Review: WWE 2K16 for PlayStation 4
Is it ‘Oh Hell Yeah!’ or ‘What?’
So it’s been a little while since I last stepped into the virtual ring, and some things have changed. My last outing with a WWE video game was in WWE ’13, which would happen to be the last game in the series published by THQ prior to their going out of business and the rights being scooped up by 2K Games, who have since rebranded the series starting last year with WWE 2K14.
Interestingly, from where I sit, things aren’t all that different in WWE 2K16. Much of this is no doubt due to the continued use of Yuke’s as developer for the series, but that isn’t to say things haven’t changed at all. There’s a familiar-yet-different feel to much of it.
Perhaps the biggest change of all is the roster: WWE 2K14 sported 109 different Superstars and Divas (including variations on some Legends), but WWE 2K15 — the first title developed for the current generation of consoles — dialed things back considerably with only 75 playable. However, much like the Hulkster in the prime of Hulkamania, they’ve mounted an incredible comeback as WWE 2K16 sports 124 playable characters, touted as the largest roster in WWE video game history — and that’s before downloadable content comes into play.
Incidentally, speaking of Hulk Hogan, you’re not going to find him here. Due to some controversial remarks that he was caught making on video, WWE has effectively cut as many ties as possible and distanced themselves as much as they can from the icon of the Rock ‘n Wrestling era. That said, there are still numerous WWE Legends to enjoy, from Andre the Giant to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and the Ultimate Warrior, as well as WCW greats who crossed over, such as “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Sting, and Vader. More are available as DLC, including The Big Boss Man, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Trish Stratus, Lita, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and Mr. Perfect.
New blood is in abundance as well, with numerous NXT stars and recent call-ups available to play as well, including some of my favorites in Tyler Breeze, Kevin Owens, The Vaudevillains, Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady, and Sami Zayn. Even Vince, Stephanie, and even (even!) Shane McMahon are included! And Savio Vega, too!
Unfortunately, as robust as the roster is, there are still some noteworthy omissions. While Enzo and Big Cass are in the house, they won’t be accompanied by Carmella — apparently they couldn’t teach that. Perhaps more glaring is the lack of Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch, aka the “Four Horsewomen” — a quartet of breakout stars from WWE NXT, the latter three of which were called up to the main roster to spearhead the recent “Diva’s Revolution” and one of which (Charlotte) is even the current Diva’s Champion. 2K said they pushed as hard as they could for their inclusion, but it won’t be happening (not even as DLC) for “various reasons.” Knowing WWE, one can only imagine what reasons those could possibly be, but I believe them.
From a visual standpoint, things are looking pretty good. The graphics seem more balanced this time around (though I might have simply missed something in the interim), in that there seemed to be something of a divide before, where some guys looked like they came right off of WWE Raw as it’s happening live, and others just looked… not-so real. Unreal? Less life-like, is what I’m saying.
I suspect that some people digitize better than others, but in any case, WWE 2K16 seems to aim a little lower, but in a good way. None of the character models — those I’ve seen, at least (apologies for not examining all 120+ in exacting detail) — seem to go for the full life-like approach, maybe dialed back a notch or two. The result, as best as I can put it, is that everyone seems to look like a video game character, and it feels much more consistent throughout, with less jarring disparity between the two extremes.
Even then, in the right light, you might notice someone’s hair looking a little odd, or someone might look like real life, but for the most part, there’s an appreciable balance to it all that I think works and makes the product as a whole look better overall, even if one or two parts aren’t pushing that boundary past the uncanny valley.
On the gameplay side of things, there have been some definite tweaks. Those familiar with the series shouldn’t feel too put out, but things such as reversals have been modified so you can’t just spam them. At the same time, trying to counter — against the computer, at least — is as hard as ever, as the damn R2 prompt comes up for only a split second. Most of the time, I’m trying to anticipate it and end up hitting it too early, or waiting for it to appear, by which time it’s too late. This might not even be quite an issue, except that your opponent will take full advantage while you’re trying to pull yourself back in the game and it becomes a frantic, desperate push to get a moment to recover on the player’s part.
Among other tweaks, perhaps the most noticeable of all of them is the new system for pinning and submissions. The submissions in particular are something else, as a meter appears with two bars, a red one and a green one, and basically the player in the hold is trying to move his bar around with circular motions of the right analog stick to catch up and overlap the other player’s as much as possible to break the hold. It’s… something else, as I said. Against the computer, it seems like they’re always one step ahead of you, yet it hasn’t really worked against me very much so far — as little as I can get the two to line up, I think it’s only really cost me once.
Numerous other things that didn’t make it into last year’s edition make their return, including ladder matches, handicap, and tornado tag matches. In addition, the MyCareer mode introduced last year is back, as is the WWE Universe mode which proved popular in WWE ’13 and WWE 2K14 — enough that an entire custom fan league known as VGCW was formed around using it to create custom stories, characters, shows, and more. I know there was despair at the fact that WWE 2K15 lacked this mode and 2K was shutting down the preceding versions’ servers, but since the women’s version of the show is poised to return on Thursday, January 7th and the main version on the 26th, I’m hoping this means that the version featured in WWE 2K16 is satisfactory for their needs.
Pushing past all the rest, there was one thing that caught my eye about this iteration of the franchise: 2K Showcase mode, particularly the focus on the career of one “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who is one of my old favorites. I pretty much got to see Austin’s WWE career unfold from beginning to end, and to see it all unfold again here is a unique sort of treat.
See, most “smart” fans know that WWE has a certain thing about revisionist history, and it can be quite apparent in this mode. Don’t get me wrong; the key moments in Austin’s career are represented well through a combination of actual video and sound bytes from the WWE archives. But it’s not perfect, not 100% accurate.
There are obvious changes, like the WWF logo to the WWE logo, including the “classic” version. It seems to switch between when they can and can’t use the classic WWF logo, so that’s understandable. Equally so is that there are matches Austin has had with the likes of Kurt Angle and the late Chris Benoit, neither of which are playable for very different but still very understandable reasons.
A little less so is the complete overhaul of the commentary. Avid fans might notice that the commentary teams don’t always match up as well, particularly as Vince McMahon himself was the lead play-by-play announcer when Austin began his WWE tenure.
What’s more, anyone who watched WWE/WWF during the Monday Night Wars (and before) no doubt knows and remembers Jerry “The King” Lawler as one of the most dastardly color commentators in the entire business. Yet here, he’s… well, he’s like he is today. A lot more mellow, a lot more friendly, and basically a good guy — even when talking about his most hated nemesis, Bret Hart! It’s kind of surreal.
The gameplay here differs a bit from the other modes as well. One issue I’ve had in previous WWE titles is that part of wrestling is telling a story, and playing matches seemed to kind of throw the stuff done for dramatic effect aside in order to simulate a staged athletic event. But in this mode, the story is the key. In fact, it is the game.
The story of Austin 3:16 is told with a mix of cutscenes using the in-game engine, actual archival footage, and of course, gameplay. When playing a match, you’re given a list of objectives to complete in order to properly recreate the scene. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and as absurd as it may sound, you have to lose the right way in order to proceed. For instance, you can’t just lose to Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13, but you have to perform certain big moves during the match and set things up so that they can play out correctly.
“It’s not about the destination, but the journey.”
The result varies, as some matches can be so restrictive they almost feel boring, with so many cutscenes and quick time events that it can sometimes feel more like you’re watching the match than playing it. Other times, it’s satisfying to get everything just right and watch events unfold in ways that the regular game engine would not allow. And on some occasions, you can unlock bonus matches by completing additional objectives.
Overall, I think the 2K Showcase really captures the drama and story of Austin very well.
I rather enjoyed WWE 2K16, but your mileage may vary. Depending on the Superstars and Divas you want to see, whether you appreciated past WWE titles from Yuke’s, or whether or not you like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, there is a lot going on here, and it’s difficult to give a blanket recommendation in that regard.
Personally? I’m ready to give it one “oh hell yeah,” with the biggest draw for me being the 2K Showcase, which I give a big thumbs-up to. And while I’m disappointed that a lot of names who didn’t make it onto the roster, there are still a great number that I’m thrilled to see as well.
That said, I know that Yuke’s WWE titles can be fairly divisive. If you’ve enjoyed them at all in the past, particularly in recent years (maybe barring the stripped-down WWE 2K15), I think this one is definitely worth a look. However, if you feel the series hasn’t been the same since it was WWE Smackdown vs. Raw or even just WWE Smackdown (or heaven help you, WWF No Mercy), then I don’t think this installment is going to change your mind.
A review copy of the PlayStation 4 version was provided by 2K Sports.