Release Date: November 18, 2014 (current-gen), October 28, 2014 (last-gen)Playform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360Developer: Visual Concepts, Yuke’sPublisher: 2K SportsGenre: Wrestling
It’s that time of the year when we get another release of the WWE 2K series (formerly Smackdown vs. Raw, formerly Smackdown). A time when wrestling fans boot up their new games, look at the select screen, and immediately go, “That guy’s not around anymore, that guy’s been fired, that guy’s been injured for half a year, those two aren’t a tag team anymore, he has a totally different gimmick, and that guy quit.” This year more than ever considering CM Punk, who has been done with the company for 10 months at this point, is one of the marquee characters in the game.
With WWE 2K15’s jump to the next generation, they’ve given the whole system upgrades. Of course, that means visually. Much of the roster has had their faces scanned to make them look as realistic as possible and at times it’s striking. Big E, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar look like they’re the real deal at times. Then again, there are others who didn’t get their faces scanned and don’t look all that good in comparison. When you play the 2K Showcase mode, there’s a scene where CM Punk wins the WWE Championship and smirks. He looks relatively okay for someone who obviously wasn’t part of the scanning process, but then it cuts to a hilariously bad Vince McMahon shaking his head in disapproval. Similarly, when Triple H walks out, his face looks absolutely perfect…which accentuates how bad his hair looks.
But look at me starting off with the graphics like a jerk. The real meat is gameplay and luckily that’s the best thing WWE 2K15 has going for it. There’s been an overhaul in the way the game feels, though the basic ins and outs are the same. 2K Sports has been focusing on making it less an arcade-y fighting game and more of a simulation. Some of it is cosmetic. If John Cena is trying to do the Throwback to a laying opponent, he will automatically drag them away from the ropes first. When someone is beat up and trying to get to their feet, they will drag themselves over to the ropes to help pull themselves up. During suplexes, someone might bounce their feet off the ropes on the way down. There’s some real weight to the movements and it feels more true-to-source.
What the new system brings to the table is measuring stamina. They’ve tried this before years ago, but here it’s a bit more balanced and better thought out. You start out fresh as a daisy, but between beatings and exertion, you start to get sluggish. Sure, Big Show might be stronger than the likes of Daniel Bryan, but he’s going to get gassed a lot quicker, especially if you just spam the strike attacks. You need to pace yourself instead of just going offense, offense, offense. Some would consider this a negative, but I like it. I like that by the end of a competitive match, the two wrestlers are exhausted with flashes of energy. It also leads to one of my favorite little touches. If too much has been taken out of you, you can hit your finisher and immediately collapse, forcing you to crawl over to your opponent and drape an arm over them for the pin. Wasting that time might give them a better shot at kicking out, just like in the actual matches.
Also new is the lock-up system. Unless you turn off the option, you don’t just start the match with powerbombs and piledrivers. You lock up with your opponent, causing a minigame that builds up momentum and acts as a “feeling out” process that you’d normally see in the opening minutes of most wrestling matches. The two players lock up and press buttons which initially plays like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Once someone gets the advantage, you race with the analogue pad to figure out which direction is the “sweet spot,” which you’ll know via it flashing red. Hold in that direction long enough and the aggressor will put more pressure on the hold or the defending wrestler will slip out of it and reverse. At first I hated this and was considering just dropping the option, but once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed myself.
What sets the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions apart from the previous generation versions is MyCareer. It’s the first WWE career mode in five years and it’s a welcome sight. You play as a created wrestler and try to break into the company. You start out in the Performance Center, where Bill DeMott (otherwise known as Hugh Morris and General Hugh G. Rection) yells at you for no good reason while you wrestle fellow no-names at their special gym. Eventually, he gets you a WWE contract and a spot on NXT. There, you continue to wrestle fellow no-names and gradually some actual NXT talent starts to trickle in like Corey Graves, Adrian Neville, and Sami Zayn.
Just so you know, having Sami Zayn in this game earned this review an entire point. Ole.
You wrestle through NXT, trying to win the approval of General Manager William Regal, gain Twitter followers, and get enough experience points to build up your stats and buy new abilities. Most of the time, it isn’t winning or losing that’s important, but how you wrestle. You want to get the crowd into your match. Do a lot of reversals. Don’t just use the same two moves again and again and again. Kick out at 2, even if you can kick out at 1. Do lots of signature moves and finishers when possible. Make it as competitive as possible and don’t just squash the opposition like they’re nothing. Turn enough heads and soon Triple H will promote you to the main roster. From there, you get to compete in dark matches (untelevised matches before TV shows) and lesser programs like Superstars. Then you get to work your way to the main roster, where you’ll go for some real gold.
It’s refreshing to see them trying to push NXT and youth in general and it’s also pretty necessary when you look at the 2K Showcase mode and realize that they’re running out of history to cannibalize. Much like Attitude Era Mode in WWE ’13 and 30 Years of WrestleMania in WWE 2K14, this mode is about digging up the past and reliving it in video game form. You get to choose from two long-lasting feuds: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels from the early 2000s and John Cena vs. CM Punk from just a few years ago. I focused more on the latter, due to my having seen enough Triple H vs. Michaels to last me the rest of life, thank you very much. It begins with their classic Money in the Bank 2011 encounter and ends with their battle to earn the right to face the Rock at WrestleMania 29.
You would think that having an entire mode dedicated to two guys feuding would get tiresome, but there’s enough variety in there, even if every single match will have at least one of the two in it. When Punk defeats Cena at SummerSlam 2011 and Kevin Nash shows up to attack him, Alberto Del Rio comes out to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and you control Del Rio for an impromptu match where Punk’s entire body is in the critical red. Later down the line, when CM Punk screws Ryback out of their Hell in a Cell match, Ryback chases him up to the roof of the Cell and you get another impromptu match where you have to deliver the Shell Shock and finish the PPV. By hitting certain spots from the original match, you earn extra costumes and the like.
Remember how I gave this review an extra point for having Sami Zayn? I’m deducting a point for reminding me that Kevin Nash was involved in that CM Punk storyline.
Luckily, these nostalgia-based modes in WWE games are a great vehicle for the company’s excellent video editing crew. Between each match is an excellent video package that explains the real match’s outcome and leads into the next match, filling in all the narrative blanks on the way. Though I did laugh when Punk talked about wanting Cena’s WWE Championship and they showed a close-up of the belt itself, which had a nameplate that said “RANDY ORTON.”
If you don’t want to play with MyCareer and 2K Showcase, you can always mess around with the looser Universe mode, where you can set up matches, feuds, stables, etc. and cutscenes happen as part of it. I didn’t notice any changes from the last game.
The biggest problem with the game is what’s missing. A lot of the creating tools are gone. No more creating moves, arenas, title belts, or even storylines to download. That’s a drag right there. I mean, what’s the use of getting the game when you can’t download Vince Russo Books Raw or that storyline where a trio of Todd Grishams attack Big Show? I played with the create-a-wrestler system in an attempt to make myself. It’s pretty lacking compared to previous games. There aren’t many options for working with your face, they didn’t have my hair, and they wouldn’t allow my manly mane of chest hair (have fun making Scott Hall and Zangief, I guess). I suppose I could just make a design that looks like chest hair, download it, and make that work, but that’s just a hassle.
You also can’t create female wrestlers. On one hand, I’m not too shocked to see that shoe drop, but on the other hand, I don’t really get why they even have playable Divas to begin with. You only have eight to choose from and they can only fight each other. This wouldn’t be a problem if they would just let men and women wrestle in this game. I get that with WWE’s image, they don’t want a game with man-on-woman violence, but it’s rated Teen and it’s a video game. Nobody seems to have a problem with Chun-Li fighting dudes in Street Fighter or Peach getting hit by Mario in Super Smash Brothers. Indie wrestling has plenty of men vs. woman matches. It just sucks that Sara Del Rey can kick the crap out of men throughout the independents, but I can’t use her in the Royal Rumble.
Speaking of the Royal Rumble, for some reason you can only make it 30-man. No 10, 20, or 40-man Rumbles. Seems like an unnecessary change.
Other match types got removed. They’re usually tripe like Inferno, I Quit, and Special Referee, but it hits me as weird that they’d get rid of Best 2-Out-of-3 when it would go perfect with the stamina system. No backstage brawling either.
The commentary is for the most part pretty good, if only because it’s a delightful novelty to see Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler acting excited about what’s happening in the ring for once. One of the more impressive moments in my experience was when Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler started fighting during an Elmination Chamber match. Lawler started going on about how Ziggler’s stated that if he could have any match, it would be a 60-minute Iron Man match with Bryan, then started gushing about how cool that would be to watch. On the negative side, the post-match highlights have this weird thing where Lawler treats every highlight like it’s the first one.
“What a great match! Let’s look at some highlights! I tell you, I need to see the highlights for this match! This match had some amazing highlights, so let’s look at some!”
It wouldn’t be a WWE 2K game if it wasn’t buggy and while I haven’t seen anyone’s arm go all Gumby on me, there have certainly been some screwy moments. I set up a CPU vs. CPU match of CM Punk and my created self and Punk stood on the apron, repeatedly pulling the top rope down again and again while my buff, smooth-chested wrestling counterpart just stood there and did nothing until I restarted the match.
WWE 2K15 is an odd beast. The bells and whistles of yesteryear have fallen off, but the core is stronger. The play style is better, but the roster comes off as weak without all the legends of yesteryear being involved. If you skipped WWE 2K14 and want to get back into these games, I’d say give it a go. If you have WWE 2K14 sitting on your shelf, you might as well wait a year and see what they can do with this foundation.