WWE 2K15 was a game that fell victim to the problems that all sports games on this generation have suffered from in their first entry: unimpressive visuals, trimmed down modes and features, and small rosters. But that game also went in a different direction, focusing more on being a simulation of the WWE, rather than an arcadey feel that the games before it had. Thankfully, WWE 2K16 fixes most of what plagued the previous game, and the result is a better focused, looking, and playing game that is more accurate to the simulation of wrestling and the WWE than ever before.
The changes to improve WWE 2K16 are noticeable and most of them are welcome. The first thing you’ll notice is that the game loads less often. As each wrestler makes their entrance, there’s no loading in-between, making for a more seamless engagement to the player that they are not only watching, but participating in a live WWE event. A neat little change is that you can start fighting before the bell rings. If you are introduced first, and while the other is making their way to the ring, you can make your way to them and get things going in your favor. The chain wrestling system introduced last year, is unfortunately back. While I’m not its biggest fan, it doesn’t come up as often and that’s good for me. Submissions have changed, now in a game of “keep away”, you are trying to take your blue semi-circle and keep it away from the red semi-circle if you’re the one being put into submission, or trying to catch the red semi-circle if you’re the one doing the submitting. It’s not a great mini-game, and even on the easiest difficulty you can be submitted early in a match. It’s just not fun. What I do like is the new pin mechanic. The meter has been updated so that you can time it better. Also, you can now perform a “dirty pin”, meaning you put your feet up on the ropes to ensure a victory hoping that the referee doesn’t see you.
Visual Concepts clearly heard the complaints from last year, and there are over 120 wrestlers almost from the get-go to use in matches. While that number is impressive, it is worth noting there are duplicates of existing wrestlers from various eras that fill in this number, such as five Stone Cold Steve Austins, four Undertakers, and three Kanes. There’s a glaring omission from the NXT roster as the likes of Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Bayley will not be in the game, or coming via DLC at any point. These four women have made a significant impact on women’s wrestling and it is an absolute shame the Four Horsewomen won’t be arriving at any point. Though, thanks to WWE 2K16‘s Create-a-Diva mode, those wrestlers are available in some capacity thanks to the community.
Signifying the importance of this year’s mode with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the cover star, who no longer actively wrestles is 2K Showcase. It is a mode that lets you relive the down and then up and up and up career of “The Rattlesnake”, Stone Cold Steve Austin. He will face off against Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Kane, and even Vincent K. McMahon himself. Being who this mode is centered around, Stone Cold’s 2K Showcase is a nostalgic trip back to the fondly recalled Attitude Era where violence, sex, and vulgarity were all that WWE cared about to garner the teen market audience on television, and succeeded fantastically.
The Showcase mode is the closest thing to being story driven, and a way to be given tutorials on certain move-sets that the game doesn’t otherwise teach you outside of MyCareer. As you play out matches from Austin’s career, Visual Concepts smartly mixes recorded audio for the game with audio from the actual match. You can tell the difference but the wrestlers will choreograph the action in-engine. There’s also lots of cutscenes where you’re not controlling Stone Cold during these sequences, but there isn’t gameplay control to allow those types of things to happen in the game. One thing that’s frustrating is if you fail certain objectives, or jump the gun to complete the final objective, but not in order to how it was done historically, you will lose and be forced to restart the match over again. If you’re not a fan of the “Bionic Redneck”, the whole 2K Showcase mode may seem like a wash. However, it is a worthy mode to get many of the unlockable wrestlers that are gated behind this mode.
Visual Concepts has worked hard to ensure an authentic WWE experience, with everyone’s character model looking better than last year, the graphical fidelity is stunning at times. When regarding cameras, Visual Concepts understands what should and shouldn’t be shown. For instance, the Lucha Dragons when they make their way into the ring do so spectacularly with a small trampoline as they each fly over the top rope. The game never breaks the rules of showing the trampoline. It’s the little touches that go a long way here.
That said, the audio side of things is not so well-represented, at least with the announcing. Now using the team of John “Bradshaw” Layfield aka JBL, Michael Cole, and Jerry “The King” Lawler, we get a three-man team of commentators that all have input on what’s going on inside the ring. And for the most part it is on-point, but it’ll often stray into bad jokes that aren’t relevant, or becomes repetitive and not entertaining.
The gameplay is very much the same, where there’s a flow to a match, some back and forth, and when to use your specials and finishers after wearing down your opponent. It isn’t perfect, but it captures the storytelling element that the matches on television tell. You do have a stamina meter that can’t be overused, or you’ll tire out too quickly to do significant damage, leaving you open to a fury of attacks. You can still cheese your wrestler’s taunts to earn your special and finisher quicker. Though, there’s now a limit to the reversals you implement. Depending on a wrestler’s stats, you’ll have three to five bars of reversals that build up throughout a match. No longer will there be instances where you can always reverse the AI or have infinite reversal matches online.
The normal difficulty to WWE 2K16 is actually quite hard, mainly due to needing a split-second reaction for reversals, and the submission meter that can go south real fast. Thankfully, there’s game balance sliders like Madden or NHL that allow you to adjust as needed. I recommend putting the momentum to ‘fast’, as it seems to be a better paced match in all aspects, and ultimately makes playing this game more enjoyable.
MyCareer is a great place to start if the 2K Showcase mode is not your cup of tea, or if you’re looking for something more personal. It allows you to develop rivals and friends within the WWE. There’s not a proper story like you’ll find in the Showcase mode. Any new developments are given to you via text on the screen. You can, while not easily, put your face into the game to make an exact replica of yourself to play as. Or if you so desire, you can create the things of nightmares. The career mode incorporates the ladder of WWE. You’ll start at the WWE Performance Center, then you’ll get a shot on TV through NXT, and then make your way to WWE proper. It’s an extremely slow grind as there’s over 30 individual stats to increase, and there’s so little payout of upgrade points earned after each match. It is an arbitrary gate to prevent you from moving up faster.
There’s other things you can create too: Superstars, Divas, logos, arenas, and even your own championship belt. These are all features that should have been in WWE 2K15 but weren’t. It has made its welcome return to add your personal touches to the game, and share with the world to use.
WWE 2K16 is a game about second chances. Stone Cold Steve Austin proved that injury after injury he was able to come back and be better than before, leaving a significant impact on the WWE. WWE 2K16 is better than it was last year. While it isn’t a vast improvement of its predecessor, it’s good enough that I want to keep playing, unlike last year’s version where once I saw everything it had to offer, I stopped. WWE 2K16 can certainly be frustrating, but when it works, it is a wonderful game to play. With 2K Showcase, MyCareer, multiple methods of things to create, and plenty of match types to engage in, there’s something for everyone. It turns out that WWE 2K15 actually did lay the groundwork of what makes WWE 2K16 so great.
A PlayStation 4 copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes