Last year was considered to be a down year for 2K’s annual WWE wrestling franchise. You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet, though, and many of us hoped that last year’s game would at least lay the groundwork for a better product in the years to come. To help support that train of thought, some of us were invited up to 2K’s Novato, CA, headquarters last month to talk with WWE 2K Executive Producer Mark Little about the changes that were coming to the series—and almost everything sounded like what we wanted to hear. So, when it came time for WWE 2K’s annual first hands-on preview event on the eve of SummerSlam, my hopes were unsurprisingly high. After spending an hour with the game this past weekend, I can honestly say that, in some ways, WWE 2K18 looks to deliver on the promises made to us last month—but in others, the series still has a ways to go.
The build we played on PlayStation 4 Pros was admittedly limited in scope: it only featured 10 male wrestlers in TJP, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton, Neville, John Cena, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles, with three match types in 6-man Elimination Chamber, 10-man Royal Rumble, and the standard one-on-one normal match. I began with a standard one-on-one match to get back into the rhythm of a WWE game, and almost right from the get-go, the visuals as a whole seemed much improved over last year’s game.
Entrances have visuals and choreography so real you almost can’t tell the difference between the game and real life. Bobby Roode’s entrance in particular was—for lack of a better word—glorious. Things in the ring were just as impressive. How wrestlers move in the squared-circle does a great job of mimicking how they would on TV, with the way their bodies reacted to hits—both during and after a strike—being as realistic as we’ve seen yet. Downed wrestlers crawl into better positions for follow-up strikes on the bottom turnbuckle, or roll to a perfect place on the mat whenever you climbed to the top rope for a special move. It was the most realistic we’ve seen WWE 2K possibly look ever. Clearly, rebuilding the game’s engine from scratch, and not having to focus on making an Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, has helped free up the necessary resources to get this game looking as good as it does. That isn’t to say there weren’t a few issues, however.
While there have definitely been improvements, there were also still a lot of old bugs cropping up. Weird clipping against the ropes; wrestlers somehow missing moves on one another when right next to each other, or vice versa in getting hit with phantom strikes when they shouldn’t have. And, although many of the character models looked phenomenal, some were just a bit off—like Neville with his dead eyes.
The commentary, which had also seen a marked improvement (for the most part) with the new team of Michael Cole, Byron Saxton, and Corey Graves, also had its issues. In my one-on-one normal match, Cole made a comment about this being a No-DQ match when it wasn’t. There were also clear delays between comments sometimes, with Graves or Saxton giving a follow-up unnaturally late after Cole’s call.
The other match types had issues as well. Although climbing to the top of an Elimination Chamber cell (and then flying off said top) was impressive, that match saw some tremendous slowdown from frame rate drops when all six wrestlers were in the match. In fact, until there was only three opponents left, the match felt like we were playing in slow motion most of the time. I questioned Mark Little about this directly at the event, and he assured us the team was aware of the issue, and that it would be worked out by the game’s launch, I still can’t help but be concerned, though, and promise you the first match I play will be a 6-man Elimination Chamber to see if the frame rate drops still persists.
The Royal Rumble similarly saw some slow down as the ring filled up. I’m also concerned over the new elimination mechanics in the Royal Rumble; although it definitely offers a more realistic take on one of WWE’s most iconic match types, there’s a new element of randomness that mimics the chaotic nature of the match well, but which didn’t feel as fun to actually play. A wrestler with low health now can more easily be eliminated with a strong Irish Whip or clothesline, and will be instantly thrown out of the ring. While playing, if felt like there wasn’t an exact science to when a wrestler was vulnerable in this state and more likely to be easily eliminated. There’s also the new button-mashing mechanic, where you and your opponent must mash the same button in a tug-of-war type scenario to try to eliminate/avoid elimination when in that predicament against the ropes. When this popped up, at least then you felt like you had greater control over your elimination chances.
There really wasn’t much else to the demo beyond what I’ve covered here. There was no customization for us to try out just yet, we couldn’t make our own matches, and we didn’t see any of the new Career mode. WWE 2K18 does look better at this stage from a visual standpoint for sure, but there were still enough bugs and glitches to give cause for concern considering how close we are now to the game’s launch. Hopefully, there’s enough time left to polish the game so it reaches its fullest potential—because it doesn’t seem to be there just yet.
WWE 2K18 will be available on Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on October 17.