I vividly remember the first time I watched WWE Pro Wrestling. I was flicking through the channels when I came across a contest between The Rock and Big Boss Man – it was a ladder match on Raw is War. My first thought was, ‘Why the hell is there a ladder in a ring?’ My second and long-lasting response was, ‘This is awesome!’ and ‘I’m enjoying watching The Rock lay the smackdown on this goof in police uniform!’
I was an instant fan and wasted no time in getting out to my local Blockbuster to rent as many tapes of Wrestlemania, Summerslam, and King of the Ring PPVs I could get my hands on. At the time, my favourite wrestler was Stone Cold Steve Austin – just like many wrestling fans in the late ’90s: an era that was, in my opinion, the most popular period in Sports Entertainment history. That said, looking at the current state of WWE, there are still lots of amazing wrestlers wowing crowds with their athleticism and engaging matches. Also, with red-hot promotion NXT under the WWE umbrella, and an archive of wrestling legends; there is a lot to be excited about in this year’s 2K WWE installment.
Out of the box, WWE 2K16 has enhanced graphics and shows clear signs of improvement since the last entry in the series. It’s now being powered using the same graphics engine as the NBA 2K series, which definitely benefits the overall look and feel; I’d even say it’s arguably the best-looking wrestling game to date.
What blew me away, however, is an impressive roster that includes a whopping 120 playable Superstars, Divas and Legends; this makes WWE 2K16 the largest roster in the series’ history with nearly double that of last year’s roster at 67. The roster itself is diverse and spans more than three decades of wrestling; including the current champion Seth Rollins, ’90s icon Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the NXT’s top guy Finn Bálor, to name a few. I thought this was phenomenal fan-service, not to mention value for money. You’re almost certainly going to find your favourite superstar, past or present, within this massive lineup.
The respective story-based 2K Showcase and Career Modes make their return in 2K16, and both offer a different experience. The player can either choose to relive a legendary career in WWE history or create their own. The 2K Showcase mode features the infamous Stone Cold Steve Austin, detailing his historic run starting from King of the Ring 1996 right through to WrestleMania XIX. It’s always good to see, but it could also be a bit of a bore for avid wrestling fans as these matches and rivalries were also featured in both 2K13 and 2K14. Although, I must say that I was happy they included his best matches after WrestleMania 15 which weren’t included in previous games.
A recurring issue I found was that each of Stone Cold’s matches had the same, if not similar objectives that the player must complete. Tasks such as ‘damage the wrestler’ and ‘give them a stunner’ kept reappearing, and doing these each match can be tedious. That said, I must admit that I enjoyed the commentary in the 2K Showcase mode as it features the Hall of Fame pairing of Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and Jim Ross. Their commentary work is both fantastic and exciting; providing each match with an authentic attitude era experience.
My favourite of the two modes, MyCareer, places your rookie at the beginning of the developmental show NXT. As you move up the ranks, you can earn your spot on shows such as Raw and PPVs, and If you’re good enough, you’ll receive legendary status by being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame! This year’s edition gives the player more control over their created superstar and their personality; choices that influence who your allies and enemies are on the roster. After matches, your Superstar can participate in interviews with WWE broadcaster Renee Young; where you select from dialogue options that affect your character’s behaviour and connections with other wrestlers. You also now have the ability to interfere in other wrestlers’ matches to start conflicts with an arch nemesis that you select.
Triple H and his group ‘The Authority’ is also featured in career mode; creating more event opportunities by giving players the option to align with them or defy them. Personally. I found this mode more satisfying and enjoyable than last year’s edition of the game. I also found it quite challenging as your wrestler’s statistics are low in the very beginning which means you need to win matches to boast your ranking. The WWE Universe mode also makes a return with a new feature that allows a single superstar to be booked on multiple shows (probably because of the cease on the Raw/Smackdown brand-split). Players can also book their own storylines, weekly shows, and pay-per-views with heaps of customisation options which is great for any fantasy armchair booker.
The gameplay mechanics have evolved, and, in my opinion, for the better. Matches have a more genuine flow, contrasting to the quick arcade style of earlier games. There is now a real sense of weight and energy during each match in which more pain and fatigue can set in as the fight grows longer. Nearing the end of a match, your superstar looks tired and needs the assistance of the ropes to stay up, which I thought was a great addition to display realism. Players have also given the ability to attack other wrestlers during their walk down the ramp, which is a lot of fun; plus there are no loading screens between entrances, so you walk straight into the action.
The new reversal system works well too because it gives players a set amount of reversals per match. Basically, this was to stop players from spamming reversals all through the match to create a more balanced fight. The meter drains with each reversal and slowly refills as the match progresses. Now that the reversals moves are less frequent, they’re broken down into two types. The minor reversal, which does little damage to your opponent and uses a small chunk from your meter, and the major reversal, which uses most of your meter but can completely weaken your adversary. Finally, there is some strategy involved instead of tedious button bashing!
The submission mechanic has also changed. Last year’s installment used a tug-of-war system that worked quite well as it felt like a natural struggle to apply the move or accepting to escape the hold. This year it’s replaced with a mini-game that involves red and blue circular gauges where the player rotates the analog sticks to execute the manoeuvre. To make your opponent submit, the player must move the red colour over the blue, and to escape you do the opposite by keeping it away from the other players colour. I don’t agree with the new submission system, but with practice you will get a better grasp on how to perform it.
One frustrating feature that carried over from WWE 2K15 is that it’s hard to end a match without a signature move or finisher. In previous WWE games, most notably from THQ, you could end a match with any strong move if you’re opponent’s body gauge was all red. Because of these requirements set in the 2K series, it can sometimes be infuriating when trying to play through the MyCareer or 2K Showcase modes. The AI opponent has the ability to reverse any signature move or finisher; which results in players having to earn the special move all over again.
With that being said, however, there are still some welcome changes such as the reworked chain wrestling, as well as rest holds being used regain your superstar’s stamina during a match. The pinfalls are now easier to break, too. Previously, players had to hold down the button and release it at the correct time to kick out, whereas this time you are required tap the button at the right time which makes it a more straight-forward pinning system.
The presentation is a bit hit and miss overall. While the graphics in most areas of the game look excellent, it’s obvious that not enough attention was spent on a number character models. Most notably, in MyCareer mode, the interviewer Renee Young looks unusual and lacks realism. Even the crowd looks dated and doesn’t come close to matching in the quality of the in-ring wrestlers. Although, there are some subtle details that have been added to create more realism. Each wrestler now sweats as the match progresses while clothing has a more natural flow; a perfect example is how Stone Cold’s vest moves about when he fights.
Notably, all of the superstar’s entrances and theme songs are well performed and look spectacular before a match. It’s just a pity that the commentary team of JBL, Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler are a little off and come across as unnatural. I much preferred the commentary in the 2K Showcase mode; WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross calls the matches alongside Lawler sounding more genuine and interested in what’s going on in the ring. There are a lot more match types this time with the return of ladder tag team, handicap, and tornado tag, which is especially entertaining in the multiplayer mode.
WWE 2K16 features a stronger creation mode; providing players with the facilities to create a Superstar or Diva, as well as championship belts and arenas. You’re able to create up to 100 wrestlers, which is four times as many create-a-wrestlers as last year’s edition. I’m not sure you’d want to create that many wrestlers yourself, but luckily there’s an online community in which you can download other users creations.
Another evolution in the WWE game creation mode is the new free mobile app. The WWE 2K16 Creation Studio app lets you take photos of your face (or a friends face), and upload the images directly into the game. Once the images are available in the game, it’s easy to apply the face image to your character, thus taking away the time-consuming effort of editing. I thought this was a great idea and a much easier tool to use; doing your own facial customisations can take a lot of time if you’re picky. Also, the app works with logo creation, which you can add to your created wrestlers, shows, arenas and championship belts.
WWE 2K16 delivers the largest roster in the series history and more content than any wrestling game before. Not only are there are lots of modes to keep solo and multiplayer fans engaged, there are also countless match configurations and customisation options. 2K16 is mostly a positive step forward with improved gameplay that creates a much better sense of balance; even if the new submission system is likely not to agree with longtime fans. Everything about this latest installment is oozing with fanservice, and that’s definitely something they’ve delivered on. If you overlook some of the smaller issues, I feel confident in saying 2K16 is one of the best and most comprehensive WWE games of the last decade. It accommodates all generations of wrestling fans and is just an all-around great sports fighting game.