WWE 2K16 Review: New mechanics make for excellent wrestling
Last year marked 2K and Yuke's first foray into the current generation of consoles with a WWE game. With WWE 2K15 2K aimed to make some big changes to the series in an attempt to make it more like a simulation - namely that of match pacing and MyCareer mode. The result was a game full of great ideas and decent execution but an ultimately disappointing leap to PS4 and Xbox One. Nonetheless, the foundation was set.
WWE 2K16 continues the path set by its predecessor by doubling down on match pacing and MyCareer while adding many new modes, improved visuals, an excellent career retrospective for Steve Austin, and featuring the greatest roster ever.
WWE 2K16 is a rousing success.
WWE 2K15 really altered match pacing in the series for the first time by implementing the chain wrestling mini-game, adding a stamina meter, and a few small improvements like the wrestlers bouncing back out of the turnbuckle when their health bar is still in the green - it made matches feel authentic because the wrestlers seemed to tire and get beaten down.
Not everyone liked the less arcadey action of 2K15, but it made the action more realistic and revitalised the series. 2K16 goes even further into this realm by adding a brand new reversal system, which is arguably one of the biggest gameplay changes WWE games has ever seen. And it's a change I wholeheartedly approve of.
The new system means you have a stock number of reversals that can be used. So most superstars will have 5 reversals at the start of the match. Reversing a clothesline or a suplex will take one away, though it will recharge over time. Additionally, some moves can be reversed in more than one way, which is another big change for the series. Certain moves, usually big ones like a hurricanrana, can be reversed early on, which can result in you just dodging the move, or it may be reversed at a later stage that is harder to pull off but results in a more impactful reversal. Of course, it takes a few matches to get used to the fact that you can no longer just hit R2/RT and reverse every punch or grapple, but once you do it dramatically changes the way matches are played.
The Swiss Superman looks photo-realistic
The first match I played was between Finn Balor and Cesaro.
I used a few of my reversals early in the match and had to re-think my strategy - no easy feat considering that's 15+ years of wrestling gaming. I started playing a more strategic match; maybe I allow Cesaro to hit a big boot in the corner so that I could reverse a huge European uppercut later on. The match progressed, and I got a good stranglehold on it - I hit Balor's signature Bullet Dropkick in the corner, I taunted and then I dragged Cesaro's limp body into position, scaled the top turnbuckle and gracefully landed for the Coup de Grace. There it was, I hit circle for the pin, 1.....2.....and Cesaro kicked out! I was shocked, and so was Finn Balor as the camera zoomed in on his slack-jawed face.
I can't recall ever playing a match in which I had so firmly beaten my opponent, hit my finisher and he kicked out. From here Cesaro got up, got a few moves in and I had to escape the ring. I climbed back in, ran at him and he threw me up into the air and landed that big European Uppercut I'd been dreading. Then he cranked his head and I knew the Neutralizer was coming. I again left the ring, let my stamina regain and restarted my approach. A few minutes later I landed the Coup de Grace for the second time and got the oh-so-sweet 123.
It was easily one of the most dramatic, dynamic and exciting matches I've ever had in a wrestling game and it set an amazing tone for everything else to come.
Another new addition to the gameplay is that of working holds. Much like the chain wrestling, these holds are executed via the analogue mini-game. In real wrestling working holds are applied in order to let both wrestlers get their breath back but in the game they do exactly what they are intended to; wear your opponent down and reduce their health and stamina, while rebuilding yours. It's a nice new addition that can change how your match plays out - you might be laying the smack down when your opponent slaps on a headlock for a good minute and suddenly you're in his/her hands.
Then there's the revamped submission and pinning mini-games. The submission games sees you play one of two roles: if you are on the offensive, you will use the analogue to swivel a bar around a circle and get inside your opponents bar; if you stay inside theirs long enough, they tap out. On the flip side, you have to stay away from the opponents bar, and you'll find your way out. Next we have the pinning system, which is no longer just button mashing or holding X and letting go at the right time.
Again you get a small circle in the centre of the screen and there will be a green area, the size of which depends on your health, and the circle will begin to fill up - your objective is to stop the line when it enters the green kickout area. This is a much better mini-game than previous years.
There are many more small additions to the gameplay, namely that of improved animations, both during moves and in between them. WWE 2K16 took the gameplay blueprint put in place by last year's instalment and makes it a lot more enjoyable, exciting and less repetitive.
My Career mode was a big change for the series last year and one of the most anticipated in years. You create your custom superstar and wrassle your way up from the Performance Centre, through NXT, onto RAW and culminate your journey at WrestleMania. Similar modes had been very popular in the SmackDown vs. Raw games series, as well as Day of Reckoning, plus NXT's inclusion was very exciting - so this mode was definitely garnering some hype. The result, however, was a disappointing mode that wasn't much different from Universe mode. It was an endless grind with no real outcomes or rewards.
WWE 2K16 brings back this mode but adds a lot of depth to it. The caveat is the same: create a Superstar, join the ranks of NXT, win the title belt, move to Raw, win titles and, eventually, become a Hall of Famer. That last objective replaced that of competing at WrestleMania in the last game. The main objectives are the same, so what's different? Well, the story.
Last time out, there was no story - every so often you'd get an email or a tweet and told repetitive "storyline" elements by Vicki Guerrero. This time around you get actual rivalries and interesting relationship dynamics. There are no annoying emails - those are replaced by in-game run-ins or pseudo-cutscenes.
It's a fun mode that is nowhere near as much of a grind as last year, thanks to the rivalries. Choosing which titles to go for, who to compete in rivalries with, who to partner with, and which sides to take, make for a far more interesting, personal journey. The mode doesn't have the OMG story moments that would elevate it to amazing levels, but it does a decent job that keeps you invested throughout.
Jet Myers - my Superstar at the beginning of his journey!
Devil in the Details
However, there are a few elements of the My Career mode that hold it back. Annoyingly the NXT arena still has the entrance ramp on the left. Sure this is just a small detail to be hung up on but it does remove the feeling of being in NXT. This is also driven home by the fact that Michael Cole, JBL, and Jerry Lawler are commentating in NXT.
If you watch NXT you will know that this isn't the case; Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and Rich Brennan are the talkers of NXT. This is a much bigger issue than the entrance ramp and totally removed my immersion - the reason NXT is as beloved as it is, is because it is an entirely different beast than that of RAW or Smackdown and hearing the same commentators takes away from that.
2K16 = 3:16
The big selling point for WWE 2K16 is the Stone Cold Showcase mode. Steve Austin is the cover star for the game and has been doing a ton of promotion for it, including the excellent 'Book of Austin' video series (which can be seen near the end of the article). It was only fitting that the game focus around the Texas Rattlesnake considering this is the closest we'll ever get to his infamous 3:16 number.
The Showcase mode follows the same basic outline as previous installments: win matches (and complete objectives within those matches), to work your way through the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin, unlocking tons of arenas, Superstars and attires along the way.
The video packages and retrospective are worth the price of the game alone - reliving the career of the greatest of all-time in minute detail is a fantastic experience that is sure to make you submit with nostalgia.
Sweet Creation Suite
The creation suite is back this year and offers a much larger variety of features than last year. A host of fan favorite features return this year, including Create-an-Arena and Create-a-Championship, as well as an improved Create-a-Superstar suite. Other new features allow you to alter the face and body in finer detail than ever before, as well as the option to upload a photo of your face and use that on a custom Superstar or Diva.
The tools with which you can create a wrestler have been improved, like new hairstyles and the ability to dye the hair, however, some areas like tattoo's are still absurdly undercooked. Seriously, there's a small amount of tattoo's you can choose from, most of them are atrocious things no-one would have on their body, the others are tattoo's actual wrestlers have - no, I don't want the exact same tattoo as Baron Corbin or The Undertaker, that's just dumb.
Regardless, there's enough there to let you create a fairly unique character. Then there's the move-sets and the entrance editor. The move-set creator is as vast and fun to sift through as always, and the entrance editor is more detailed and better laid-out than ever before. That being said, the lack of decent entrance music is frustrating.
You can either use an existing wrestlers music, which nobody likes to do, or choose from a short list of extremely generic tracks that are pretty one-note. It's a shame that the last generation we were able to import songs from our console to the game and use any custom track as an entrance theme, and several years later there's no such option.
But all is not well in the land of 2K16: the game hits many high-spots, but there are some definite lulls in the action. Without doubt the two biggest issues I had with the game, are the visuals and the load times.
I'm sure you've looked at a few of the screenshots and can see how visually impressive they are, and yes, the majority of the Superstars look fantastic. Your John Cena's, Randy Orton's, Triple H's, and so on, are almost photo-realistic, but a few of the lesser stars are glaringly bad. It's because of how good a lot of the character models look, that the bad ones look really bad. Renee Young, for example, her character looks really weird - as though she was designed in Smackdown vs. RAW 2007.
In the MyCareer mode, Young interviews your character after rivalry moments and big matches, and not only her design but the sound design is really poor. For example, she is supposed to introduce you but because she isn't designed to say names there is an awkward pause between her introducing you and asking a question. The entire interview scenes look jarring and undercooked.
And, as is always the case, the crowd looks terrible. I understand the crowd are not a priority when designing a sports game. However, the WWE crowds are always close to the action and thus seeing a realistic Superstar standing next to what looks like a cardboard cut-out fan, is pretty jarring. I really wish Yukes would set aside a team of 10 or so developers whose sole job is to make a great looking, dynamic crowd that react appropriately.
The same can be said for the commentating, which is as eye-rolling as ever. They don't react when you hit big moves, and their vocal range barely increases when there's a near fall or a huge bump. Additionally they seem to have no memory, never reciting past events in the Universe or MyCareer mode. Sure they will mention recent attack but that all takes place at the start of the matches and from there it's the same old droll.
Then there's the load time.
WWE 2K16 introduced a fantastic new feature; that of no load times between matches. This means Seth Rollins will saunter down to the ring, then his music will cut out and Rusev's will start immediately. No load times or cut-to-blacks make playing matches that much more immediate and enjoyable. However, the load times elsewhere can be painful.
Now the load times were to be one of my biggest complaints about the game; you see, entering a match or creation mode could take anywhere up to 40 seconds. Even just switching hairstyles seemed to take a lifetime. This took away from the fun of creating your custom Superstar or Diva. However, at the time of writing, the latest update for the game seems to have dramatically decreased the load times to mere seconds. My first few days with the game had me pulling out my phone or going to the bathroom when I switched modes or set up a match; this doesn't seem to be an issue anymore, which is a fantastic improvement.
WWE 2K16 is a big improvement on the previous installment. MyCareer mode has been vastly improved to make for a far more interesting and rewarding experience, and the Stone Cold Showcase mode is worth the price of admission alone.
The in-ring action is better than ever with the biggest roster ever, smarter AI and further improved match pacing, as well as no load times between entrances. The three-man commentary team shakes things up a bit too, and so does the inclusion of Good 'Ole JR in the Showcase mode, but they are as limited and scripted as always.
Despite some flaws that have haunted the series for many years now, WWE 2K16 shows great improvement in the series and continues to set the standard for wrestling games. Now, if I could just get General Manager Mode back!