Nestled in between the annual sports games of fall, games like Madden 18, NHL 18, and NBA 2K18, comes developer Yuke’s and publisher 2K’s love letter to professional wrestling, WWE 2K18. While the other games are based off professional sports leagues, WWE 2K18 is considered “sports entertainment,” where actual competition is scripted, and entertaining the crowd takes precedence over wins and losses. That way of thinking — the scripted aspect — has never been more malleable than in this year’s WWE game. Players can truly sculpt their own WWE experience in multiple ways, making WWE 2K18 a gem for fans of the squared circle.
WWE 2K18 is incredibly feature heavy, with multiple game modes, and a myriad match options. In the first mode, simply called Play, players can take one of over 170 WWE superstars, both new and old, and battle singles, tag, triple threats, or fatal four way matches, and even create huge battle royals with 20 superstars, eight of which are controllable in the ring at the same time. But the options don’t end there, as different stipulations can be selected, like extreme rules, tables, ladders, and falls count anywhere, and there are over 50 different WWE/WCW/ECW legacy belts that can be unlocked and battled for. Developer Yuke’s has really outdone themselves with the amount of options at play in WWE 2K18, and even the most novice fans can find something to enjoy on this particular buffet of modes and match types.
Where WWE 2K18 really begins to shine are in two of the “story” based game modes, WWE Universe and MyCareer. In WWE Universe, players take on the wrestling calendar year, from WrestleMania to WrestleMania. The options to book matches, create rivalries, move belts, and dictate the content of each of the three weekly WWE TV shows (Raw, SmackDown, and NXT), all comes to a head at the end-of-month pay-per-view (PPV), which resets the stories leading into the next month. This gives players to power to play as WWE Creative, the term used for the writers and masterminds behind the weekly storylines that play out on millions of TVs worldwide. WWE 2K18 then lets the player decide which matches, if any, they want to actually play in a given show, week of shows, or month of WWE programming. This mode is incredibly deep, and the options to tailor feuds and storylines based on real life characters is powerful for fans of WWE or of wrestling in general.
The second “story” mode in WWE 2K18 is in MyCareer, which features two options: Road to Glory, an online, ongoing daily tournament where player-created superstars battle each other across the world to gain supremacy and eventually headline a PPV. The other mode is an RPG-like story, where the created Superstar begins their career at the WWE Performance Center in Florida and has to work hard to win matches, gain favor from the Authority at WWE, and eventually make it to TV, first on NXT, and then on one of the two flagship shows. The new backstage fighting feature comes into focus here, as the player can spend weeks doing nothing but picking fights with other wrestlers backstage, or by initiating run-ins on other matches, creating chaos and disruption.
The Promo system returns, which allows the player to select from scripted lines of dialogue to chain together an effective promo, but the options are — let’s say strange, and you can be forced to go against the personality of the character you created if the dialogue options aren’t available. Other superstars can run-in on your promo, which can lead to a insipid back and forth of posturing and trash talk, or better yet, a brawl. This is the foundation of what could be, one day, an amazing feature, but WWE 2K18 just isn’t there yet, and the promos come off as silly.
WWE 2K18 utilizes a loot crate reward system to unlock additional moves and attire elements, and loot crates can be purchased with Virtual Currency (VC). This means that players are constantly tweaking and updating their created superstars, and a gimmick change can happen at will. The amount of player customization is staggering, as anything can be designed, from the superstars, to their attire, to the belts, to the signs that the audience holds up during shows. I really can make this “My WWE,” and while that is a great concept on paper, the execution begins to show the real issues in the game.
Superstar creation is tied to what is unlocked as the game progresses, usually from loot crate drops. The initial creation suite is lacking, and only after you begin a mode can you really get into the nitty gritty of character design. Adjusting faces and body types is much deeper, and glancing at the player-created superstars in the community section, which can be downloaded into your game, shows that there are some incredibly talented people in this world. But to do it yourself, to have the same level of creation tools at your disposal, requires a massive grind for loot crates and VC. Only the most die-hard fans would ever put that kind of time into WWE 2K18, and that might turn the casual fan off.
The new graphics engine makes for some incredibly detailed Superstars, and the lighting effects are unparalleled. WWE 2K18 looks great in-ring, and the Superstars are lifelike in how they look, act, and fight. The new carry mode, which allows a player to pick up and carry and even throw their opponent opens up some neat move possibilities. Players can initiate firemen carries into a rope or turnbuckle, or even throw your opponent into a table or ladder, but mastering the button presses to make it happen takes time and practice. The reversal system, which revolutionized the game a few years ago, is still as important in WWE 2K18, but it’s also just as finicky. I’ve had matches where I never saw a reversal button prompt, and could only guess when and where I needed to press to get out of a devastating chain of moves being levied on me. It is a level of frustration that is unnecessary in a game like this.
WWE 2K18 is also a bit glitchy. I’ve personally seen Superstars do some incredibly wonky things in a match, like slide across the screen, or fly up into the air, especially during an on-line match, and the hit detection can be hit or miss in any mode. Controlling a Superstar sometimes feels like driving a tank, and no amount of speed attributes can fix that. The glitches, which are humorous at first, do begin to wear on you, especially when you are in the heat of a championship match and the reversal prompts suddenly stop appearing, leaving your Superstar at the mercy of the opponent.
Publisher 2K has made WWE 2K18 an annual release, and like the other “sports” games, the year-to-year changes are trivial at best. Until a major game overhaul occurs, fans will still buy it each fall, and they will complain, and they will bicker, and some will really enjoy it and call it the best wrestling game ever. This year, I fall somewhere in the middle of all of that. I enjoy the various game modes and match types, and the depth of creation and customization that is afforded to me, but the gameplay gets frustrating at times. I applaud Yuke’s for recreating an industry that constantly changes (gimmicks, personnel, costumes and championships), and for making it fun as a whole, and they made it look so good while doing it. I just wish the gameplay was at the same level of the aesthetics. WWE 2K18 is a solid entry this year, but some tweaks here and there could have made it a true bodyslam. I guess, as in all sports, there’s always next year.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by 2K Games.
With some new features and advancements, WWE 2K18 shoots for the title of best wrestling game ever - it just falls a little short where it counts.