentary, AI problems and freezes. During one match I was unable to tag my partner, nor switch my target to another wrestler. In other words, buyer beware until some of these issues have been patched.
MyCareer And MyUniverse
First off, there is no Showcase or similar mode this year, so your long-term playtime will be spent in either MyCareer or MyUniverse. Thankfully, these are fairly deep and very customizable, so there is plenty to do.
MyCareer returns mainly intact, and features your created player working his (no women here) way up the ladder, starting with NXT. It is possible, based on early performance, to jump to the main card, which I found to be more fun than laboring in the NXT events.
The “Promo Engine” is put to work a lot here, and helps create an interesting, if limited, story that sees you potentially becoming a “Paul Heyman guy.” Again, my frustrations with cutting promos zapped some of the fun from this mode, but there is joy in improving your wrestler and seeing him develop rivalries and become part of the universe (including merchandise rights!).
"...your long-term playtime will be spent in either MyCareer or MyUniverse. Thankfully, these are fairly deep and very customizable, so there is plenty to do."
The promos make their way into the Universe mode, which is a customizable as franchise modes come. You can tweak nearly every part of the universe, modifying the roster, creating shows and developing rivalries. For those not interested in tweaking each aspect, there are events that occur organically, if just a little randomly. It does require some attention to detail, though an updated news feed helps you track the bigger happenings.
As always, the customization suite is deep, yet it still seems built on an antiquated foundation. Making changes can be confusing, especially modifying faces and physical features. Clothing and equipment changes are easy enough, but certain logos and text look really last gen, especially compared to other character editors found in other sports games.
Graphically, I don’t think a WWE game has ever looked better. The athlete models, for the most part, look spot on. Faces are hit or miss, but the majority tend to be pretty good. Details, like muscle tone, veins, and oil/sweat really ground the characters in reality -- or as close as some of the outrageous personas can be.
Entrances continue to be a strength of the franchise, really mimicking what you can see weekly on your television. The fireworks and pyrotechnics, in particular, really stood out for me this year. One criticism here: The crowds are full of clones who have somehow synchronized their movements.
"...the commentary isn’t up to par with the visuals."
WWE 2K17’s quality presentation extends to the broadcast elements, which are inherently important in this type of game. Wipes, replays, camera angles and title screens all communicate that you are watching a weekly wrestling program rather than playing a game. Outside of a few issues with a camera angles and crowds obscuring your wrestler, I really enjoy how seamless most of the transitions and cuts are. The game does a great job of making itself look like TV programming, at least during the match. I'd love to see more multimedia in-between events.
Unfortunately, the commentary isn’t up to par with the visuals. It’s not bad, but relatively limited. Play a long match and you are bound to hear repeated phrases, especially if you are strategically targeting the same limb with strikes.
WWE 2K17 doesn’t tweak gameplay very much, but maybe it doesn’t need to. This is probably the smoothest and most solid gameplay to date; yet the nature of the “simulation” can lead to slow and slogging matches, especially when playing vanilla one-on-one. And, even though you are encouraged to try different moves, you don’t have to -- in fact the AI usually doesn’t. All of this adds up to uneven gameplay that can be fun, but not always engaging. Long load times and repetitive commentary don’t help either.
Outside the ring, the legacy modes are fun and deep, but don’t do quite enough to really highlight the entertainment side of the sport. Dynamic rivalries and the promo system are a step in the right direction, but I’d love to see video recaps of the shows, much like in NFL 2K5. This is a sports game where presentation should be as important as gameplay.
All-in-all, WWE 2K17 upgrades last year’s iteration just enough to warrant a purchase, if you are a fan of the genre. The lack of tutorials and numerous glitch reports may scare away newcomers.
Score: 7.0 (Good)