I approach annual sports release games like Madden every year with the same thing going through my head: “I KNOW annual sports releases only make incremental changes from year to year, and I KNOW I shouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking, but maybe, just maybe this is the year Franchise X makes the giant leap forward!” And every year, I come away somewhat disappointed. That’s really how I measure the success of an annual sports title now; am I extremely disappointed, or am I mostly satisfied with only a few niggles to complain about? Just how disappointed am I in this year’s release? I know it’s sort of a party pooper way of looking at things, but come on…it’s a title that gets released every 12 months. They can only do so much.
WWE 2K17, while not a traditional “sport” per se, is that elusive “leap forward” that I have been waiting for in my favorite annual sports titles. Every year 2K (and THQ before it) brings a bit more to the table and makes me think “Oooohh, this is getting closer to Here Comes the Pain!” For those who haven’t been playing WWE games since the VHS was still a standard, HCTP is widely regarded as the best WWE game since WWF No Mercy on N64. This year probably comes the closest to HCTP in years, with a few features from back in the day that I still miss dearly.
What makes this year’s entry to great can be summed up in the word “more.” More wrestlers, more moves, more features like creating an entrance video and victory celebration, more to do in Universe More (like the addition of promos), more to do in MyCareer, and more interactive areas both ringside and backstage. This generation’s wrestling offerings have been pretty pale so far, no matter how much I have enjoyed them, and Yukes has decided that this is the year where they throw everything at us. And man, does it all stick!
Yes, the commentary is still god awful, I still wish we could import our own music to use an entrance themes, and the hair still looks terrible (not to mention glitchy), but these things don’t detract from the overall game. There is just so much to do here, and that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Yukes removed a major game mode this year, the Showcases. So much has been expanded in MyCareer and Universe Mode that I barely noticed an entire other major game mode was gone.
Interestingly enough, the first that stuck out to me when booting up the game was how much quicker everything loads. It took FOREVER for anything to load last year; I distinctly remember hitting the opening loading screen last year, getting up, grabbing a tortilla and shredded cheese out of the fridge, heating both up for 30 seconds to make a quesadilla, putting it on a paper towel, then returning to the couch to see the game still loading. This year is nice and snappy. You get the opening WWE splash video, then you’re basically in the game. So far so good.
Visually, the game looks fantastic with a few really odd character models thrown in. For some reason, The Miz just looks “off,” and Dana Brooke’s model is the stuff of nightmares. Also, a few of the entrances look really bad. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Sasha Banks’ entrance. I have never seen so much lateral swaying from a human being in my whole life.
There are also a few glitches that stick out a bit more than the above mentioned issues. For starters, a few wrestlers have capes that totally spaz out during their entrance. Neville’s comes to mind, and so does Finn Balor’s jacket. Sure these glitches are hilarious, but it gets tiresome after the first few times. Also in Universe Mode prior to the weekly shows, I have run into more than one occasion where the game just crashes during the match loading screen. Hopefully these will be addressed in a later patch at some point.
While we’re on the subject of Universe Mode, let’s talk about all the additions to this year’s entry. A ton of new scenarios have been added, including a new promo minigame. Universe Mode always offered an unbelievable amount of control and customization, but it always ended up being extremely repetitive. I hate to say it, but even with all the new additions this year, Universe Mode still falls into the same trap of repetition.
Despite the repetitiveness, Yuke’s has made an effort to make Universe Mode feel special. Each weekly show now starts off with the same video you see on Raw and Smackdown in real life, which then leads to a shot of the opening pyro in the arena. It’s a nice touch and makes it feel like you are really playing a WWE show. I wish you can skip the videos because after hearing “Black and Blue” 3456729345678 times, it gets a little old, but the gesture is still appreciated.
The promo minigame is probably the biggest new addition to Universe Mode, and to be honest, it’s a bit hit or miss. You end up with the same few options to choose from, and these options make you sound either like a whiney brat, a jerk, or a boy scout. There’s not much in between, so if you wanted to be an Austin-esque anti hero, you’ll be out of luck since the game will categorize you as a heel. Also, the promo game doesn’t seem to take into consideration whether or not you’re already in a feud. I started a feud with The Miz, had two matches with him, then was given a promo where I called him out for the first time and said “I want a match with you!” it didn’t seem to flow together very well and ended up sounding really awkward.
I recall a bunch of dev blogs prior to the game’s release touting all the new additions to Universe Mode, but to be honest, it seems to be about the same as it always was. Rivalries and storylines are all very familiar, with the same post-match “I’m going to shake your hand; just kidding no I’m not” cutscene that we’ve been seeing for years. Perhaps there is “more” to Universe Mode, but I must not have run into it yet. To put a positive spin on things, at least it’s the Universe Mode we know and love, so I guess there’s that.
MyCareer has additions that I’m more impressed with. The whole “NXT rookie works his way up to the big leagues and becomes a legend” story is still pretty much the same, but MyCareer is much more streamlined now. Rather than move up based on your popularity within each show, you now have the choice to bypass MXT entirely after the initial MyCareer tutorial. Once you’re on the main roster, you don’t need to worry about “graduating” from lower tier show to main show; you instead are featured in pretty much anything available to you. Your main concerns are now either impressing or rebelling against The Authority, dealing with the normal storylines presented in MyCareer, and Heyman Challenges (whether or not you choose to utilize Paul Heyman as your manager). Without a specific endgame in sight, MyCareer seems like it could go on forever, and is considerably more appealing than Universe Mode.
WWE 2K17 easily presents the largest roster in recent memory. You have your main roster Superstars, a huge number of Legends (including the Bushwhackers for some reason), and a large number of NXT stars, with more to come via DLC. I’m extremely pleased to see Shinsuke Nakamura included in the NXT Enhancement Pack, and am very much looking forward to being able to play as Tye Dillinger in a future NXT DLC pack. Oh, and the Goldberg model looks GREAT.
I know I started off this review by stating that WWE 2K17 was the big leap forward that I had been waiting for, then proceeded to list everything I didn’t like about the game. That’s true, there are a bunch of issues, but the important thing to remember is that despite all the quirks that bugged me, this year’s game simply has a LOT of stuff. From the biggest roster in recent years to an improved MyCareer mode, WWE 2K17 should offer fans plenty to do. The Creation Suite alone can eat up dozens of hours alone, and if you have the time and patience, the Creation Suite used alongside the community creations and Universe Mode can allow you to create any storyline and situation you can dream of. It’s not perfect, but damned if WWE 2K17 isn’t worth every penny I spent on it.
4 out of 5 stars