WWE 2K16 Review

Centered on Stone Cold Steve Austin's career, WWE 2K16 takes last year's rebuilding of the series and fattens up the presentation.

Release Date: October 27, 2015Playform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360Developer: Visual Concepts, Yuke’sPublisher: 2K SportsGenre: Wrestling

When your video game series comes out every year or almost every year, one of the major pitfalls is complacency. You find an engine that works and you re-release it. And you re-release it again. And again. You add new stuff in there. As many bells and whistles to keep people interested outside of the ever-changing roster of playable characters. The problem comes when you realize how worn out everything’s become. The developer spends so much time tacking things on that the core game becomes increasingly old and the only way to fix it is to rebuild it from the ground up.

That’s what happened last year with WWE 2K15. With the jump to the brave new world of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, they needed to step things up both graphically and with gameplay. They started anew with a style that grounded the game and added for—laugh if you will—realism. Everything felt like it had weight to it, and the game seemed more like an actual sports competition than a superhero throwdown. In other words, it was less 1980s WWF and more 1980s WCW.

It’s a double-edged sword, though, because then you have to start all over. All those bells and whistles have to be rebuilt along with everything else, and you’re left with a less enticing package. The core game was better for it, but it came at a tremendous cost. That brings us to WWE 2K16where the healing process can finally begin.

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WWE 2K16 builds on last year’s model with the same basic game style. Truth be told, while there’s stuff in here that wasn’t around last year, there’s very little that’s new to the series itself. The big selling point here is that it has the biggest roster of any WWE game ever with 120 unique wrestlers. It works out well because it covers the past (WWE legends), the present (the current roster), and the future (the NXT roster). Seeing a handful of NXT guys in last year’s game was really promising, so having them go all-out by adding everyone from Tyler Breeze to Enzo and Big Cass made me very, very happy.

Not as happy as I was to see the Vaudevillains show up.

Luckily for them, they don’t have any immediate roster anachronisms this time around. Like how last year’s installment gave CM Punk a gigantic role in the game despite being long gone from the company by the time of its release. The worst problem they have is newly-returned guys like Del Rio and the Dudley Boyz, who you can easily find created online.

Last year, we got a brand new tie-up system to begin the matches that I found really fun as a way to roll the dice on momentum. It’s a mix of Rock, Paper, Scissors and a race to press and hold your stick in a specific direction. Though if it’s not your thing, you can always turn off the option. The same concept behind it is used to reimagine the submission system. No longer is it a bunch of button mashing (which I hated, so good riddance), but it’s a mini-game of sorts based on using the stick to point in the same direction as your opponent long enough to make them tap out. The weaker they are, the easier it is for you to keep on them.

That last paragraph probably didn’t make much sense and I apologize. It’s really hard to explain, but in action it adds a new dynamic to the matches and is great once you get used to it.

The other big change in the matches is that you are limited with reversals. It isn’t like in all the previous games where you can just keep going at the reversal trigger again and again, causing every other attack to be sidestepped and turned against the offender. Wrestlers can evade only a certain amount of times, though that count regrows over time. The higher-ranking and speedier guys appear to have more in their stock to play with, which sounds about right. It’s a good way to balance the range that the bigger guys have in their attacks.

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The entrances are fixed up noticeably. They transition from one to another and into the match itself better than ever, even if you decide to skip through some of it. No longer does the WWE logo wipe through the screen, giving us a moment of silence before the next entrance begins. Wrestler #1 enters the ring and once he’s in there doing his thing, Wrestler #2’s music kicks in.

This plays into another new trick, the Break Out. Maybe Finn Balor’s on the way to the ring first and you, playing as Seth Rollins, want to get an early advantage because you’re a scheming jerk. As Balor stalks to the ring with his Carnage body paint and dreadlocks, you can have Rollins run out from the back and clobber him, causing an abrupt and unexpected beginning to the match. Or maybe Sin Cara’s on his way to the ring and Randy Orton’s waiting for him with an RKO. It’s a cool gimmick.

Then again, it’s extra hilarious when American Badass Undertaker is involved in this because not only can you not hurt him when he’s riding his motorcycle around no matter how hard you run at him, but the moment he steps off the bike, it vanishes into thin air. The Undertaker has a ghost bike. Thinking about it, I’m more disappointed that that isn’t something that’s happened in the actual WWE.

MyCareer returns, improved big time over last year’s attempt. Last year had some good ideas, but it was pretty boring overall before ending out of nowhere. This time it’s a bit livelier from what I’ve played, partially because it doesn’t feature all the excessive training matches and starts with the storylines and feuds almost immediately.

Quick aside, one of the funniest things to me about the game is how the whole NXT Training Center has changed since last year. Last year had head trainer Bill DeMott yelling at you relentlessly for being a piece of crap who doesn’t truly want to be a wrestler. In real life, DeMott got in hot water when various wrestlers spoke out about him being genuinely abusive and going way too far with his drill sergeant mentality. He’s since been let go and replaced, and now we have Jason Albert treating you with respect and giving you heartfelt advice.

There are backstage segments in MyCareer mode that have their heart in the right place, but WWE 2K16 Renee Young is outright creepy, both in looks and the way she unnaturally pauses when introducing you. Still, your chosen reactions to her questions build you up as a character, driving you as a face or a heel, so that’s pretty cool.

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The Creative Suite returns, and thankfully, it’s better than last year’s. Last year’s Create-a-Superstar mode was dialed back too much, missing a lot of important ingredients…like creating women, among others. Now it lets you deform the wrestler’s head, which allows more freedom. Want to make Sloth from Goonies? Great, have at it. Want to give your guy a big, cartoony, Strong Bad-like head? Go for it!

The ability to change fabric on everything from pants to elbow pads is a nice addition. It’s just a better package overall. While the online hub for downloading community creations has yet to fully hatch, I’ve seen some really creative outfits already. Even a Sonic the Hedgehog that didn’t look half-bad!

Create-a-Story is still missing, but honestly I never really used it for myself. I just like seeing what craziness people online can put together.

Also back is 2K Showcase, otherwise known as the story mode that plays into WWE’s love for cannibalizing the past. Over the years, they’ve had players reenact the Attitude Era, WrestleMania’s greatest hits, and several major feuds. Now they go back to the well with WWE 2K16 cover boy Stone Cold Steve Austin. Through 2K Showcase you play through Austin’s WWE career.

The drawback is, of course, that you’re stuck playing as Austin for an eternity. Get used to it. Though at least this year you won’t be stuck having to deal with the same opponents over and over again.

*Suddenly has traumatic flashbacks to Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H and their 500 rematches*

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It’s worth your time anyway, if only for the presentation. First off, there are a bunch of history lesson video packages in-between the matches that catch you up on Austin’s career trajectory. No matter the problems with the company, WWE’s #1 unwavering skill in the past 15 years has been their ability to make video packages amazing. Here is no different. It’s a great reward for winning your matches and pulling off the correct objectives.

The in-game cutscenes reenact the key moments and do it better than any WWE game before it. Animated gestures are completely on-point. Like how in the first match, Austin defeating Jake Roberts in the finals of King of the Ring 1996, you don’t simply do the famous kick-wham-Stunner combo that Austin became known for. It animates into Austin simply holding Jake into position for a slower, less explosive Stunner, just like how it happened in the actual match. Then afterwards, it has Austin’s in-game model recite his entire, epic “Austin 3:16” promo, complete with blanking out mentions of “WWF” and his specific mention of “Thunderbird” wine.

Completing objectives in your matches also unlocks bonus matches in Austin’s career. Namely his WCW matches as Stunning Steve and his short-lived ECW run. Yes, this just may be the first WWE game where you can play as Austin with HAIR.

Now, the silliest thing about this mode is his match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV. Mike Tyson was involved as the enforcer/secondary ref and was really damn important. Saved-the-company-from-going-bankrupt important. Rather than shell out for his likeness again, they instead have him replaced with some chubby Asian guy dubbed The Enforcer. I wonder if he’s friends with Mr. Dream from Punch Out.

I didn’t get a chance to fiddle around with WWE Universe mode too much, though from what I’ve seen, it’s mostly the same. You can alter the attributes of the wrestlers a bit better than before and it currently has the problem where you can’t set up title matches. 2K Sports is going to patch that in the near future, so as least they realize it’s an issue.

Now for the problems with the game. The biggest one for me is the whole Diva situation. It’s been a regular thing in WWE games for years, but it’s never not dumb that you can’t have women fight men. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it. WWE doesn’t want women getting punched by dudes since they’re all PG these days. But it still annoys me for various reasons. Mainly that it makes the women wrestlers into this island that’s there for the sake of being there. There’s just a handful of women and whatever female creations you have who can only take on each other. It feels pointless, yet would be offensive if they were removed completely.

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I don’t think it’s as big a deal as they like to think it is. Chun-Li has been fighting Ryu for years. Here, you can make Chun-Li, but she’s no longer allowed to fight Ryu in a Teen-rated game. Hell, the embargo on inter-gender fighting is only localized to this specific WWE series. WWE Immortals has no problem seeing Big Show and Sheamus duke it out with the Bella Twins. Did anyone ever make a big stink about that?

My talk earlier about the struggles of starting over on a game lends itself to the commentary. We have years and years of Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler recordings. We’ve been tired of hearing Lawler talk about “educated feet” for forever. Now JBL is added to the announce team, but he’s only recorded so much in relation to the massive stock of Cole/Lawler dialogue. Not only does JBL sound completely disinterested in everything going on, but you easily forget he’s even there. I went about twenty minutes in the Royal Rumble without hearing him say a word.

And there’s the glitches. I’ve long made my peace with that. No matter how much the games improve, we’ll always have ridiculous glitches in our WWE 2K releases. It really wouldn’t be the same without them.

While those regular problems remain, it’s still one of the most solid WWE 2K games we’ve seen yet. WWE 2K15 was a promising new start, but suffered from being bare-bones. A year has passed and we now have some meat on those bones. It’s regained its weight and it’s definitely worth checking out.

Oh, and Run DMC’s “Tricky” regularly plays during the menu screens. That’s a major plus in my book.

Gavin Jasper’s headcanon says that Hulk Hogan isn’t in the game because the Terminator went back in time and killed him during his AWA days. Follow Gavin on Twitter!

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4.5 out of 5