Dating can be hazardous for a wrestling fan.
I like to be honest and up front when meeting women, so back when I was single, I always came prepared when the mildly embarrassing subject of my wrestling fandom inevitably came up. Yes, I’d explain, I’m a grown man who has paid not-insignificant amounts of money to attend live RAW broadcasts and WWE and WCW pay-per-views. (Hell, I even dragged myself to WCW Thunder once, for crying out loud!) Yes, wrestling is “choreographed,” but it’s not “fake”—these guys take an insane amount of physical punishment and make huge personal sacrifices for the business. And, yes, I watch for the storylines, too. When they’re done right (I know that isn’t often these days), they can be as compelling as anything on TV.
It’s that last part that’s kept me watching WWE since the days of Hogan, Warrior, and Savage in the ‘80s—wrestlers need to be exceptional athletes and tell a great story in the ring and on the mic. That’s also why I was pumped to try out WWE 2K15’s MyCareer mode, which promised to bring the soap-opera shenanigans of NBA 2K’s amusing, addictive career option where they belong: in the squared circle. Sure, NBA 2K’s offering may be over the top, but that’s exactly what you want in a WWE game, right? I was even more excited after EGM reviews editor Ray Carsillo got to try out the mode at a preview event and came back with a positive impression based on the snippets 2K showed him.
They must have showed Ray pretty much every positive element, though, because MyCareer is my biggest disappointment with WWE 2K15.
To begin with, unlike NBA 2K, you can’t scan your face in, so you don’t really get the sense that it’s actually “you” trading blows with the likes of Brock Lesnar and Bray Wyatt. Yes, you can upload a photo of your face and try to overlay it on a pre-rendered creation, but that’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Even assuming you want to do battle with someone who doesn’t look a thing like you, though, there’s still the small matter that you’re mute—not exactly a good fit for this business. Only bat-wielding wannabe-goth Sting was able to pull the whole “silent protagonist” thing off in wrestling, and even that was a stretch.
Instead of speaking, you’ll make your few-and-far-between storyline choices when a particular wrestler calls you out in the ring—or, more commonly, over the game’s “social media” interactions. Look, WWE, I know you’re big on Twitter and hashtags and trending topics and all that nonsense, but social media doesn’t work to build storylines on RAW, and it sure as hell doesn’t work here. Wrestling is all about cutting a promo in the ring and seeing two oiled-up hulks going at it in the arena—all of that’s lost with a silent protagonist. It all feels so impersonal.Hardly any of it feels like it matters, either. I was five hours into career mode before anything resembling storyline elements appeared. Hour after hour, I’d face off against mid-carders in meaningless matches on The Main Event and SmackDown (you have to build up points to appear on a higher-tier show, and even four years into my in-game career, I still hadn’t made it to RAW). At one point, I got so bored that I tried turning heel, but that just meant that my manager, the awesome Zeb Colter (and his awesome accompanying music), abandoned me, so I quickly got back to the goody-two shoes grind in order to hire him back. (On that note, I’m still not quite sure how good ol’ Zeb, a guy who subtly advocated for violence against Mexicans, managed to make himself into a face, but that’s wrestling for you.)
The fact that you can only appear in three pay-per-view events per year doesn’t help matters—there’s nothing to build to, almost no storylines or rivalries to push you forward. What’s more, you can’t even adjust options in this mode, even seemingly obvious ones like controller vibration and entrances. Why hold customization like that back from the player in a wrestling game, of all things? If any sports franchise should let players experience things the way they want and on their own terms, it should be WWE 2K.
Only a few segments really captured the potential I hoped to find in MyCareer. Before the Money in the Bank PPV, I got a chance to compete against Alberto Del Rio in a ladder match, which helped build to what we’d both face when the real thing happened. And when the time came, it was awesome to outwit and outlast Del Rio, Adrian Neville, CM Punk, the Big Show, and Ryback and grab the Money in the Bank briefcase, but that was one of the only moments I felt like I’d truly accomplished something in my 15-plus hours with the mode. And once I got the briefcase, the game forced me into a cutscene each week where I could either use it or not, and it wouldn’t advance the storyline until I ultimately did use it—and that goes against the whole point of the Money in the Bank briefcase: You never know when they’re going to use it! By forcing me into a cutscene where I have no choice but to use it unless I want the same cutscene to endlessly loop week after week, it takes away all possible suspense.
Here’s the analogy l’d make for my experience with MyCareer: When the WWE is on a roll, RAW has me hooked. During CM Punk’s legendary “pipe bomb promo” period, I couldn’t look away. But when the top stars are injured and the WWE can’t seem to find a way to utilize impressive talent like Swiss strongman Cesaro and enigmatic hillbilly Bray Wyatt the way they should, RAW is simply background noise while I work or browse online. And MyCareer was background noise far too often.
When I finally matched up with Brock Lesnar at a pay-per-view, for example, it didn’t feel special—because I’d already faced him (and beaten him down again and again) in a few “tune-up matches” on SmackDown over the months and years. Why not lock out players from facing top draws like Lesnar, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and others until they’ve earned the right to face them?
Also, while I played on the PS4 and didn’t have any problems, some Xbox One users have reported issues with MyCareer crashing the game if the console is online—reminiscent of the server problems that sabotaged NBA 2K15. If all this doesn’t convince you to divorce single-player content from online interactions, 2K, what will?
It’s not like the online features enhance WWE 2K15 at all, either. In fact, due to the importance of timing-based counterattacks, the game’s essentially unplayable if you join a random match, with brutal slowdown. I had a series of private matches with a friend, and those ran a bit more smoothly, but our attempt at an epic Hell in a Cell confrontation ended up as a pathetic dud because he was powerless to time his counters against me once I got going. And kicking out? Forget about it. No chance. Plenty of fighting games manage to have thriving online action with little lag—why can’t that happen here?
While WWE 2K15‘s overall gameplay is similar to previous entries—counterattacks are still king here—the action, movement, physics, and momentum are now more akin to what you actually see in the ring each week on RAW. So, matches generally revolve around wearing down your opponent with fists to the cranium, stomps to the solar plexus, double axe handles to the back, or that old standby, the lariat. Once you’ve built up enough offensive points for a signature move, you can pull that off and go straight into your finisher to (hopefully) end the match.
The formula still works, but some elements are in need of a serious overhaul at this point. For example, I think it’s time for 2K to rethink counterattacks in general, which are at the heart of every matchup—but the formula’s getting stale now. Whenever your opponent gets ready to hit a move, a prompt will signal that you need to press a button precisely at that moment in order to break up your foe’s attack so that you can hit your counter. The problems are twofold: One, the prompt is simply too small and easily obscured by the ropes, referee, and even the crowd itself at times. When such an important gameplay element is so easily missed, it makes it unnecessarily difficult to track when you need to get ready to counter and when it’s safe to go on the offensive.
And two, the “correct” timing often doesn’t seem to match the display of the button prompt. There would be times when I would hit the button at what seemed like the right time, receive no indication that I was “too late” or “too fast,” yet I still wouldn’t pull off a counter. The timing becomes even more of a joke during online play—due to lag, you can miss the button-prompt window by a mile but still execute a counter.
I will say, however, that I did enjoy two of WWE 2K15’s major additions to the in-ring action, and I’m hoping these changes mean they’re also thinking about how to revamp the counterattack system. The first, chain wrestling, has its skeptics, but personally, I actually liked this test of strength that occurs when you grapple with your foe, since it adds a more authentic flow to a match. In real life, Daniel Bryan and John Cena aren’t going to trade blows the entire match—there’s going to be some downtime to serve the pacing of the contest.
The other big change is the stamina meter, which adds three tiers that affect your ability to successfully pull off moves and pins if you’re winded. I thought it added some much-needed tension to the big-ticket matchups with guys like Lesnar and Bryan. It was gripping to pull off a finisher when both wrestlers were on their last legs and then have to crawl over to my opponent, hoping I still had enough strength to gather myself and get the pinfall. Like chain wrestling, this adds a more authentic flavor to the action and more closely resembles the real storytelling of a match, and I hope 2K continues to build on these elements in future entries.
Another positive, at least for me, is 2K Showcase mode, which highlights a couple of major rivalries from the past decade—though your enjoyment here will probably be determined by how much you mark out for CM Punk. Given his sudden, contentious departure from the company early this year, it’s probably the last time the straight-edge superstar will appear in a WWE game in any major capacity, so those of us who love the “Voice of the Voiceless” should savor this chance to see his last big angle with John Cena play out.
The other 2K Showcase rivalry focuses on Shawn Michaels’ feud with Triple H from 2002 to 2004, which kicked off when The Game viciously attacked HBK during his first appearance after a brutal real-life back injury had forced Michaels into a temporary retirement. I actually attended the 1998 Royal Rumble, where Michaels originally suffered the injury in a casket match against the Undertaker, so I’ve always felt a bit of a connection with his comeback during this period. If you don’t like CM Punk or Shawn Michaels, though, there’s probably not much for you in 2K Showcase—but if you’re not a fan of Punk and HBK, just what kind of wrestling fan are you?
Besides MyCareer, one area 2K really hyped was the revamped commentary from Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler. But for all the talk about how WWE 2K15 was taking cues from NBA 2K’s excellent trio of Kevin Harlan, Steve Kerr, and Clark Kellogg, who sound natural and engaged even when they’re calling a mid-season clash between the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, there’s just not that same sense here. I heard Lawler and Cole repeat lines within seconds of starting my first match.
But it’s not just the repeat lines that ruin the immersion—it’s the outright inaccuracy that’s far too common. Lawler excitedly exclaimed that a match in which my jobber opponent literally got in no offense during the entire affair “could have gone either way,” while in a more even contest, he’d say my foe “never got out of the starting gate.” He also called my utterly dominating performance against William Regal “a candidate for match of the year.” Now, I’m as big a William Regal fan as you’ll find and will defend him at just about every opportunity, but that was just an outright lie. And how many times did I beat down Curtis Axel and have Lawler call it “perhaps the biggest win” in my career? Once would’ve been absurd, but it happened again and again and again.
Thankfully, another element 2K promised to address, the character models, does see some improvement—but it’s not consistent enough. Stars who had their face scanned, such as Cesaro and John Cena, are far more authentic-looking this year. The results are less impressive with others—like Batista, who sports a huge, unnatural beard and looks more like Raffi than Drax the Destroyer. And while Booker T still needs some work, at least he doesn’t look like an off-model Richard Sherman this time around. The results are so inconsistent, in fact, that it makes you wonder if 2K hit a deadline and needed to stop halfway through the process.
I hate to classify WWE 2K15 as yet another sports title feeling out the new console generation…but that’s exactly what it is. I realize the WWE franchise has been in an awkward spot ever since THQ went out of business and the series changed hands to 2K, but it’s still frustrating that its new-gen debut doesn’t live up to the promise.
I see the potential here, though, and perhaps WWE 2K16 is when we’ll finally see the fusion of 2K, Visual Concepts, and Yuke’s create something worthy of the legacy of, say, WWE SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain. Until then, WWE fans will continue to wait, knowing that these developers can—and should—do better. It’s clear that 2K wants to bring the franchise to a higher level. They’ve talked a good game since they took over the series, and I know the development team is filled with hardcore fans who love and respect all the WWE represents. But just like in real-life wrestling, talking can only get you so far. At some point, you’ve got to prove it in the ring.
The potential for the WWE franchise on the new generation of consoles is clear, but WWE 2K15 badly botches its new career mode and lacks many of the features players have come to expect from the series. A couple of added in-ring wrinkles, such as the new grappling system and a revamped stamina bar, show some promise, and the chance to relive the now-departed CM Punk’s rivalry with John Cena in 2K Showcase is a nice touch, but players expected more from the creative fusion of Visual Concepts and Yuke’s. Next year, these developers might well deliver the wrestling game we’ve been waiting for—but they didn't this year.
Yuke’s, Visual Concepts
T – Teen
|WWE 2K15 is available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Code/hardware was provided by 2K Sports for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|