This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of WWE Survivor Series, and to celebrate the occasion, World Wrestling Entertainment has effectively joined forces with 2K Games to set a stage where “Fantasy Becomes Reality.”

The fantasy, of course, being that WWE 2K17 cover star Brock Lesnar will have a rematch 12 years in the making against one man he has never beaten: WWE 2K17 special pre-order bonus (which is now available to purchase as downloadable content for $6.99) Goldberg. With Goldberg coming out of retirement to promote the new game, it’s a match that pretty much felt destined to happen.

In addition to the tie-in with the big event, there is of course a lot more to look at in the game than just the clash of these two titans.

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As one might expect from a WWE 2K game, there are options. Tons and tons of options for matches, who carries which titles, the titles available, shows, created characters, and so much more that it would take forever to go through everything.

In a way, that fittingly seems to owe as much to the game’s bizarre sense of genre placement. It’s not quite like a fighting game, and almost feels more like a simulation (which, it turns out, was their goal this year). So what does that mean when you’re simulating two men (or women) fighting?

Well, for starters, there’s a more methodical sense of pacing involved as characters perform their moves. Basic things such as punches and kicks feel very much like what you would expect, but once you get into grappling, reversals, submissions, and pins, things change a bit. Reversals are very much like in previous years, wherein you have to press the Right Trigger at just the right moment to count an opponent’s maneuver — too quickly or too late, and you pretty much watch the entire move play out without further recourse. It’s very, very precise, though I have to admit that the more I played, the more it felt like they’d added just a touch of leniency over last year’s iteration — not too much, mind, but as I got used to it, it felt like it was just easy enough that I wasn’t completely helpless as opponents worked me over, but not so much that I could do it every single time.

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Changes have also been made to the way you end a match. When you go for a submission, you basically fill a circular meter by mashing the displayed button as quickly as you can, though the button displayed switches throughout the process. I actually prefer this to last year’s system of trying to line up two colored bars in a circular meter, which felt iffy at times.

On the other hand, pinfalls have been changed as well. Another circular meter appears when you’ve been pinned (though not while you’re pinning someone), and there is a small mark that you have to press the A button on when the meter overlaps. Sadly, I’m not a fan of this one — I’ve rarely had any success at kicking out, and have lost quite a few matches to it. In fact, I think most of the matches I’ve won have involved making sure I didn’t get pinned at all.

Fortunately, pins don’t count in the newly-returned backstage brawls. This was a lot of fun, as you basically recreate the “behind-the-scenes” havoc you’ve come to expect from WWE programming by picking up just about anything laying around, throwing your opponent into concrete walls or even through doors to new areas, going until one of the fighters loses consciousness.

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Another new feature which adds to the simulation feel doesn’t even take place in the ring. Well, that’s not true, really — let’s just says it doesn’t take place after the bell rings. Promos are something of a new mini-game feature included for this year’s entry, and I rather like the way they’re executed.

Your job is to keep the audience engaged by choosing the best lines from a choice of four to keep the flow of the promo going. If the time ticks down, you’ll stumble and start to lose them. There are even some dueling promos you’ll engage in where it’s basically a battle to see who can score the most points with the crowd. It’s a neat feature, and even though it’s not especially customizable in terms of what you can say (unless I missed something), it still brings the feel of the program that much closer to what you see on television.

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A fun feature I just have to mention is that 2K Games has even incorporated t-shirt sales into the game. Rather than accomplishing specific feats to unlock various titles, venues, and Superstars, you use an in-game credit system that you earn throughout the course of playing the game.

These credits — basically, your “income” — can be further bolstered by designing and wearing t-shirts out to your matches for the crowd to want to buy. Hello, royalties! But you can’t just design a shirt and forget it, either — even Austin and the nWo shook things up in the clothing department over the course of their respective runs, and you’ve got to do the same thing to keep fans interested and keep the cash coming in. E-commerce? More like WWE-commerce!

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As noted before, creation modes make a comeback here, and you can get pretty creative. Inspired by this YouTube video, I decided to make Darunia from The Legend of Zelda series and run with him. I was aiming for someone more Yokozuna-shaped, and while I could get the weight to the former champ’s record number, the form didn’t quite take shape — the best I could manage was something more Big Show-ish, and so I improvised with what you see above. Truth be told, I’m still pretty happy with it.

Unfortunately, I do take issue with how created characters are incorporated into the MyCareer mode. Upon starting, you can either build another new grappler from scratch, or you can import one you created in the Creation Suite to use. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a disconnect somewhere in there — while the visual elements came through (aside from being put in Tap Out-branded gear for the Performance Center tutorial) and he still comes to the ring with Sami Zayn’s entrance, he doesn’t have the move set I assigned to him — which was basically copying over Kevin Owens’ move set (his size and the cannonball move seemed too perfect).

You can still assign moves and different skills to your wrestler in MyCareer mode, but you can’t just assign an existing wrestler’s move set again, and the apparent dissonance from everything you’ve painstakingly crafted in the Creation Suite is admittedly a bit of a letdown.

Also of note is that if you want a set of titles and champions that’s up-to-date following the recent roster split, you’re going to have to do that on your own — the WWE Universal Championship, Smackdown Women’s and Tag Team Championships, and the new Cruiserweight Championship are not present (though many of the older ones are, including the old Cruiserweight title). I’ve seen that there has been some successful replication of these titles online — all but the Cruiserweight are just palette-swaps of the opposing brand’s version, after all — but I personally couldn’t figure out how to get the Universal title to appear with the red field behind the WWE logo, so there is definitely a need for experimentation there.

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Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. Superstars range all over the spectrum, from lifelike to action figure-esque to “what happened here?” (see Dana Brooke above). I’m not sure if some of them just translate better or some simply got more work applied to their models than others, but there is a noticeable difference across the board, depending on who you’re looking at and other circumstances such as angle, lighting, and so forth.

Fortunately, once the action started in the ring (or backstage), I didn’t really notice all that much. I seldom ever found myself in a “that looks just like TV” moment, but at least it felt more consistent with itself. That said, other things such as props (Finn Balor’s chainsaw, for instance) look decidedly less realistic than some of the guys holding them, while other things like the ring and crowd tend to look… well, like a video game. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I thought they were striving for realistic visuals, so depending on which target they were trying for, it’s either a hit or a miss.

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The soundtrack is fun, but doesn’t play into things too much. Aside from the obvious entrance music and WWE show themes, there is a set of tracks curated by “Puff Daddy” Sean “Diddy” Combs. It mainly plays during the title screen and menus, but there is a nice touch where it plays in the background, muffled as though through speakers, at the Performance Center. These songs are all new to me, and I particularly enjoyed the first one that tends to come up for me, “Out of Control” by Travis Barker & Yelawolf.

Sadly, commentary doesn’t fare so well. I mean, it works well enough for what it is, but what it is happens to be Michael Cole, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and John Bradshaw Layfield — on every show, including Smackdown and even NXT. Personally speaking, I respect these three as legends in the business, but at the same time, I’ve also seen enough people express disdain for each of them individually that putting all three together just seems like an overall negative move that will have a lot of fans looking for a way to shut them off, even if they have to resort to the Mute button.

One can only hope that with the brand split now in full effect that next year will see more variety with the likes of fan-favorite Smackdown commentator Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves. Of course, seeing as Cole & Co. were even doing commentary on NXT, maybe that’s not too likely.

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There are some other pluses and minuses that I won’t go into too much detail over here (save to say that there are some notable loading times, and I still wish they’d bring back the practice mode), but the biggest disappointment of all to me prior to release was the absence of 2K Showcase mode. For me, this was the game last year, and I had actually considered skipping this year’s entry when I found out it wouldn’t be included this time around — that is, until I was offered a review copy, and I’m glad I was.

WWE 2K Executive Producer Mark Little explains:

One of the largest and most difficult decisions we made for WWE 2K17 was to forego building a 2K Showcase. We designed and contemplated several Showcase ideas, including options surrounding our cover Superstar, Brock Lesnar, but all of them were not viable due to the many historic WWE Superstars needed but not available for inclusion in the game. In addition, the team is heavily focused on building and delivering great content that fans can enjoy for years to come, while the Showcases only live in games from year to year. In all, we didn’t feel good about creating a Showcase that was not up to our standards and current development vision, so we decided to take that effort and put it into modes our community requests we keep improving: WWE Universe and MyCareer.

Even as a fan of 2K Showcase, I’m inclined to say that the trade-off was worth it.

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With my favorite mode gone, I came into WWE 2K17 with reservations, but I’m really glad I got to play this. Even though I’m not especially good at the game outside of MyCareer (again, mostly where the new pinfall system is concerned), I still had fun with it, and I imagine getting a group of friends together would multiply that quite a bit.

That said, I know that the WWE 2K games have their fans and their detractors, and while this iteration does show improvement over WWE 2K16, if you didn’t already like the series, I’m not sure this will be enough to pull you in. But if you have been enjoying the games, this one seems like a definite get to me.

91hHX9e+Y6L._SL1500_WWE 2K17 was released on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016 at a price of $79.99 for the Standard Edition (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3), $109.99 for the Digital Deluxe Edition (Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and $129.99 for the NXT Edition (Xbox One and PlayStation 4).

A review code was provided by 2K Games.

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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