Dude, where’s my features?
The first iteration of a sports series on a new generation of consoles typically has the same issues. Missing features, hit or miss additions and inconsistent visuals all generally pop up in varying degrees. While some may debate its classification as a sport, WWE 2K15 certainly lives up to the sports game legacy. Sporting mostly impressive new visuals and a brand new gameplay system, 2K has made some pretty major changes to the formula. Unfortunately, these changes have been accompanied by missing match types, limits in the create options and an overall lack of depth across the entire package.
The first thing that most long-time fans of the series will notice is how much different the gameplay is. Everything has been slowed down a ton, and all the moves feel like they have a lot more impact and substance, particularly the strikes. A new Chain Wrestling system has been implemented, which pops up early in the match, sometimes multiple times, and presents the player with a Rock-Paper-Scissors type choice. This choice determines who has the initial advantage in the battle of holds to follow. Once in control players can either hit the other wrestler from the hold, or wrench the hold 3 times before both players begin a scramble to find the “sweet-spot” by rotating the R stick around, similar to a Role playing game lock picking system. This continues for a couple of rounds (depending on a slider setting in the options menu). I really like this feature, and it makes the beginning of a match feel more realistic.
Platforms: PS4, XB1, 360, PS3
Multiplayer: Online and local
The signature and finisher system returns, also allowing characters to hit a “charged” finisher if they successfully land a finisher directly following the signature. Players will also find a ton of OMG moves returning. These require a finisher stored and range from kicking an opponent’s head while it’s against the ring post to apron DDT’s and of course putting people through barricades or tables.
Perhaps the most impactful game play change is the addition of a stamina system. This three tiered meter wears down as the wrestler does, adding a degree of strategy to the move and movement choices made as the match goes on. Wear out stamina early and players will find themselves crawling around or taking a longer time to recover after performing offensive moves. This sometimes leads to very dramatic moments, like crawling over to a downed opponent to make a desperate pin attempt. I do feel like the stamina system needs some tweaks however, as it sometimes degenerates into a lot of standing/laying around waiting for stamina to recharge. I feel like slowing the game down is a definite step in the right direction, as the series has long suffered from action that is unrealistically fast, but there needs to be a nice balance between realism and fun. I think they’re closer to this now then they have been.
Visually the game is solid. Most of the wrestler models are shockingly lifelike, but this does serve to make the ones who weren’t scanned stand out like sore thumbs (particular ones with as much importance to the Showcase mode as CM Punk and Vince McMahon). The new motion captured animations are also mostly very strong, and are aided by the change in pace of the new gameplay system, which allows for more weight to all the interactions. In the hours that I played the game I didn’t find a single visual glitch or strange animation, which is a definite improvement over the last couple of years.
The create modes in the game have taken a real step back this year, perhaps the largest of the next gen sacrifices. Create an arena, story and title belt are all gone. Within create a wrestler I found limited face tuning options, and the complete lack of ability to create female superstars. Create an entrance maintains its easy and advanced modes, which allow for some flexibility, but I found there was really only one generic entrance move set (talking on the phone) and the rest are all WWE Superstars. Players accustomed to large rosters of created wrestlers will be disappointed to learn that they are limited to 25 (including any WWE Superstars whose attire has been edited). This wouldn’t be as egregious if the roster wasn’t so thin. Missing Superstars and questionable choices (Multiple versions of CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio for example) will leave players feeling a bit underwhelmed at the selection screen.
The main draws from an activity standpoint are the new Showcase and Career modes. The Showcase mode allows players to step into two major rivalries in the WWE’s somewhat recent history, the HHH/HBK feud and the John Cena/CM Punk feud. The presentation here is similar to the Wrestlemania and Attitude era modes that were included in the last couple years games. Players take on a match that contains objectives to complete in order to closely match real life events. Completing these events serves to unlock extra superstars, arenas, attire and more.
After every match, players also get a video recap of the real events to compare. As with the aforementioned Wrestlemania and Attitude era features, this is a fun distraction that benefits from being more tightly focused on individual superstars and their rivals. There are some filler matches here, which is strange because there are also a couple matches that could have been included but weren’t, but overall, most of the matches felt important. The mode still had too many times when control switches from player to cut scene for my taste, but it didn’t have a dramatic impact on the overall experience.
In MyCareer I was tasked with creating a superstar and guiding him up the ladder of the WWE, from the Performance Center and NXT all the way up to the big time. While the concept is solid, the execution was somewhat lacking. For starters, the aforementioned shallowness in the player creation mode starts to rear its head here a bit. There are also way too many filler matches or moments that don’t really add to the experience of telling the cohesive “story” of your wrestler. I felt like a lot of potential was left on the table here, as I didn’t feel like a ton of stuff really happened. I would have liked to see some more development here, with more extracurricular activities than was present. The created wrestler also earns upgrades at a painfully slow rate in this mode, meaning I felt pretty ineffective for a while. I think with some more meat on its bones they have the potential for something really cool here, especially with the NXT tie-in, but right now it’s passable.
WWE Universe mode returns, and is quite robust. Players still have flexibility to redesign shows (although the lack of create an arena hurts the potential of this), to build or rip apart factions and alliances and to structure the brands however they see fit. I imagine this is where most people will spend their time once the initial appeal of the Career and Showcase modes wear off, and it’s easy to drop a couple hours playing through the action.
For those that just want to jump in and play, the Exhibition modes are robust, but continuing the overall trend not as numerous as the last couple years. Notable omissions are I Quit and Inferno matches, as well as some puzzling decisions for number of players that can take place in certain match types. The Title Match section has a ton of championships to fight for, so those that long for the brand split days or just really liked the WWF Light Heavyweight or WCW Hardcore championships are covered.
Any wrestling fan could name off a dozen guys who seemingly had the base necessary for a successful career; people who had the right look, moves and talent, but just couldn’t put it all together. WWE 2K15 is a solid foundation that can be built on for the future. The game play changes are solid and with some refinement could be very good. They’re on to a great idea with the Showcase modes. and could potentially flesh out the Career Mode into something great. As it stands right now its a solid if unspectacular debut on the new generation of consoles. Who knows though, the wrestling industry is full of people who turned unspectacular debuts into international superstardom. It just takes putting it all together.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.