I think it would be fair to say that most wrestling fans were disappointed with WWE 2K15. The series’ first outing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was seen as a significant step-down from the previous year’s release. Several features were scrapped, and the few added ones couldn’t make up for that fact. Plus, there were several technical issues. Since this is a yearly release now, Yuke’s and 2K Games are back once more, this time with WWE 2K16. With another year of current-gen development in its favor, could the franchise ascend to championship levels? Or is it just another jobber?
While it may never please gamers who are continually looking to relive WWF No Mercy, the gameplay found in WWE 2K16 represents the high point of the franchise thus far. It may not actually look anything like the action seen on screen, but the grappling and striking feel more fluid and dynamic than in past entries. For the most part, the meat of the action is similar to how it has been previously. Players can alternate between strong and weak grapples and strikes, while also making sure they don’t run out of stamina. Signature moves and finishers are earned through beating your opponent to a pulp. Basically, if you are at all familiar with the WWE 2K series, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
However, that’s not to say that Yuke’s hasn’t introduced a few new wrinkles to the formula. The most noticeable, and welcome, change to the gameplay comes from the re-worked reversal system. Previous entries have allowed skilled players to spam reversals, often turning matches into stalemates. In order to combat this, though, you’ll now be limited in how often you can block a maneuver. You begin each match with a few, but the more you reverse, the more your reversal bar depletes. And while this bar may charge over time, you don’t want to get stuck without a reversal when it matters most. This creates an interesting dynamic for the title, as you don’t want to take too much damage, but you also don’t want to waste your entire bar blocking weak punches and kicks.
One of the more ignored aspects of the series, pinfalls, has also been reworked and improved. When you are being pinned, you must now successfully complete a timing-based mini-game in order to kick out. You need to stop a meter in a color co-ordinated section of a circle, with the section becoming smaller and smaller depending on how much damage you accrue. It’s simple, but it’s better than just mashing buttons. What I appreciated, though, was the ability to really heel it up and use the ropes for leverage during a pinfall attempt. We’ve seen wrestlers do this for years, and it’s nice that the ability for us to do so was finally implemented.
Not everything is wonderful with the changes made to the gameplay, though. Executing and escaping from submissions has undergone a significant overhaul with this year’s release. Previous titles have relied on the tried and true method of button mashing, which proved easy to abuse. So, instead of that method, Yuke’s turned to the style of submissions seen in the defunct UFC Undisputed franchise.
Once a submission is activated, a mini-game is triggered where both combatants have a colored piece of a circle. The person applying the submission must hold their piece over their opponent’s, while the person being submitted must avoid their opponent’s piece. It sounds simple enough, but for some reason, moving the pieces around feels incredibly stiff and slow. This would make sense if you were weakened or exhausted, but even at the start of a match, things moved way too slowly. I’m not saying the button-mashing style was great, but there has to be a better way to design a submission system than the one featured here.
Introduced in last year’s release, 2K Showcase mode returns for another go-around in WWE 2K16. Instead of last year’s version of the mode, which focused on two different feuds, this year’s showcase is centered on a single superstar: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. As one of the biggest performers in the history of the sport, it only makes sense that Austin would be the focal point of this year’s release. Beginning with his defining performance at the 1996 King of the Ring, the showcase allows gamers to play through some of his biggest and most memorable battles. You’ll face off against the likes of The Rock, Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, all while completing set goals based around what actually occurred in real-life.
As someone who grew up watching wrestling during the 1990s and early 2000s, playing through the legendary moments in the career of the Texas Rattlesnake was thrilling. What wrestling fan wouldn’t enjoy putting a beating on young Rocky Maivia or jaded veteran Shawn Michaels? My only major issue with the showcase is that I wish it had a little more variety to it. I suppose this happens when you focus squarely on a single-superstar, but it does feel a little repetitive to be fighting the same guys over and over again. Perhaps Yuke’s should have pulled more from Austin’s time in WCW or ECW, as that could have led to a handful of different opponents for you to face-off against.
For those that are looking to forge their own path in WWE 2K16, MyCareer has also returned this year. Building off the lacklustre version featured in 2K15, players can work their way up from the bottom of NXT to the highest-rung of WWE superstardom. After putting the finishing touches on your character using the extensive Create-A-Superstar feature, you’ll be thrown into training with some of the brightest young wrestlers in the business. Once that’s through, though, you can begin building rivalries and alliances, whether through actual matches or backstage promos.
The new rivalry system is good in theory, as grudges between wrestlers have led to some of the biggest matches in the history of the WWE. However, it’s clear that this feature needed some additional time in development. There’s little explanation for why these feuds get started and with no storyline, it’s hard to get invested in the action. And really, the lack of proper story development is what torpedoes the MyCareer mode as a whole for me. Instead of feeling like I’m building my Hall of Fame resume through classic confrontations, it often feels like I’m slowly grinding my way through match after match. Being able to forge your own way to WWE immortality is a great idea, but MyCareer still needs a good amount of work in order to truly be great.
If you’re just clamoring to jump into the ring and start brawling, I’m happy to report that WWE 2K16 features a sizable set of match types once again. Everything from regular single matches to Hell in a Cell battles to tag-team ladder matches is here for your enjoyment. There’s nothing really new to the franchise included, but I’m just glad we got everything back this year. Now that we have the usual matches sorted out, perhaps Yuke’s can finally work on bringing the Punjabi Prison Match back.
The massive roster of over 120 wrestlers is a pretty big upgrade over past entries in the series. Culling from the past, present and future of the sport, there are plenty of superstars and divas to choose from. So if you’ve ever felt like having a TLC match between Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Sami Zayn, now’s your chance. While I understand Yuke’s couldn’t fit every wrestler in, there are several notable exclusions. The Four Horsewomen were a surprising miss, as were legends of the sport such as Eddie Guerrero and Yokozuna. Still, it’s hard to complain about a lack of superstars here, even with a few duplicates factored into that number.
Unfortunately, WWE 2K16 once again falters when it comes to the technical aspects of the title. If you are at all familiar with the franchise, you’re already well aware of the mass amount of glitches and bugs found in each release. This year is certainly no different, as animation glitches occurred at least once a match during my time with the title. Whether it be guys phasing through the ropes or bouncing around the canvas in a spastic frenzy, there was no shortage of issues. It’s really disappointing to see that year after year, this continues to be a major issue with the franchise.
Even if they couldn’t successfully debug the title, the extra year of current-gen development should have helped the series from a visual standpoint, at least. For most of the superstars and divas on the roster, the character models look better than ever. The likes of Randy Orton and John Cena, big stars in the promotion, look true-to-life, of course. It’s only once you get to the lower end of the roster do you begin to notice some model issues, however. For example, Jake Roberts looks like he got stung by a bag of bees, while backstage reporter Renee Young looks like a monster. The sparse and drab arenas were also a disappointment. There should definitely be more of a difference between the set featured at WrestleMania X and the one used at In Your House: Revenge of the Taker.
Despite what 2K Games and Yuke’s may try to tell you, the commentary remains as awful as ever in WWE 2K16. The addition of John “Bradshaw” Layfield to the commentary booth was supposed to help alleviate the severe repetition found on commentary. Instead, now we have to suffer through three different commentators repeating the same generic statements over and over again. Having to constantly hear about how two totally random wrestlers have just been waiting to do battle is almost as bad as the actual commentary of the trio.
By most accounts, WWE 2K16 is a significant upgrade over last year’s abysmal release. The new reversal and pinfall systems, combined with the already solid striking and grappling, helped bolster the gameplay, while the strong 2K Showcase and supersized roster also serve as major additions to a franchise that was potentially headed towards disaster. There is still much that needs to be done, though, in order for the series to match the other top-tier sports titles out there. The technical hiccups and issues need to be ironed out, and the lackluster MyCareer has to be improved next year. It’s hard for me even to say there’s a good blueprint for success here, as we have said that year after year, only for Yuke’s to find a new way to mess it up. So, while I’m excited to see where the next entry goes, I’m still not sure what to expect.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which we were provided with.
Thanks to improved mechanics and a solid 2K Showcase, WWE 2K16 is a significant improvement over last year's lacking release. However, the technical hiccups found in prior games are still littered throughout this outing, and continue to undermine the experience.