When I think of WWE games, I think long nights playing ladder matches with my friends until the early hours of the morning, creating horrible/amazing wrestlers for each other, and just generally having a great time. There’s something about the direct, but somewhat jovial, conflict within pro wrestling games that makes them both competitive and hilarious at the same time, especially (perhaps exclusively) when you’ve got friends sitting beside you. Over the last few years Yuke’s, and ever-increasingly Crystal Dynamics, has striven to improve the single-player experience. WWE 2K15, the second WWE licenced titled from 2K Sports, takes this development to a whole new level, but in the same move manages to undermine much of the work that’s been done before.
This year’s entry in the franchise was touted as a revolution in the gameplay department, something fans had been demanding for years. Yet while things undoubtedly feel different, it’s difficult to say there’s been an improvement, let alone a revolution. The grapplers are noticeably slower than in previous titles, and so general movement feels heavier and more laboured. This decision makes strikes feel much more impactful, and pulling off big moves can feel like a real achievement. However, at times the flow of a match can feel far too slow, while locking up with opponents can be a dull affair. A match between Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan feel like a Big Show vs Mark Henry bout.
A frustrating control scheme and contact detection system makes the gameplay even more of a labour. It’s worryingly easy to consistently miss the grapple on an opponent only for them to turn around and kick you in the face. More than a few times I found my character just hopelessly locking up with thin air, or swinging into free space, partially because it was trying to catch up with what I wanted to do(that’s the slow part coming in again), and partially because the character would simply fail to make contact with an opponent despite being right next to him. It’s also horribly easy to find yourself facing the wrong direction, or to get stuck crouching on the mat for no reason. At times it can feel as though the game is just broken, but I dare say it’s the way it has been made. The fast, rather silly gameplay of titles past may have been unrealistic, but it sure was a lot more fun.
Honestly though, that’s not to say the in-ring gameplay of WWE 2K15 isn’t fun at all, because despite those shortcomings, there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had from the in-game matchups. Putting together a good string of moves, delivering a flurry of punches and kicking out of pins at the last moment all feel awesome, and they occur with pleasing regularity. You’ll find that the occasional match is nothing but either you or your opponent dominating, but so long as you set the right difficulty, the AI provides a good challenge that’s consistently enjoyable. The longevity of that enjoyment, however, largely depends upon the mode you’re playing.
The current-gen versions of 2K15 incorporate an exclusive game mode called MyCareer in which you create a new superstar and, through countless matches, raise him from NXT rookie to Wrestlemania main eventer. Despite the ‘new’ labels, it’s pretty familiar WWE game territory, and sadly it’s been done much better in the past. The mode as a whole is seriously lacking in atmosphere - aside from the constant stream of one-on-one matches, the only thing you’ll see are rather boring menu screens broken up with a bit of flavour text from GMs like William Regal, Vickie Guerrero and Triple H. The concept behind this mode is to make your created character feel like a real superstar, but MyCareer does very little to make the situation seem real - match development is unrealistic, storylines are practically nonexistent and the gameplay side is far too repetitive.
It doesn’t help that character creation has been stripped back rather significantly. Tragically, insultingly even, it’s not possible to create a female character. No, seriously - there’s no option to create your own Diva. I understand that WWE videogames undoubtedly attract a largely male audience but this is a shocking, rather sexist, omission. In fact, it feels like a real, if accidental, slight on female wrestling as a real-life entity. There are plenty of women across the world who work damn hard for the wrestling business, and while most of WWE’s women aren’t exactly standard bearers for quality women’s wrestling, it’s pretty awful that they’ve been slighted like this.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the rest of the character creation system is a bust. The UI is probably the best, and most responsive, yet, but that doesn’t make up for the shocking lack of content. I appreciate that the greater focus on user-created and shared content means there’s lots of stuff to choose from online, but considering this takes a lot of time and effort, it’s a big mistake not to include the classic selection of neutral clothing, logos and other features. While previous WWE games featured hundreds of options within each category (be it ring tights, coats, tattoo designs and so on), 2K15 has very little on offer in comparison. Which means that unless you’ve got the skill of the series’ best Create-a-Wrestler specialists, then you’re character is probably going to be pretty boring - or at least similar to everyone elses. Oh, and it won’t be a woman either - I mentioned that right?
So while that current gen specific mode fails to impress, there is some fun to be had outside of standard matches. 2K Showcase is the name given to this year’s objective-focused mode, the like of which originated in WWE ‘13 with the excellent Attitude-era mode then continued into WWE 2K14 with the even better 30 years of Wrestlemania. This time, Showcase takes a look at specific rivalries in WWE’s past and hones in on the matches and events surrounding those rivalries. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (my personal, absolute favourite) and John Cena vs. CM Punk are the two rivalries featured in the base game and both contain some of the best stuff to be found in the game as a whole.
The objective system, in which the player has to perform certain actions during the match to reveal scripted moments that mimic the real event, is just as enjoyable as in the previous iterations. The matches that take place during these rivalries are also great, the Shawn vs. Triple H path in particular features some cool moments. The linear narrative is also a great way to build up each match - by the time you’re wrestling the final matches of each rivalry you’ll probably find yourself at least a little emotionally invested (whether you know the outcome or not). The only downside of Showcase mode is the unfortunate lack of rivalries to play. 2K is obviously planning on releasing more as DLC, but I would have liked to see a few more in the base game. If they could have just spent time on that rather than MyCareer, we would have had a much better package.
WWE Universe mode is also back, although it’s practically unchanged. You can’t create your own stories, however, so that sucks. In fact, that’s a key point that I want to highlight here. While most current-gen games focus on big improvements, I spent the majority of my time with WWE 2K15 noting down all of the things that have been removed. I’ve mentioned some already, but the size of the roster is one rather significant element that’s considerably worse than last year (or for years). You also can’t import MP3s for entrance music, which is just ridiculous, neither can you create your own finishers. A selection of gimmick matches have also been removed which, while not fan favourites, seems like an odd move for a game that’s supposed to be bigger and better.
Supposedly, much of this chopping and changing is due to the improved visual quality of the game. The detailed superstars take up a lot of disc space, which is understandable but still not an excuse - especially when it comes to the lack of female wrestlers (of whom there are eight...). On the whole the superstars do look pretty fantastic, the face-scan tech nabbed from the 2K basketball games paying dividends. Saying that, there are a few anomalies within the rows of shiny faces. Shawn Michaels looks really, really odd in both the facial and body departments - especially annoying considering he’s the focus of the Showcase mode. Hair also looks pretty terrible, something that’s most apparent on the long-haired version of Triple H. It’s also a tad frustrating to see that the crowd still look horrible - bad enough to take you out of the moment if your eyes stray from the superstars. Oh, and can we please sort out championship belts! For too long digital superstars have been wearing belts that seem to levitate from their waist.
So safe to say the visuals disappointed me, largely due to a lack of attention to detail (aside from those faces of course). Lack of attention to detail is actually a phrase I’d use to describe WWE 2K15 as a whole. It feels stripped back, but not in a ‘finely tuned race car’ kind of way, but rather ‘old banger that’s had more than a few collisions’ way. It’s a significantly worse game than most of those that have preceded it, with some jaw-dropping omissions and rather dull additions. I had hope that once Yuke’s gave over the reigns we would see an new age for WWE videogames, but this isn’t the new start that I imagined. 2K15 is a serviceable game, and can be great fun at times (the ability to play with friends is what’s keeping the score from dipping below five), but it pales in comparison to the older WWE titles, making it almost pointless to upgrade.
WWE 2K15 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
It feels stripped back, but not in a ‘finely tuned race car’ kind of way, but rather ‘old banger that’s had more than a few collisions’ way. It’s a significantly worse game than most of those that have preceded it, with some jaw-dropping omissions and rather dull additions. I had hope that once Yuke’s gave over the reigns we would see an new age for WWE videogames, but this isn’t the new start that I imagined. 2K15 is a serviceable game, and can be great fun at times (the ability to play with friends is what’s keeping the score from dipping below five), but it pales in comparison to the older WWE titles, making it almost pointless to upgrade.