A mid-card contender
The Attitude Era, a time period that engulfed wrestling in the late 90s through early 2000s, is widely considered to be the pinnacle of modern sports entertainment. Never before had WWE?s brand reached such a wide audience, and many of the television ratings records set back then remain standing today. So, it is no wonder that when wrestling video games need a pick-me-up, they look back to that era for inspiration to put themselves back on track?and WWE 2K16 is no exception.
After a down debut on current-gen consoles last year, the annual WWE 2K franchise looked to one of the greatest faces of the Attitude Era?Stone Cold Steve Austin?as a reason to inject some much-needed edge back into the series. The Texas Rattlesnake was a beast for WWE starting with his meteoric rise in 1997 through to his retirement in 2003, so it?s no surprise that they?d model this year?s 2K Showcase mode after him.
Letting players relive many of Austin?s best matches from his time with WWE is a concentrated shot of nostalgia that any child of the Attitude Era can?t help but enjoy, as classic footage is spliced with recreated in-game cutscenes. Making things even more enticing are Bonus Matches. After completing certain bouts, some of Stone Cold?s best pre-WWE moments?like when he was ?Stunning? Steve Austin in WCW?are unlocked, letting you take on the likes of Ricky ?The Dragon? Steamboat and many others.
While the 2K Showcase mode is great for a walk down memory lane, where the WWE 2K series usually shines is when it lets gamers play wrestling god and create different matches, wrestlers, arenas, and more to satiate whatever their heart may desire to see inside the squared circle. Or, if they?d prefer, they can walk the path of a superstar themselves and see what it takes to win major gold in the world?s premiere wrestling promotion.
For those micromanagers out there, WWE Universe returns, letting players pit their favorite wrestlers of the past and present from the WWE series? largest roster yet (120 superstars and divas combined) against each other. If you want, you can create major wrestling shows for every day of the week, cultivating made-up arenas with the returning Create-an-Arena feature, and then watch as matches play out. You can also step in, if you?d prefer, and influence the direction of your WWE over the course of several years on the calendar. There are even adjustable sliders that can affect a wrestler?s personality this year, influencing how they will or won?t act in the ring, and injuries can now occur, drastically shifting storylines at times just like the real-world WWE. The only knock against WWE Universe is the inability to create more detailed storylines, but seeing as how much you are able to customize here, filling in the gaps for the usually impressive AI isn?t the worst thing in the world.
Sometimes the best part of the WWE games aren?t just playing as your favorite wrestlers from TV, but inserting yourself, or some crazy cockamamie monstrosity, into the action. Create-a-Wrestler is far deeper than it was last year, bolstered by the fact that you can upload your own personal designs quickly and easily via the WWE 2K16 website to put on your wrestler or their clothes. You can even upload your own face?like I did to create super-journalist Murrow Thompson?and really feel like you?re getting into the game (quality of results will vary).
You can also customize your wrestler?s moveset, with thousands of attacks and abilities available to you. My only disappointment here is the lack of Create-a-Finisher, as nothing makes your wrestler feel more like your own than piecing together a finishing move that no one else in the world has, even if it borrows parts from already existing moves. I think a pop-up DDT would?ve been just what Murrow needed to enlighten the masses; instead I settled for Dean Ambrose?s Dirty Deeds.
Once you have a created wrestler, you can then import them (or a different superstar made from scratch) and enter the revamped MyCareer mode. Looking to add a stronger sports simulation aspect to the traditionally arcade-inspired WWE series, last year?s MyCareer mode was the worst kind of grind that culminated in a single Wrestlemania match. This year is different.
Starting off in NXT, your mission is to one day make the WWE Hall of Fame. By wrestling in highly regarded matches, you can build your character up to more easily achieve a series of possible career goals that will lead to guaranteed enshrinement. What goals you pursue are entirely up to you, however. You can dominate at the mid-card level, winning the US and Intercontinental titles multiple times. Or, if you?d prefer, you can try to hold every title once and get the career Grand Slam. Wrestling in certain kinds of matches at certain venues as well as a multitude of other paths can also catapult you to the desired stardom you require. Although, I will warn that if you choose to focus on tag team gold, the AI for your partner may make you want to go the way of The Rockers sooner rather later. You also get to actually play an entire career, instead of flash forwarding to your retirement match upon completion of certain objectives (unless you choose to retire, which is entirely up to you)?giving the mode much needed longevity and replayability.
There are also more ways to play to the crowd and develop your wrestler?s personality. By participating in Extreme Rules matches and the like, and using weapons and tables, your aggression and other personality traits will adjust. The most important personality factor, however, comes from your post-match interview with Renee Young. From here, depending on your answers, you can start rivalries, change alliance, or turn face or heel. What decisions you make there can in turn gives you more options, like participating in a new feature that allows you to interfere with your rival?s matches.
The biggest addition to MyCareer mode is the in-match feedback on how your match is going. Move variety, hitting signature and finishing moves, and sprinkling in some ?OMG! Moments? will help result in a 5-star match. Repeating moves, never countering, or quick matches will result in lower stars and less progress for your character. This emphasis on move variety helps each and every match feel genuinely like something you?d see from the real life WWE.
Even with all these modes and the additions made to them, though, it would all be for naught if the in-ring product did not make advancements from last year?s game?and in a fair amount of ways it did. A slew of new mechanics have been added to WWE 2K16?s gameplay, and most of them work very well. A new, slowly refilling reversal meter finally nerfs players who know how to perfectly time every move, with each wrestler only having three-to-five reversals to start a match, and you?re never allowed to hold more than whatever you started with. You can also now slow the pace of matches down with Working Holds. Just like in real life, these allow wrestlers to catch their breath while also draining the stamina of their opponents. These two changes alone greatly expand the strategic depth you now carry into the ring, especially when combined with the chain wrestling and stamina meters added last year.
One gameplay addition misses the mark, though, and that?s the new submission system. The button mashing minigame of yesterday is thankfully dead, but in its place is an overlay system where you must try to get your bar to consistently overlap an opposing wrestler?s. The more tired they are?or if it?s a finishing submission like a Sharpshooter?the easier it will be to make them tap, but controlling the bar makes it feel like you?re wrestling the controller as much as your opponent.
WWE 2K16?s in-ring product has also seen its fair share of polishing. While the occasional glitch still pops up, it?s nowhere as bad as last year. Many character models also look much better?especially impressive considering the 120-person roster?but there are still a few examples where wrestlers look like they were being pulled from games that are two or three years older than this. While she never steps in the ring, I feel it necessary to point out the aforementioned Renee Young looks particularly stiff and frightening during your MyCareer interview segments.
It also needs to be said that, unlike the look of the game, the commentary has not come very far. Some new lines have thankfully been recorded to avoid as much repetition as last year, but too often Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler talk about subjects irrelevant to the match, making you think at times the dialogue has glitched. Oh, and it sounded like JBL, who was added to mark the first time we have a three-man commentary team in the game, had a cold when he recorded his lines.
Some minor annoyances aside, WWE 2K16 has taken a step largely in the right direction. Many, but not all, features missing from last year?s game return. Online functionality was questionable on the first day of launch, but seems to have stabilized over the weekend from what I?ve seen. A fully realized MyCareer mode and reliving the glory days of Stone Cold Steve Austin highlight an improved in-ring experience and the largest roster in the series? history. While not ready to hog the spotlight like a main eventer, WWE 2K16 should find a nice spot on any wrestling fans? roster of fall games.
|Developer: Yuke’s/Visual Concepts ? Publisher: 2K Sports ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 10.27.15|
A big step forward for the series, WWE 2K16 is still some polishing and a new submission system away from being Hall of Fame material, but should make a nice living as a stop gap in your library before hopefully bridging the gap to a bigger and better game next year.
|The Good||The fleshing out of MyCareer. Reliving Stone Cold Steve Austin?s glory days. The long-awaited balancing of reversals. Return of many match variations.|
|The Bad||Submission system still misses the mark. I miss Create-a-Finisher. Tag team AI needs work. Awful announcing.|
|The Ugly||The haunting robot that claims to be Renee Young when it comes time for your MyCareer interviews.|
|WWE 2K16 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by 2K Sports for the benefit of this review.|