I grew up with Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Sean Michaels and Bret “Hitman” Hart as the most prestigious icons from the wrestling entertainment business and the WWF Wrestlemania arcade games featuring them had me throwing coins at the arcade machine for hours. That was back in 1995 and Midway did a stellar job at bringing the wrestling soap opera to life in a game. I’ve grown up since then and fell out of the loop around the time of Steve Austin’s retirement and was pleasantly surprised by playing his career journey in WWE 2K16’s showcase. To me, that’s what the WWE is all about: rivalries and drama between contestants and the dream of becoming the WWE heavyweight world champion. This time around Yukes decided that the story aspect of the game was missing and last year’s iteration sorely missed that. They introduced some gameplay changes here and there that have improved the experience altogether.
Get ready to experience one of the WWE universe’s most unconventional heroes, Daniel Bryan, or Bryan Danielson as he was first known during his indie wrestling days.
To be the man, you gotta beat the man
Over the last few years, the WWE 2K series lost its touch with their offering and failed to emulate what we craved from the live performances on the silver screen. We got pulled in by the adrenaline-fueled trailers, ground pounding gameplay videos and impressive rosters, but it always fell short of what we expected. This year though we saw the welcome return of the Showcase, an interactive tour of the life of a pro wrestler. Get ready to experience one of the WWE universe’s most unconventional heroes, Daniel Bryan, or Bryan Danielson as he was first known during his indie wrestling days as he broke into the WWE.
The man himself exudes positivity and confidence in his ability and it showed in his performances in the ring, but he probably just wasn’t the right fit at the time. This was at the height of the Undertaker, Edge, Randy Orton and Sean Michaels era overshadowing many in the arena. In the Showcase event, we get to learn all about how he got signed and was then let go and went on to continue his career abroad making a name for himself until his return to the mega-franchise in 2009, all narrated by Daniel himself. Your first return bout is against none other than the newest big thing in wrestling, John Cena. You’ll get to play 11 of his most outstanding performances in the ring, cementing his name in the WWE record books as a true phenomenon of the wrestling world. You’ll get to see Daniel evolve as you play and how his partnerships influenced the way he approached each situation.
During all the matches you play you need to orchestrate certain moves to reveal CGI rendered moments of the actual bought, playing out the event with certain freedoms until you finally complete the moves. Essentially, and realistically, the playthrough is on rails but you can finish it whichever way you want to. The only thing is, you won’t unlock characters for exhibition and online play if you don’t do all the challenges. Each match presents new challenges and helps you learn the controls with on-screen prompts and objectives you can access through the pause menu. Each match leaves you feeling like you’ve accomplished something and revel in the spoils of victory along with Daniel. The reintroduction of the Showcase makes WWE 2K19 all the more worthwhile as it adds a new dimension to the game.
Which brings me to the MyCareer mode, where you create your very own pro wrestling prospect from scratch on a path to superstardom. The customisation features are packed to the nines with many options to choose from to craft your own wrestling hero. When you start you’re offered a variety of clothing and in-ring costumes to choose from. Other options are locked behind steep priced in-game currency walls though, so you’ll have to grind to get those iconic threads for your greasy meat mound. In the beginning, you start out as an indie wrestler hoping to break into the WWE franchise by strutting your stuff in rings set up in school gymnasiums and the like. You eventually get your shot at getting into the WWE, but certain elements out of your control puts you right back out the door and on the road again to make a name for yourself so the WWE can take note of your exploits. During your career, you’ll unlock skill points to upgrade your skill tree and unlock new moves as you progress. These skills offer greater dexterity, agility, strength and defence options when stepping into the ring, not to mention some high flying moves to wow the crowd with.
Every match pits you against a different type of opponent. These matches also contain challenge instances in order to progress through the rounds and teaches the controls and moves as you go along. On your road to superstardom, you’ll encounter many different and eccentric individuals that become your friends and greatest rivals. This time around your interaction with other individuals on your journey actually responds with voiceover dialogue which is something just about every game in this day and age has. WWE 2K18 didn’t have that and the experience never made you feel like you wanted to interact with anyone, and hearing the voices of some of the franchises superstars makes it just that much more interesting to engage with them. The only thing I noticed that’s missing is the option to go through a career as a female wrestler. This option probably didn’t fit the budget and perhaps we’ll see it in the next outing.
WWE 2K19 can be played in a variety of ways and each one presents something different. Apart from the MyCareer and Showcase’s story-driven modes, you can get into the ring with a Mortal Kombat style Towers mode. The towers are themed with various groups of classic and contemporary wrestlers and settings for you to face off in, a great way to test your skills. The Universe returns where you can take a wrestler or wrestlers on an intense tour of the WWE world. It, unfortunately, doesn’t have the create-a-story feature which would complement this mode very well. The Creation mode is where you can go ape with creating custom matches and arenas, including a big head mode with all superstars on the roster going into the ring with inflated noggins. Quick Play gives the option to participate in every match type under the WWE umbrella, from ladder matches to Hell in the Cell, everything is there for your skull-busting pleasure including female royale rumble. Playing in the Online mode still has that yo-yo effect where you can have a great connection in one round, and another where your opponent disconnects from the match due to a bad connection. This is where button delay can really ruin the experience for you, but only when the connection is bad.
You get to choose which Paybacks you want to take into battle which adds a new level to your tactics in the ring. This is also accompanied by an Overcharge feature which boosts strikes, stamina and grappling attributes.
Here comes the pain!
When it comes down to the actual gameplay though it’s hard to ignore that the character movements still need some work. At certain points the characters in the ring seem to have the motor skills of a bar of wet soap, sliding all over the place. Having the tightrope climb and sprint action on the same button can lead to some frustrating moments. In some cases, you might even witness the AI teleporting across the ring for a grapple or clothesline. These experiences have been lessened though since WWE 2K‘s previous outing and the changed to the controls are evident. Janky at times, but the characters feel like they have weight to them as opposed to WWE 2K18. The controls feel somewhat more responsive this time around and you can actually stand your ground against some of the behemoths in the roster. The only on-screen prompt that feels unresponsive at times is when you need to pull the right trigger to achieve a reversal on an attacking player. The new Payback system is a great way to get back at an opponent when you’ve been knocked down a couple of times and need that extra shot at beating them to a pulp or slamming then to next Tuesday.
You get to choose which Paybacks you want to take into battle which adds a new level to your tactics in the ring. This is also accompanied by an Overcharge feature which boosts strikes, stamina and grappling attributes. Overcharges are an upgraded version of your Level 2 Paybacks. There are three of them:
Beast Mode: Increased grapple speed and damage. A golden glow highlights your arms when activated.
Charged Fury: A supercharged, devastating punch. Your fist radiates with power when fully charged.
Electrifying: As you hold this taunt uninterrupted, your Momentum grows at a much faster rate. Electricity flows through your body.
And the wrestlers do look good pulling off some of their moves. There haven’t been any noticeable changes to character models, but the lighting effects have been taken up a notch producing some close-to-real visuals. Ring entrances are entertaining as ever and none of the fireworks have been spared. Every move performed looks authentic and the sound compliments it. A smack through the face, the thud from the mat after a powerslam and groans from having their arms and legs twisted adds to the atmosphere.
And that’s the bottom line
Yukes seem to have listened to the fans this time and included the Showcase mode to make for a more interesting and entertaining WWE 2K experience, and the inclusion of voice-over dialogue in MyCareer makes for a more rewarding and engaging experience. They have pushed the current engine to its limits and probably need to try a new one in order to rid the franchise of janky movement and stuttering instances completely. The improvements make it playable and enjoyable again showing that WWE 2K19 is taking the franchise in the right direction. We can smell what Yukes is cookin’ and this instalment is the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be, and we can dig it, sucka.
Give me a hell yeah!