Like an RKO out of nowhere, it’s time again for the franchise that layeths the smack down on the fighting game genre. WWE2K15 is the latest venture into the WWE universe but things are a little different this year.
When you first heard that 2K had taken the WWE franchise, you probably got very excited given their heritage with the NBA series. Last year though, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was a bit of the same old THQ thing. History, in case you don’t know is that after the bankruptcy and demise of THQ a lot of licenses, including WWE, were left in limbo. 2K jumped in and straight away brought on board the stalwarts of the WWE games Yukes and Visual Concepts. The 2014 version picked up what THQ had already done so it wasn’t that different to what was already planned or in production.
This year however is the first time that 2K have been able to guide the game from the start and their focus has been something that is in tune with what WWE want. That is a sense of a superstar and the progression of a career. One of the biggest problems, for me personally as a more casual WWE fan over the years, is the concept of the WWE Universe and what that translates to as a game mode. In my opinion it didn’t really settle you down or give you the feeling of definite progression and felt too much of a sandbox idea to work in a sports game. Of course the 2K specialty is a career mode and WWE is perfectly poised to benefit from it.
The career mode starts with with you as a rough young potential who’s been brought in to the WWE’s training camp. You work your way up under the guidance of Bill DeMott in the Performance Centre and eventually get your way into the NXT ring as the path to career success unfurls before you. Rising through the ranks with the help of WWE superstars like William Regal, Vickie Guerrero and Triple H, much like you’d experience in the TV shows themselves, your journey will also unlock different options as you grow. Eventually facing the stars such as Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar and the like, this element of career progression takes you around the back offices and into some in-depth choices outside the ring, as well as fighting inside. This might seem familiar from the NBA career and that’s because it is. But it translates itself incredibly well to the WWE setting. How you perform unlocks the avenues for you to explore along with stat upgrades, the ability to train with other superstars and learn their moves, access different clothing and entrance options. You will work your way up and get decisions that also help your personality. You can mould yourself in to a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) by respecting your way to the top or cheap-shotting people in their happy areas or with a slap. This evolves the story lines your character encounters with other superstars and eventually for your title runs, this plays a key component in who you face. This is the journey of you and who you create and, much like NBA, WWE’s personal touches and customisation really give you an immersive experience as a superstar.
Immersive is another word that’s probably synonymous with 2K’s treatment of NBA but has definitely leapt in to the squared circle. A fairly large overhaul of the game could have been overdue anyway but this particular update has certainly addressed a lot of issues. Firstly, and I don’t say this lightly, this game is not only the most lifelike and realistic looking wrestling game ever, but arguably that can extend to all sports fighting games. Whilst the crowd is slowly getting better in their animations, etc, the real look of the game stems from everything around it. The ring has been completely remapped and the sounds re-recorded, the animations for the wrestlers have grown (there’s over three times the amount), and the biggest thing is the wrestlers themselves. The scanning of the wrestlers faces and complete attention to their bodies, tattoos, mannerisms and expressions is unparalleled in the genre and one of the best things about what 2K has brought to the franchise. Even Paul Heyman has had his strut motion captured. This level of detail has taken quite the effort from 2K, given the schedule of the wrestlers so it’s something that is front and centre of the new game and deservedly so. Secondly, the commentary and the television presentation has been reworked. Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler have re-recorded the commentary to be more about the story and less about move calling like previous iterations. It’s no secret that the NBA has had the presentation of television and commentary pretty nailed in sports games and they’re trying to transpose that to WWE and from what we’ve played, that’s been successful so far.
A few things you’ve probably already heard of, which I shall reiterate for you here, is that there are several pre-order bonuses, one of them incredibly historic in wrestling history. The inclusion of Steve Borden’s character, Sting, is a first for WWE at all. Formerly only a WCW wrestler who kept himself loyal to one company during the great turbulence of the Monday Night Wars and then later TNA, Sting is quite possibly the greatest wrestler never to hit a WWE ring. His inclusion in the game as both his 90s surfer dude persona and that mid 90s reinvention of him as a gothic outcast based on comic book character The Crow is a big deal. Hulk Hogan is available on certain deals with both his classic and Hollywood personas. The roster is pretty big so there will be more information to come in future announcements and John Cena, love him or loath him, is gracing the cover and curating the soundtrack… You know he had a rap album, right? He’s qualified… More so than Jim Johnston obviously… The 2K Showcase mode is back too, this time featuring on two classic battles in WWE history. Those being Cena Vs CM Punk and HHH Vs Shawn Michaels. So to answer the obvious question, yes CM Punk is back in this game, despite not being a WWE employee anymore.
WWE games have been pretty locked down for a while in getting it around 70% right. But somehow the fun of those early wrestling games we all played, whether you were of the SmackDown generation, the No Mercy Generation or even older with the Steel Cage Challenge generation, hasn’t been the thing that came across in the THQ attempts of recent years. Possibly that was due to the direction of the franchise rather than the game itself. But WWE2K15 looks, sounds and plays in a way that makes me want to delve deep in to my DVD collection and relive old memories. Most of the feedback and suggestion of how the franchise could improve appears to have been listened to and, despite the delay in the next generation release of the game, will be worth the wait albeit setting a high bar for 2K to trump on a yearly basis.
WWE2K15 is out on October 31st for Xbox 360 and PS3, with the Xbox One and PS4 versions to be released on November 21st.