It’s that time of year again. The time when summers need to be slammed, series need to be survived, and the mania is all about wrestling. It must be WWE 2K15 time. Determined to give fans the most realistic WWE experience to date, developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have teamed up again in an attempt to bring the series into the new generation of consoles. With a few tweaks here and there, WWE 2K15’s in-ring action does feel notably different than in past iterations. However, “different” doesn’t always translate into “good,” and this year it seems like the developers may have improvised a little too freely as some of the changes make the experience dreadfully uneven at times.
After a few matches, it’s easy to see the objective Yuke’s and Visual Concepts had with this year’s entry - to make the gameplay mirror what fans see when they tune in to watch their favorite superstars on television. WWE 2K15 isn’t so much meant to be a true wrestling simulator, but rather a simulation of WWE programming in general as a sports entertainment product. It’s with this goal in mind that the developers made a couple of risky alterations to the core gameplay, but unfortunately those risks don’t always yield much in the way of positive results or fun gameplay.
The biggest offender is the new chain-wrestling system. Implemented as a mechanic to help recreate the methodical, back-and-forth pacing of a bout’s earlier moments, it feels a little underdeveloped. As the wrestlers lock up with each other at the beginning of a match, players are presented with a rock-paper-scissors-style mini-game to try and determine which hold they will move to. If their selection beats the AI’s, then they will move to that hold and play another mini-game. Now, players must rotate the right stick to find the sweet spot that will fill their meter and allow them to stay in control. The defensive player also tries to do the same in order to regain control. If this all sounds a little tedious, that’s because it absolutely is. Deliberate pacing is one thing, but this makes the first few minutes of a match borderline boring. Considering this feature can be turned off in the options menu, it seems likely that even the developers questioned whether the mechanic might be a little too experimental for the franchise.
Also adjustable this year is the reversal system. It’s implemented the same as last year, but now players may go into the options menu and increase or decrease the amount of time they have to react. Unfortunately, despite having a larger window of time, the system still feels broken. Even the visual feedback given to help players learn the timing doesn't always feel accurate. Players will get better with practice as they begin to memorize exactly when a reversal is possible within each move, but the question is whether or not they will have already body slammed their controller through the couch in frustration long before then.
The health/stamina bar has been revamped this year but still remains a source of irritation. The multi-layered bar completes its basic task of showing how much stamina a player has left, but fails at letting players know when to strike with a finishing move. Dominating an opponent down to the least amount of health possible, landing a devastating finishing move, and going for the pin only to have them kick out is too frequent and occasionally infuriating. Again, it is understood that this isn't just a fighting game, and that’s one way that wrestling builds tension for entertainment sake on television. However for gaming, a medium based around the mastery of skills and rules, having things just happen because the game thinks it’s more exciting is about as far away from entertaining as it gets, especially when it costs players the match.
The two standout game modes this year are 2K Showcase and MyCareer. Fans that missed a fully realized career mode last year should be pleased with what’s offered here. Much like NBA 2K15, players will create a wrestler and work their way up the ladder from an unknown newcomer to a WWE superstar by being the best entertainer. This is where that idea of quality entertainment versus quality wrestling comes into play most significantly. Engaged fans and showmanship are more important here than wins. Customization isn’t quite as deep as in past entries, but forcing players to consider how WWE works as an entertainment entity, instead of worrying about just their own wrestler, is easily the most compelling idea at play here.
Serving as this year’s historical mode, 2K Showcase focuses on the recent rivalries of C.M. Punk vs. John Cena and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels, and the story arcs that those rivalries took. While not as all encompassing as the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode that we were quite fond of last year, 2K Showcase has the same top-notch presentation and hits all the right nostalgia buttons.
With WWE making its debut on new hardware, it almost goes without saying that the game looks great. From a pure graphical fidelity standpoint, this is the best the series has ever looked. Character models are all generally very accurate, and entrance and wrestling animations are as smooth as ever. The main drawback though, and it’s a big one, is that simple player movement within the ring feels slow and cumbersome. Characters’ feet will slide along the floor as they get into a position, and subtle movements like circling and closing distance between wrestlers all just feel wrong.
Overall, WWE 2K15 is a hit or miss experience. The misses may not seem all that numerous, but because they affect many of the core gameplay elements, they carry a lot of weight and make it hard to see WWE 2K15 as anything but a disappointing step backwards for the series. Players that make the effort to give in and understand what the developers were trying to accomplish will still find plenty to enjoy and tinker with because there's still a lot that this game gets absolutely right. The developers should be applauded for at least trying some new things to address fan feedback and to help align the game with their vision for the series. It’s just too bad that it will probably take another year or two of polishing those new ideas before they translate into something a little more fun to play.
WWE 2K15 is currently available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4 and PS3. The Xbox One version was provided for this review.
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