Unfortunately, the reality is WWE 2K15 remains largely unchanged from the past few years, and what new stuff we do get seems to have been designed by people who don’t necessarily understand wrestling or what fans want out of a wrestling game.
You’re right to look disappointed, Randy.
As is usually the case with anything pro wrestling, it’s best to begin with the basics – does WWE 2K15 bring it in the ring? Well, it does and it doesn’t. WWE 2K15 is much more deliberate than, say, Yuke’s earlier, more arcade-like Smackdown titles, and it does a solid job of replicating the ebb and flow of a typical WWE bout. Matches tend to be quick (most are under five minutes), start with a feeling out process, move onto a lot of repetitive clubbering and holds, then end in a quick flurry of signature moves and finishers. If accuracy is your one and only concern, WWE 2K15 is one of the best wrestling games ever, but is it actually fun to play?
A good wrestling game needs to be true to the sport, but it also needs to give players a feeling of control and agency, and the latter is where 2K15 eats canvas. The game’s matches feel canned – there’s a very specific way to win in WWE 2K15, and the game does not abide any creative solutions.
The most significant addition to the formula is the new chain-wrestling system. Basically, the first three or four grapple attempts in a match will result in a mini-game that has you vying for headlocks and arm-wringers with your opponent. Unfortunately the mini-game and the buttons you’re pushing feel divorced from what’s happening on the screen. At first the chain wrestling is completely baffling, particularly since the game does very little to explain the mechanic, but once you get a hang of it, the difficulty curve swerves the other way. Admittedly, I’m not terribly proficient at WWE 2K15, but I am good at the chain-wrestling mini-game – so good that I can usually deplete half my opponent’s life with wristlocks and shoulderblocks within in the first minute-or-so of a match.
Once the chain-wrestling is done, things settle back down into the punch, kick, normal grapple, strong grapple system anybody who’s played a wrestling game in the last 20-years should be familiar with. This would be fine if it weren’t for the game’s annoying fixation on reversals. The reversal buttons pops up over your head almost constantly, and the AI reverses at least half (more like 60%) of the moves you attempt. Really, whether you win or lose comes down almost entirely to how accurately you can tap the R2 button. That’s it. There’s not a lot of other ways to gain an advantage or change the flow of a match – you’ll find yourself just standing still, waiting for your opponent to throw a punch so you can try to reverse it, because making the first move is basically never worth it.
This may look cool, but it’s almost certainly going to be reversed.
Thankfully, matches do become more satisfying towards the very end. Everybody has a couple signature moves, and hitting one of them usually earns you an immediate finisher. Hitting CM Punk’s corner knee and bulldog then immediately going for the GTS is undeniably gratifying and if, by some miracle, you opponent kicks out, the game can become a fairly gripping race to see who can get another finisher the fastest. So yes, WWE 2K15 finishes well, but until those exciting final moments, things are often about as exciting as watching The Usos wrestle Gold and Stardust for the 700th time.