Why WWE video games need a serious attitude adjustment
When 2K Sports revealed the latest face to grace the cover of WWE's historic video game series, it demonstrated an attitude that has been deflating the franchise for the past few years. Stone Cold Steve Austin, the biggest star of the Attitude Era and multi-time WWE Champion, appeared as an ideal selection to be the poster boy for upcoming installment WWE 2K16.
“Stone Cold Steve Austin’s iconic style, unmistakable personality and worldwide reverence from the WWE Universe make him the ideal fit for WWE 2K16,” said Chris Snyder, Vice President of Marketing at 2K. And while that rings true, it indicates that WWE video games are still too reliant on the past and are giving a Stunner to the roster's present and future stars.
It has long been rumored that this latest edition to the franchise would feature a "Stone Cold" mode, recreating some of his memorable moments and matches from the Attitude Era. Sounds appealing in principle, as Austin's WWE legacy is heralded as one of the most successful eras in the history of professional wrestling.
But, Stone Cold mode has the potential to tarnish the rest of the content of the game.
Take WWE 2K15 as a prime example. As an avid WWE fan and one who has played every game in the SmackDown series, I can say with all confidence that last year's addition to the series was by far the worst ever produced. Besides the excellent graphics which were commendable, the remaining features were so minimalist it should have been titled WWE: Rock Bottom.
This was partly due to focus being driven into the Showcase Mode, which unsurprisingly harked back to WWE's past.
It provided in-depth recreations of celebrated rivalries in previous years, primarily John Cena vs. CM Punk and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels. These were very well done and enjoyable to play, but at only 33 matches long it could keep the player entertained for only so long.
After that, the poor quality and simplicity of the other game modes were underwhelming to say the least, and downright pitiful to say it accurately. Virtually no creative suites, limited match options, lifeless commentary and a repetitive career mode made its replay value non-existent. The elements that had made previous editions of the WWE games so successful, such as partaking in unique stories with current superstars/divas and forming your own characters were derailed due to this focus on the past.
This look towards the past began in WWE 13 with the Attitude Era mode, a look into the components of the company's most popular age, and the centerpiece of the Monday Night Wars. The player would take on a range of significant characters, such as Austin, The Rock, Mankind and DX to recreate the finest moments of this two-year span. This was again a positively received aspect of the game, but the actual gameplay and Universe mode were lacking.
WWE 2K14 suffered a similar problem.
The main appeal of the game was replaying past matches from WrestleMania, which were crafted with impeccable detail. But, when the few hours spent completing that campaign were finished, there was very little to convince the gamer to stick around for longer. The Universe mode remained unpolished and repetitive, and the matches were clunky. Reviewers would fawn over the nostalgia value, but this seemingly disintegrated the actual value of playing the game itself.
The older games were much better.
It isn't surprising that WWE 12, the last WWE video game to devote it's primary mode to current superstars and fresh stories was one of the best-received wrestling games in history. The Road to WrestleMania mode was extensive and original, whilst the reimagining of past matches, though interesting, was simply a retelling of moments that fans had already experienced.
The greatest examples of WWE games, namely Shut Your Mouth, Here Comes the Pain and SmackDown vs RAW 2006 had depth to their stories and a creative flair that invested the player into the action they were participating in. Pulling on past experiences is not only lazy, but it saps away at this creative writing that could develop absolutely absurd and entertaining rivalries that couldn't possibly be achieved in reality.
I hope that this is merely pessimism, and WWE 2K16 does bring about the return of original and compelling feuds and storylines that made previous editions interesting. But their choice of Steve Austin on the cover does not present an inspiring image for these aspirations. It appears that for another year 2K Sports will pledge their allegiances to a star of the past, rather than concentrate on the present and future in WWE, safe in the knowledge they have no competition to worry about.
The fact remains that whoever was on the cover, how many characters filled the roster and what game modes are announced in the coming months, thousands upon thousands will purchase this game as it has become habit. But in order to reestablish some critical acclaim that has been sorely lacking in recent titles, they need to shift away from former glories, and craft new narratives that feature today's superstars and divas.
Look towards NXT, and use that as the basis of an interesting career mode, with the options of twists and turns in a character's tenure. WWE 2K15's version seemed little more than an afterthought, and that needs to be remedied in the upcoming edition. That being given the most attention will make the fans happier than regurgitating a "best of" collection of Stone Cold's finest moments. The reliance on the Attitude Era needs an NXT Takeover, otherwise WWE 2K16 will be gathering dust on shelves by the end of November.