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It’s that time of year again; the last leaves are falling from the trees, a chill is in the air and WWE is hoping their latest video game will distract wrestling fans from the fact that nothing important is going to happen on their television until after the Royal Rumble in January. Last year’s WWE 2K15, the first wrestling game co-developed by 2K studio Visual Concepts, was missing that X-factor, but for WWE 2K16, the developers have promised, well, more. More of everything! More characters, more depth and more customization options!
But should fans be excited for a heftier helping of something they didn’t particularly enjoy last year? Is WWE 2K16 a contender, or just more of a so-so thing?
WWE 2K16 (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 & PS4)
WWE 2K16 looks largely identical to last year’s game, which is to say, it’s wildly inconsistent. Top stars like John Cena and Randy Orton, and a handful of random guys who happened to have the time to be thoroughly scanned, look uncannily like their real life counterparts. That said, most of the midcarders and basically all the legends are some degree of hilarious or awful. Diamond Dallas Page looks like he was tossed off in Create-a-Superstar, Nikki Bella has been given the legs and lower body of Brodus Clay, and the even future of the company Roman Reigns looks more like a panhandler than a Samoan prince.
Cesaro is once again the most accurately rendered guy in the game.
The game’s soundtrack caters to wide cross-section of terrible musical tastes. We have inspirational rap songs with lyrics about teen suicide sitting side-by-side with a Marilyn Manson song about how love is evil and Rebel Yell by Billy Idol for some f*cking reason. The only thing the songs have in common is that none of them sound anything like something that would play on WWE TV (well, aside from Marilyn Manson). Thankfully, the soundtrack does include “Tricky” by Run-DMC, which I set to play on rotation for an hour before turning the music off altogether.
You’ll probably want to do the same with the game’s commentary, although Jerry Lawler enthusiastically declaring, “With matches like THAT, they’ll have to open up a spot in the HALL OF FAME!” after a two-minute Zack Ryder/Bo Dallas bout is unintentionally amusing. The commentary during Showcase mode is a bit better, because having something specific to talk about reduces the out-of-context platitudes. Also, it’s Jim Ross talking, and he makes anything better.
So yeah, shockingly, the annual WWE video game is not exactly a blowaway on the artistic front.
The theme of WWE 2K16 is basically “putting back the stuff we took out last year.” So, while there’s plenty of stuff here that wasn’t in WWE 2K15 (Create-a-Diva, Create-a-Championship, somewhat deeper storylines in Career mode), it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in past WWE games. Really, the only truly new features in WWE 2K16 are a few tweaks to the in-ring mechanics and the addition of JBL on commentary. So, if you’ve really been missing somebody describing the action as FUN TO WATCH every few minutes, then buckle up, because this game’s for you.
Okay, let’s begin with the fundamentals. Despite receiving a lukewarm response, WWE 2K16 features the return of last year’s “simulation” style wrestling. Which is to say, the game is once again a slow-paced affair preoccupied with reversals and various pop-up minigames that are supposed to simulate chain-wrestling, working holds and other aspects of a typical wrestling match. Thankfully, 2K has implemented a few minor twists that fall short of reinventing WWE 2K16‘s in-ring game, but do make it more tolerable. I called last year’s in-ring mechanics completely off-base, while this year, I’d say they’re manageable, even fun, if you’re willing to put in the work to master their many eccentricities.
The way the game handles reversals is probably the most significant improvement. Simply put, there’s fewer of them. In WWE 2K15, a solid 60 percent of your moves were blocked or reversed by the computer, while WWE 2K16 lowers that number to 30 to 40 percent. Still high, but a bit less maddening. Each character also has a limited number of reversals they can do, which means you have to pick and choose your spots to some degree. Now, more reversals can be earned fairly easily, so it’s not like the final minutes of a match are blessedly reversal-free, but occasionally your opponent will run out of them for a few seconds, at which point it’s time to beat that sumbitch like the proverbial government mule. Just whip ’em in the corner and use every goofy, easily reversed move you’d usually be afraid to do. Reversals still require precise split-second timing, and are really the only way to turn the tide of a match in your favor, so the system could still use some serious improvement, but I’d no longer consider it completely broken.
Don’t count on ever getting through a round of Yes! kicks without being reversed.
The chain-wrestling system is largely unaltered from last year, but it’s been de-emphasized. Last year, chain-wrestling was too easy to exploit, it was basically the only way to win matches, but this year, it’s less important and mostly just included for color. Kicking out of pins is also much improved (thank God). While it was common to lose matches early in WWE 2K15 simply because timing kick outs was impossible, it’s rarely an issue this year. Ah, but not everything is well in minigame land. The new the submission system, in which you rotate the right analog stick and try to overlap, or avoid overlapping, your colored bar with your opponent’s bar, is annoyingly touchy and, much like last year’s pin system, often leads to matches ending prematurely.
Moving onto modes, it’s clear the creative suite is where the developers focused the majority of their attention. Create-a-Diva, Create-a-Championship and Create-an-Arena return in WWE 2K16 along with the new Create-a-Show. In addition to that, the basic Create-a-Superstar has been significantly fine-tuned and expanded. Making a character remains slower than it should be, but much of the unnecessary loading has been eliminating, making the process at least tolerable. If a character editor can be judged by the ridiculousness of the things you can make, I’d have to call WWE 2K16‘s Create-a-Superstar mode a success. For some reason, the Totino’s Pizza Roll logo is one of the patterns you can use for clothes and tattoos, so naturally my first character was the grotesquely obese, pepperoni tattoo-covered Mitch “Moobs” Pizziola. What? I then poured my creative juices into crafting a female Bam Bam Bigelow, Naked Mideon and, because I’m not actually 10 years old, a pretty accurate recreation of Molly Holly.
MyCareer mode is, once again, largely a bust. 2K has given the mode more structure, as there are now rankings for every title, and you can alter your attributes and enter into feuds by doing backstage interviews with the terrifying banshee-faced, grey-toothed WWE 2K16 version of Renee Young. Still, MyCareer’s balance between personality to rote grinding remains way out of whack.
Welp, if somebody has to eat my soul, I’m glad it’s Renee.
There are no fundamental changes or improvements to 2K Showcase mode, although this year’s mode is better than last year’s by simple virtue of focusing on a more interesting subject. It’s clear a lot of love went into simulating this walkthrough of Steve Austin’s legendary career, and I’m not about to hate on a mode that lets you battle it out with The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven and Mikey Whipwreck at November to Remember ’95. As has been the case for a while, Showcase mode is probably the best part of WWE 2K16.
There’s a good amount of meat on WWE 2K16’s bones, as MyCareer mode will take you over 20 hours to complete, and the Stone Cold Showcase will add an addition five to 10. Of course, whether a wrestling game truly has legs is largely dependent on multiplayer, and I’m happy to say WWE 2K16 is at it’s best against other players. Just don’t plan to rely on online play – while the online mode isn’t as bad as last year’s, it’s lacking in features, and the wait for opponents can be long (particularly if you choose an unpopular match type).
2K Games has packed a lot into WWE 2K16, but despite boasting more than 120 characters, there are still some notable missing names. Some of these will be coming via the WWE 2K16 season pass and some, like NXT’s Four Horsewomen (Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Bayley) won’t be coming at all. I’m not sure what the decision process was here, but I have a feeling the Horsewomen slight was a WWE call, so I’m not going to shame 2K too harshly for it. Sh*t happens, y’know?
On the stability front, WWE 2K16 is a fairly solid product. Or at least it is by wrestling game standards. The game’s frequent wonky animation and clipping wouldn’t be acceptable in any form of fighting game, and the damn thing did crash on me a couple times, but again, wrestling games. If they don’t eat your save file and most of your punches actually connect, you’re doing okay.
After a year in developmental, the WWE 2K series has found its feet. The sluggish, simulation-style action of WWE 2K16 remains, fundamentally, not my cup of tea, but enough improvements have been made that the in-ring action can be fun and rewarding, provided you play the game by its terms. The game certainly doesn’t lack for content, featuring a deeper career mode and a much-expanded creative suite that gives you the tools to extend the WWE 2K16 experience indefinitely once you’re done with the built-in content.
Is WWE 2K16 a great game? No, the game’s still a little green, but what we have here is a decent platform to build on. Next year, I’d like to see some deeper changes to the in-ring action, a genuinely innovative approach to Career mode and further smoothing out of the Create-a-Superstar process, but for now, WWE 2K16 is a solid option. A good hand that could be better. The Jack Swagger of wrestling games. Whether that’s enough to justify $70 is up to you, but if you’re a wrestling fan, you’ve probably spent more on a lot less.
Verdict: Worth A Chance
This review was based on a copy of WWE 2K16 provided by 2K Games.