Adrian Neville. Sami Zayn. Bo Dallas. These names may not be the cream of the crop when you think of professional wrestling and the WWE, but while they’re not household names (yet!) like John Cena or The Undertaker, the addition of these NXT superstars (and more to come) has me more excited for WWE 2K15 than any other iteration of the wrestling game in past memory.
If you have watched WWE at all in the past year, I’m sure “$9.99!” has been beaten into your brain at this point. That’s the price of a monthly subscription to the WWE Network where, among a boatload of other things, you can catch the weekly broadcast of NXT, the WWE’s developmental territory. While it’s mainly a matter of opinion, I personally consider NXT alone to be worth the price of a WWE Network subscription since these are some of the most talented men and women I have seen in a long time. The WWE has a bright future ahead as these NXT stars start making their way up to the main roster.
The reason why I mention NXT at all is because this year through MyCareer Mode, NXT plays a major part of your created wrestler’s journey to wrestling immortality. Having NXT included as a major player in MyCareer and not as an afterthought like in previous years is all you need to know about the direction that the WWE 2K franchise is taking from here on out. With a created wrestler (which you can model after yourself via a facial pic upload), you start at the WWE Performance Center during a tryout with a handful of other hopefuls. Bill DeMott will guide you through a “tutorial mode” of sorts as your first few matches will all take place at the Performance Center. You then move up the ranks through NXT, and eventually through the main roster.
For starters, I think something needs to be cleared up. WWE 2K15 for PS4 and Xbox One is laying the foundation for future WWE games on this generation of consoles. It runs off a completely new engine, and the team still had last-gen versions of the game to work on as well (disclaimer: I have not played last-gen WWE 2K15). It needs to be mentioned that while many game modes are missing when compared to the last-gen version, it’s no so much a case of “taking features out” as it is “not developing certain features yet.” For the record, I am not “defending” the company, but rather, I’m trying to approach this from a rational perspective. It’s the first time Visual Concepts and Yukes have teamed up to create essentially a new wrestling game, so bumps in the road are to be expected. I wish it could be as simple as just moving features from one version to another, but with different system architectures and a different game engine, I’m sure that’s not that simple.
Yes, the missing game features are missed, and yes, the game feels less “complete” without them, but I’m willing to enjoy the game for what it has to offer and give it a year or two to see what 2K can bring to the table. If you treat the PS4/XBox One versions of the game as a new game and not as a continuation of an existing franchise, then the sting of all the missing features will hurt a bit less. Just a bit.
The first thing you’re going to notice when booting up the game for the first time is how fantastic everything looks. The inclusion of 2k’s body scanning tech has been well documented by this point, but it’s hard to describe how freakishly realistic the wrestlers look until you’re actually playing it in person. Even the trailers don’t do the visuals any justice. In fact, the wrestlers that were scanned look so good that those that were unavailable for scanning (CM Punk, for example) stick out like a sore thumb. For the record, this is not to say that these character models look BAD; in fact, they look a whole lot better than what we saw last-gen. On their own, you might even be amazed at the detail. But next to a fully scanned model, and the differences are noticeable. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s something you’ll notice over and over.
Once you move beyond the excellent visuals, it’s time to jump into a match. You’ll notice right away that the pacing has slowed down dramatically. If you were the type to spam running attacks in the previous games, 2K15 is going to feel like the wrestlers are moving through quicksand. I like the slower moving matches since the older games, while tons of fun, started to feel like an arcade fighter with how fast they moved. Anyone in those older games can move like Rey Mysterio 100% of the time, but hell, even Rey Rey needs to use rest holds in real life. The slower pace replicates a real match much more closely.
There are a few problems, whoever. I don’t know if this was deliberate or a bug, but there is a pretty significant lag between button inputs and the move being performed on the screen. I understand slowing the match pacing, but having to change the timing of my attacks just to make up for input lag seems like a glitch. It was something I got used to pretty quickly, but it shouldn’t be there, and when the match starts to get hairy, I often mistime my button presses and end up on the receiving end of a beatdown by some scrub like El Honduro. Another gripe I have is that it seems every other move performed by the AI results in him dragging your character around the mat for better positioning. I understand that this happens in real life as well, but not so often! It’s so bad that you’ll see characters getting dragged to the center of the ring away from the ropes just to perform a foot stomp. Come on.
There’s plenty to like about the revamped game, though. Much ballyhoo has been made about the new chain wrestling mechanic that starts off your matches. This system utilizes a “rock, paper, scissors” system for the first few grapples of a match, letting players choose between a number of holds. Once you’re locked in, you swivel the the thumbstick until you feel a rumble, then you hold it in position until a meter fills up, progressing you to the next hold. After a few of these, chain wrestling ends and the match goes on like normal. This may sound tedious and repetitive, but if you find yourself against a technician, the mechanics adds a lot to the feel of the match. Going back and forth between holds and reversals in a frantic battle for the advantage is pretty cool to watch.
The other change to the gameplay is the new stamina meter. If I recall, the concept of stamina existed in some form or another in previous games, but it was never a factor. I remember instances in 2K14 where my character would bend over or kneel down like they were tired, but it never really affected anything. In 2K15, I would argue that your stamina is the most important attribute to keep your eye on. Without stamina, you’re going to be moving slowly, staggering about, unable to pull off powerful moves, and unable to run. It was the first thing I upgraded to the max simply because I wanted to be able to move around without getting gassed after 5 minutes. It adds an extra dimension to the gameplay, as you can no longer spam move after move and hope to survive. While it was fun to do Angle slam after Angle slam, it was extremely unrealistic. Kudos to the more “sim” presentation overall.
Most of the game modes you’ll find are nothing new, but there are three I want to touch on: MyCareer, 2K Showcase, and the Superstar Studio. MyCareer takes your created Superstar from unknown NXT rookie to wrestling immortality. You start with your tryout at the Performance Center with Bill DeMott yelling at you a lot, then progress through the ranks of NXT, Superstars, Main Event, Raw, Smackdown, and so on. Along the way, you’ll engage in storylines, feuds (with both existing Superstars and also your friends’ created ones!), and tweak your character with a myriad of RPG-esque attributes. While it can get repetitive at times with a bunch of filler matches, the mode is engrossing and a ton of fun. It’s about time we got a proper, beefy, career mode with your created wrestler.
With the Attitude Era Mode and 30 Years of Wrestlemania Mode from the past few years, where would the game go from there on? Enter 2K Showcase, which is a look back at some of the most historic rivalries in WWE history. More are incoming via DLC, but the game starts you off with 2 rivalries: Shawn Michaels/HHH from 2002-2004, and CM Punk/John Cena from a couple years back. 2K Showcase provides WWE’s excellent video packages to highlight the rivalries, and give you a chance to play through some of the most memorable moments from these rivalries. You’ll have in-game objectives to meet, and doing so nets you a ton of unlockables, including characters, alternate attires, arenas, etc. It’s essentially the same presentation as the Attitude Era/30 Years of Wrestlemania Modes, just pared down to individual rivalries. It’s spectacular, and for those that love WWE history, 2K Showcase is an absolute pleasure to play through.
The creation suite has been slashed a bit as a ton of character parts are now gone. While the variety took a hit, the addition of a logo editor more than makes up for it. With this, you can take a picture of your face (or any other tattoo, logo, etc), upload it to the 2K servers, download it into the game, and put an actual photo of your own face onto your created character. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, and you need to have some bit of photo editing knowledge, but if you can get it right, you’ll have a virtual version of yourself running around laying the smackdown on WWE Superstars. If you’re missing one of your favorite wrestlers (from WWE or not), simply head to the community creations area and download them, whether it’s the full character, just the face, tattoos, logos, or whatever. Chances are it’s in there.
Here’s where the problems start to appear, though. While it’s simple enough to find or create pretty much whatever you want, getting 100% authenticity is a bit harder to attain. Because there is currently no way to save music to either of the new consoles, you cannot use custom entrance themes. This has been known for a while now so it’s no huge surprise. Sure it’s a bummer to have my created Finn Balor come out to an existing Superstar’s theme, but it is what it is. What really sucks is the fact that entrance motions are relegated to existing Superstar entrances as well. The only “generic” one is of a wrestler making his entrance talking on a cell phone. That’s it. Everything else is already affiliated with an existing Superstar. That’s the one that upsets me the most. Out of all the things that you could do, having the ability to select from a list of unaffiliated “generic” entrance motions was probably the most important to me since it gave me the ability to create pretty much any wrestler’s authentic motions. It’s sad that these weren’t included.
As a first effort on current-gen consoles, WWE 2K15 does an admirable job….but that’s only if you understand that this is a first effort and not a continuation of a previous, established franchise. With a completely new game engine, new concepts, new game modes, and new visuals, WWE 2K15 gives me hope for the future. When comparing it side by side with WWE 2K14, it’s easy to pick out what was “removed,” but again I must stress that you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you dismissed the game based off that mindset. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, it seems stripped down when compared to last year’s game, but WWE 2K15 gives me perhaps the most realistic wrestling game I have ever played, and that’s a major selling point.
That, and of course, my favorite NXT guys all being included. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a match with Sami Zayn VS Cesaro, my favorite match of the year.