In late August, on the evening before Stephen Amell and Neville went toe to toe with Stardust and King Barrett, I ventured out to New York City for the epic Summerslam Kickoff event, sponsored by 2K Games. There was free food, drinks, WWE superstars on hand for interviews, and a sweet-ass performance by rapper Fabolous. But the main reason I was there was to get hands-on time with WWE 2K16. The event itself was well put together, packed with the 2K PR and development teams, who are always a pleasure and very accommodating, and many of my wonderful colleagues, who are always loads of fun. WWE 2K16 itself, however, paled in comparison, and this has me deeply concerned about the final build that’s set to hit stores this October.
My hope is that if anyone from the 2K16 team happens to come across this, they understand that this is coming from a huge fan of wrestling games. WWF: No Mercy, Smackdown II: Know Your Role (my Kurt Angle was ridiculous), Smackdown vs. Raw — the hours I logged across all of these games would put this genre as one of my top three most played. You’re dealing with someone who knows wrestling games, understands their meta, and can appreciate one that is well made. As of now, the series has lost its way from a gameplay standpoint, and I pray to see it return to its previous state of immense fun. So, with that said, how is 2K16 stacking up thus far?
What’s new and what’s old in WWE 2K16
WWE 2K16 boasts the largest roster in any wrestling game to date. With 120 different characters set to be available at launch, players will be able to take control of everyone from new superstars like Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, to veterans like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and even oddities like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator (weird, I know). There’s a robust roster of wrestlers here, and there’s a good chance you’ll have access to one of your favorites right out of the box–provided that your favorite isn’t anyone who has parted ways with the company due to legal issues. This is to say nothing of the imminent DLC and created characters that are sure to be thrown into the mix down the road.
Everything else feature-wise gets fuzzy from here on out because a lot of elements that have been in the series previously, but were mysteriously absent in last year’s game, are making a return. The Creative Suite is back, allowing players to create a wrestler, Diva, arena, PPV event, or championship belt. Tornado tag team, ladder tag team, and handicap tag team matches are all making a return to the series as well. They even upped the ante with the MyCareer mode and fixed the WWE Universe feature so that it allows superstars to be booked for more than one show.
Mechanically, there are a few new things that I noticed right off the bat. Pinning an opponent now brings up a Madden kickoff-like mini-game that prompts the downed player to land a cursor in an indicated area in order to kick out of being pinned. There’s also a brand new submission system, which operates similar to that of EA Sports UFC, tasking the submitting opponent to place their cursor over their victim’s in order to apply more pressure to the hold. These were both seamless and welcome additions to the game, though I definitely still miss the “mashing out” tactics of the old days.
The new 2K Showcase mode allows you to relive some of the greatest moments in the federation’s history. The highlight of this feature is the mere fact that the original audio from these historical moments has been retained and intertwined with the gameplay–this also includes some of the best wrestling promos of all time. Remember this?
This should proven to be a crucial factor in increasing the presentation value of the final game. But, as things stand, this may come at the expense of decent gameplay, which is what we’ll get into next.
When keeping it real goes wrong
My main takeaway from my hands-on time with WWE 2K16 was that most of the resources and focus seemed to be catered to its presentation, rather than its gameplay. There’s nothing but beauty to behold when checking out 2K16‘s visuals; the little nuances like blood staining the wrestling ring and the accuracy of wrestler entrances are very pleasing to the eye. However, the controls were clunky and unresponsive, a problem that has been rampant in the last several iterations of the game. The fluidity that I enjoyed from the wrestling games of old never seemed so far removed. Everything from executing suplexes to something as simple as climbing the turnbuckle looked a million times better than they actually felt.
The chain wrestling system from WWE 2K15 seemed to be a step in the proper direction, but was hindered by this exact same thing — overproduction in other areas of the game. Perhaps this is why some of the same issues from 2K15 were back in full effect in the preview build of this game. There were claims from the developer that the referee A.I. was improved, but from my hands-on time, the referee was constantly in the way and obstructing the flow of gameplay. Waiting for animations to slowly pan out and watching wrestlers slide into place to perform a move were just a couple of other instances where gameplay was hampered by the game attempting to look stylish and realistic.
Unfortunately, the realism was broken by issues like the game’s less-than-stellar collision detection. Having a running drop kick land on an opponent who’s standing several feet away took me completely out of the game–even more so than the clunky and unresponsive controls. While this was a preview build of the game, I must reiterate that these were issues I experienced with WWE 2K15 as well, and for that reason, my optimism is slightly diminished. This is a game that’s striving to be a simulation of sorts — and that’s fine — but I’m not sure that folks who want to play a complex grappler like the wrestling titles of old are going to dig this style of gameplay.
Holding onto hope
I’m not sure what exactly Yukes and Visual Concept’s vision is for the WWE game series. To be frank, I’m perplexed. I don’t understand how this series has continued to make the same mistakes for so many consecutive years. Maybe it’s the pressure of delivering an annualized game, or perhaps it’s the pressure of living up to the prestige of its predecessors. Whatever it is, as it stands, 2K needs to make a major change on this series sooner rather than later. Or let’s just hope that the final build of WWE 2K16 is immensely better than what I tried in New York and that I’m eating my words come October 27.