Review: WWE 2K16 Understands Wrestling Fans But Not Game Design
WWE 2K15 was, let'snot mince words here, an abortion. It was a travesty, an insult to fans and a failure of game design on so many levels. It very nearly picked our award for Worst Game of the Year. The bar was thus set very low for WWE 2K16 to improve things but it had a mountain to climb in order to win fans back.WWE 2K16 immediately wins the award for most improved sequel but is still a far cry from being what one might call good.
- Worth The Time?No (especially when a lot of your time is spent waiting for things to load)
- Things LovedShowcase is rather well-done as fan-service; the roster is absolutely fantastic; on some level the game understands what makes wrestling work and what fans want.
- Things HatedWWE 2K16 is frightfully slow with load-times everywhere and awkward pauses all over; the visuals are poor; the crowds are lifeless;every fight feels the same; there are too many modes with not enough to keep you invested in any of them; wrestling in the ring is a frustrating and awfully designed chore.
- RecommendationFans may find something to like here, notably in Showcase, but WWE 2K16 has plenty to offer with very little to keep you around for very long. The more time you spend with it the more frustrated and bored you are likely to become. After not long at all each encounter starts to feel the same, each mode feels repetitive (with the exception of Showcase). WWE 2K16 is a big improvement over its predecessor but simply lacking in just about area.
- Name: WWE 2K16
- Genre: Pantomime
- Players: 1-6
- Multiplayer: Local, Online
- Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Developer: Yuke's, Visual Concepts
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Price: $60/ R625(Xbox 360, PS3), R795 (Xbox One, PS4)
- Reviewed On: PS4
WWE 2K16 is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every respect but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to step back into the ring just yet.
WWE 2K16 has a lot to offer, a staggering amount of content really. Between Showcase, WW Universe, My Career, Online and the various levels of customisation there’s loads to do. Throw in a massive roster and from the very surface layer 2K16 looks to be doing things right.
Unfortunately it looks like wrestling games are long past their prime and the age just keeps showing more with each passing year.
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While each mode has its issues and plus points a common thread throughout is that they simply don’t have enough going on, enough dynamism to keep you invested for very long.
A sizeable chunk of the blame is to be leveled at the tech underneath the game. WWE 2K16 is utterly inexcusable with its sub-par visuals, sluggish controls and delays or load times pockmarking the game as though it were a teenager’s face. Going from one menu to another causes has a waiting period, switching between character accessories in the customisation section carries an obscene waiting time. An absurd amount of your time outside the ring is spent waiting for a game is wholly unimpressive to the eyes.
With that out of the way what’s say we break things down piece by piece.
The game modes are largely standard with the exceptions being Universe and Showcase.
Universe allows players to quite literally craft their own WWE universe up to a point. Players can customise wrestlers, move them over into different titles, setup matches, stage rivalries and effectively control the narrative. Players can then jump into any event they desire or simply view it or just sim it without the fuss.It’s a neat idea in theory but quickly becomes tiresome with no reason to invest any real time into this mode. Furthermore, the degree to which players can shape their universe is limited such that Universe mode feels more like a sundry game mode than a chance to control the WWE universe.
What then of Showcase? It focuses on the storied and hallmark career of WWF/E legend Steve Austin. Showcase manages to capture the energy and feel of 90s wrestling with a passable narrative to keep things moving. It’s certainly something that fans will enjoy.
My Career makes a return with players being able to take up the task of furthering a character’s career or working their way up from the bottom down in NXT with their own Frankenstein’s monster. Mine looked like Slenderman but spoke with the boorish misplaced confidence of that one classmate from high school who peaked at the age of 17.
Players can do the usual progression of improving their diva or superstar’s stats and skills in addition to hiring a manager that suits your personality alignment.Either you’re a Heel or a Face effectively. You will also form rivalries and alliances with the latter determining who you get to partner up with in tag-team matches while the former shapes your character’s narrative and needs to be seen out to a conclusion before you can go after a new rival. It’s a basic system but works on the premise that you can run-in on a rival or ally’s match. After that it’s up to you whether you want to leave it at that or get involved from ringside. As one does. Invade someone’s match just to support your tag partner and they’re not going to be too happy about that, they may start resenting you a bit.
A curious addition is post-event interviews where a blonde who appears to have retained all of her milk teeth will ask you questions about what just happened and all your available responses will scream ‘asshole.’
The trouble is that this becomes a routine, a mechanical process with no variation and little to no excitement. It doesn’t help that it is quite a grind to make much progress. This may sound like any other sports game but WWE 2K16 makes it more of a slog by having every match feel almost exactly the same as the last.
There’s also the slight issue of WWE’s idea of wrestling being in a very different galaxy to anything even remotely resembling sport. It’s entertainment, the sort of dramatised relationships that should air right between the Kardashians and whatever housewives people want to watch these days.
This neatly brings us to our next problem – WWE 2K16 tries to function as a sports game while also trying to get closer to emulating the true WWE experience.Those two objectives pull in opposite directions and quite frankly leaves the game torn asunder.
WWE 2K16 has some genuinely clever mechanics in play that understand the essence of WWE. Each match has a star rating and to get that rating up you need to add drama, variety, make it good entertainment. Progression through the ranks of NXT and beyond is then not so much based on how many fights you’ve won but rather how popular you are. It makes a lot of sense but is brought right down by the way things play out in the ring.
Fighting is a slow, laborious and frustrating chore. WWE 2K16 tries to facilitate a tight technical set of controls but it inevitably degenerates into button mashing. Much like last year’s effort, 2K16 is built primarily on reversals, submissions and grappling. The former has been tweaked to have a default limit per match so once you’ve reached your reversal limit you are effectively powerless should an opponent get a chain going. The lack of a block or counter move makes fighting an infuriating affair as reversals require an absurdly tuned sense of timing made worse by the fact that matches play out with very limited player control.
Often things feel as though they’re on autopilot and the tempo is very much controlled by the AI. Once a move is initiated it’s simply a matter of watching the animation play out or waiting for the split-second in which you’re offered a reversal opportunity. Invariably you’ll be too fast or too late.
You also have very little say as to what specific move you’ll be pulling off, it’s all context sensitive but here’s the catch – you have to purchase each and every little action in order for it to work in said context. It’s an awful system that severely limits your capabilities and even with established champions you still feel at a disadvantage. On that note, there is little distinction in feel and style between a little NXT fight and a heavyweight clash involving Big Show and Ryback. There is little distinction in how each fighter feels.
Things are made worse by the little mini-games that WWE 2K16 retains from its predecessor. While the grappling mechanic of fiddling around with your right analogue until you find a sweet spot makes some sense, the prelude (described by the game as’like rock-paper-scissors’) feels more like a failed experiment. This theme carries through in submissions where the attacker and defender respectively are represented by little bars in a circular track. It’s then a race for the defender to avoid the attacker’s bar and the attacker to overlap with the defender’s bar. Each can boost and there are yellow power orbs and who the living hell came up with this idea?
If WWE 2K16 had a flow to its wrestling then these mini-games would break it. As it is they just serve to further disjoint the already incoherent gameplay. Being in the ring feels like driving a car without access to any steering mechanism.
This game then seems to understand what makes WWE popular – it’s the rivalries, the spectacle, the illustrious legends – but fails to understand how tomake a game that is anything but an absolutely repetitive chore to play.