If I look back to the 90’s I can recall how much I loved the WWE (then called WWF). The stories it brought out, the stunts, the ridiculous moves and characters. It was some of the best fun I remember. Waking up for Wrestlemania and other events had a festive feel to it that couldn’t be matched. I even remember us playing WWE during break at school. We broke some desks and other things. It was awesome.
These times corresponded with the WWE Smackdown games and ‘that’ arcade wrestling game that was great fun, but then it seemed to fade away somewhat. The games got lost somewhere, or maybe it was just me, but the WWE also lost its magic… or perhaps I grew up.
The thing is, WWE is still absolutely massive in the States and in other countries, it has a huge following as an entertainment brand and the guys that take part in it are some of the craziest, fittest characters on the planet. The games have come a long way too, and with all the current-gen abilities you have to wonder what can be done with the game. 2K’s first effort last year with the license was disappointing to say the least. How about their second attempt this year?
A Wrestler for everyone
One of the biggest disappointments of last year’s game was the total lack of wrestlers to choose from. The roster was tiny for a game that relies on different characters from the WWE to make it truly tick. Not only was it a small list, but it was lacking some of the best characters too, and that immediately makes the game a little underwhelming.
WWE 2K16 fixes that up, and then some. The rosters includes almost everyone you can think of. All the stars from the current WWE roster, the NxT guys, former stars and even classic versions of current characters. It’s got so many options on the roster that deciding who to pick in a fight is not an easy thing. There’s someone for everyone.
The roster includes some of the “Divas” too, though that is a little bit on the smaller side. Oh, and to add there are managers too. It’s got a great selection whether you want Batista, Stone Cold, The Rock, Cactus Jack, Cena, Kane, The Undertaker… pretty much anyone. Having so many options immediately makes this year’s game better than last year.
Graphics – Pinned down, or a kickout?
Last year I had an issue with the graphics too. While some characters looked pretty accurate, others simply looked terrible and nothing like their real life counterparts. Apart from that the models looked like plastic and felt rigid and a little bit broken.
I can happily say that this year is a vast improvement in all aspects of the visual department. The majority of the fighters look great with some even having uncanny realism about them. The fact that there are so many fighters to choose from means that some of them won’t look quite right unfortunately, but it’s more hit than miss in this department, thankfully. I have to say that it’s easy to see the female fighters didn’t get as much attention, some of them look awful.
The ring, entrances, menus and crowds are all visually excellent and done with great production value to the point where watching entrances don’t feel like something I HAVE to skip. It’s fun to watch.
JR sounds a little rough
The commentary team return this year after last year’s awful, repetitive commentary. I have to say that while it’s been drastically improved, it still isn’t great. You will hear repeats of the same lines within the same fight, sometimes even seconds after the first time you’ve heard. Some of it is just downright dull where they just say the move that’s done. Some of it doesn’t quite fit, like saying “that’s a backbreaker” when you’ve just done a choke slam. Little things like that detract from the experience somewhat, but you learn to filter it out.
The crowd sounds more than make up for it, electrifying the atmosphere and simulating the real type of crowd that an event will generate. Most of the ring sides are accurate, but I have to say I find it a bit disconnecting that the fighters make no noise at all. It makes it all feel a bit soulless.
More modes than a royal rumble entry list.
Another relative disappointment in last year’s game was that it just wasn’t meaty enough in what it offered. It’s another place where WWE 2K16 has fixed up to the max. There are so many options in terms of matches that naming them all will take forever. Everything you’d hope for is in there including Royal Rumble matches, Tag Team, Triple Threat, Cage match, Table Match, Tag Elimination, Pins anywhere… really it’s got it all.
The match options take place in different modes including your general exhibition matches where you can stipulate the boundaries however you want. You can play single player or multiplayer. There is online and offline and then the three most important modes (yes, three) with Career, WWE Universe and my personal favourite, Showcase.
Career mode needs little explanation as basically you create your very own character (mine is called Archangel) and take him through the ranks, from newbie in the NxT, hopefully all the way to the top in the WWE. It’s a long road and you will need some patience but the set-out of the career is quite fantastic. Along the way you can upgrade your attributes, choose new moves, influence rivalries and partnerships with whoever you like. You can run in and disturb matches if you’d like, challenge other fighters and make your way to the very top.
Thankfully, unlike last year, this career mode doesn’t culminate in winning the title, but goes on past that so you can defend your title if you want. My only complaint about the Career mode is that loading times can be a pain, and the interviews done with your character after fights are dreadful.
Universe returns and has you playing out fights from the real WWE universe, but allows you to take them the way you want, creating new rivalries and the likes as you go. Universe sets out a number of fights at an event for you to pick and choose from and depending on your results it will change the way the universe looks. It’s a great way to play a variety of modes with some of the coolest fighters on the roster. You can also customise the universe if you’d like, so if you are into event organising this is your chance.
Showcase is easily my favourite mode. It’s a ‘story’ type mode where you mostly control Stone Cold Steve Austin and play through his career from a rookie up until the time he dominated the WWE. The mode is split by cutscenes from Stone Cold’s past and how things worked out in the WWE Universe.
Matches also have a set path and in each fight you will be given an objective. Filling that objective will set off the specific path that fight is meant to take. It works great as it forces you to fight a bit differently, plus you get to relive some great moments from years gone by.
Showcase is also the place where you can unlock new characters as you play through it, and that is something I absolutely love in the game. I miss the fighting games that had you playing for new characters, so not getting all at the start and having them unlock as a surprise is superb.
Is it worthy of the Belt?
Gameplay is key in a WWE game and in 2K15 it felt buggy and broken. You never felt in control and it was more annoying than anything else. 2K16 has improved on almost every aspect of the gameplay. The moves are simple and fun to do, the grapples are great, counters are a bit easier but not nearly as frequent with the new “counter bar”.
WWE 2K16 doesn’t feel sluggish or broken at all, although at times it does get a bit too technical, slowing the pace down. For the most part it’s a great balance between over-the-top, technical fighting and timing things to get out of tight spots. The mini-games for pins, choke holds and so on take some getting used to, but for the most part are accessible and easy to understand.
The WWE champion?
While 2K16 is a huge improvement over 2K15 it still isn’t perfect. The loading times and occasional glitches are annoying, the commentary is not great and some of the player models need serious work. But there are tons of positives with all the modes and matches to choose from, an elaborate Career mode, Story mode and Universe to play in and of course the rather well presented Online modes if you get bored of the AI.
It’s quite a relief for fans, and I am sure for 2K, to know that they are on the right track with the WWE license. If this year had failed too I think there would have been serious concerns. Luckily that isn’t the case. It’s nowhere near the production value of its NBA franchise, but it’s a much more promising start to something greater.
It goes without saying that WWE 2K16 is a game more for the fans than not, but even if you left the wrestling scene years ago you will still have fun with this, especially with the throwbacks to the old days.