I can’t correctly describe the odd phenomenon that is professional wrestling without writing an entirely separate piece by itself. It’s so vastly different to almost any other fandom that exists, in that within the real world it has lived within an entirely fictitious world of its own for such a long time. The pageantry, drama, athleticism and larger than life characters hooked me in from day one and consistently manages to interest me 15 years later.
Wrestling became a genuinely mainstream commodity in the ’80s, with the rise of legends such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and many more. This, in turn, paved the way for more contemporary greats in the ’90s/’00s such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, and continued to boost the profile of professional wrestling in the mainstream sphere. However, wrestling has faced a sharp decline in the last decade or so with very few wrestlers outside of Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Batista attaining true main event status. As wrestling transformed into a PG “family friendly” product, older fans have become justifiably angered with WWE’s seeming refusal to accept their opinions and promote the talent they’re interested in. What does this have to do with WWE 2K18, you ask? A lot, it seems. It’s about the landscape of wrestling and where it sits, and how something such as a video game offers a highly reflective prognosis on the current state of the WWE.
WWE 2K18 starts almost the same way I remember WWE 2K15 starting, which is the last time I played a WWE game. Dropped into the WWE Performance Centre, your journey begins in WWE’s developmental brand NXT where all new wrestlers go before being called up to the main roster. While this process in the realm of professional wrestling when entering the WWE is accurate for new talent, the trajectory is totally off as I managed to secure an NXT Title match after cutting a promo and running in to attack current champion, Bobby Roode. This is only the beginning of where the wheels fall off in MyPlayer mode, however, and by the end, you have nothing left but a flaming wreck. Are you excited by the prospect of getting to talk to your favourite WWE superstars backstage and hear their meaningful insights? Me too! But if WWE 2K18 is a “peek” into the innermost thoughts of the WWE roster, they can keep it to themselves. The dialogue is mostly horrible and often recycled, and it doesn’t take long for it to become a tedious chore to trudge through. While obvious that it’s all working off their Fan Favourite/Company Man system, the result is shocking. The message is either to merely flaunt authority at every turn for the good of the fans or kiss the ass of the McMahon’s and make them happy. WHY ISN’T THE MAIN OBJECTIVE FOR EVERYTHING TO BE COHESIVE?!
The fun train doesn’t stop here though, folks. We’ve only just left the station! The design of the game is for lack of a better word, lazy. The wrestlers are the only area where effort shows, as the backstage arena layouts are always the same with a few minor aesthetic changes. When a game feels primarily cut and paste, you’re in for an exciting time of wonder and imagination. This issue becomes especially exacerbated when you finish a week, start the next one, and walk into the backstage area to find a wrestler standing where they were a week earlier. I like to imagine that when the arena closes, the lights are turned off, and the wrestlers just stand there until the next show like bizarre animatronic puppets from Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s a shame because I feel that there’s an opportunity to create some dynamic environments with a game like WWE and the areas they travel to, but it just doesn’t seem to be the games primary motivator to create an immersive experience for the player. Another concern I also had was with the implementation of loot crates as is the current flavour of the month for video games, but in WWE 2K18’s defence, you can’t purchase them with real money, so it does seem somewhat okay here. Loot boxes will grant you anything from new moves to character merchandise, character buffs, currency and more. While the practice itself is mostly coming under siege, I feel WWE does a far better job than other culprits floating around at the moment on the gaming market.
Admittedly, I have enjoyed playing the game far more than I did WWE 2K15. The wrestling is a lot smoother and allows you to get into the action straight away without the need for an extended period of chain wrestling. There’s also a smorgasbord of different match types to play through and the ability to play with up to 8 wrestlers again which is absolute high-octane chaos at its finest. At the time of writing, however, there are still some technical issues with gameplay which I’m hoping are going to be addressed with future patches. Multiple times I encountered instances of AI opponents walking into the turnbuckle for a good 5-8 seconds as if they’d glitched out. While this might be something I’d forgive in another game, it’s hard to make excuses for a franchise like WWE when they’re consistently releasing a new game every year and still ship with issues like this. It doesn’t break the game in any way, but it does ruin a degree of the competitive spirit and breaks any sort of flow that the game has.
While the WWE 2K series has received a fair amount of praise for its graphical fidelity over the years, I still think there’s a long way to go. While they’ve nailed the likeness of some wrestlers such as John Cena and Chris Jericho, others like Natalya look like bizarro bug-eyed versions of their likeness which is off-putting to look at. I also noticed during my playthrough some instances of graphics clipping with wrestlers clothing, which again just detracts from the level of immersion and the experience of the game as it stands out. The game also suffers from a lack of voice acting, which for a product like WWE where a LOT of it revolves around interviews and vignettes seems like a natural fit. And okay, I’m perfectly happy playing games with no voice acting, but if that’s the case then the dialogue needs to be excellent…or even perhaps SPELLED CORRECTLY. I detest when games with no voice acting don’t pay any attention to spelling and grammar in their dialogue, as it makes me view the game as unprofessional and unfinished. The soundtrack offering (which was curated by The Rock) is enjoyable but perhaps a little thin on content as I’ve heard Kid Rock more times than any man should over the last two weeks.
If you’re a WWE fan, don’t even consider picking up WWE 2K18 until it goes on sale and some of the bugs have disappeared. And if you’re not a fan of the WWE, then avoid this game like it’s your least favourite aunt or uncle at Christmas dinner. WWE 2K18 does no favours for the current standing of the company for this fan, and I hate the thought of introducing someone new to professional wrestling through this game. For now, I’m giving it another few years before I try another.