For as long as I can remember — dating back to the days of the WWE Smackdown vs Raw series of video games — I’ve wanted developer Yuke to dump the tired old gameplay formula that has formed the basis of their long-running WWE series of games. Strangely though, WWE 2K19 doesn’t do a lot different from previous iterations, but the small changes they have made to the gameplay make it a lot more focussed on presenting the pro-wrestling product as it should look and feel.
If you are a fan of pro wrestling in general, you may well consider it to be an art form in its own right. Matches such as Steve Austin vs Bret Hart, The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels, and Christian vs Randy Orton show the audience something deeper than just a fight between two people. There’s a story to be told, and it’s these stories that provide a hook for their audiences. WWE 2K19 slows down the pace of previous games and with new abilities given to each wrestler, getting the game closer to the storytelling potential that is shown in the actual WWE product.
The first aspect that shows an improvement over previous iterations are the character models. For the most part, fantastic looking models are no longer limited to the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H. Most character models look much closer to their real-life counterparts than what they have in the past, including past wrestlers that wouldn’t have been scanned into the game, such as Edge, Eddie Guerrero, and Ricky Steamboat. Entrances and animations all look incredible for the most part. Unfortunately, props still look quite disjointed from the rest of the presentation, where items such as posters look like they’re made of steel, and sledgehammers seem like they are made of Styrofoam. Pyrotechnics also fall a little flat; the explosions tend to fizzle rather than bang.
There have been some significant improvements in MyPlayer and MyCareer modes. MyPlayer characters are again created from scratch, then the character is used in a number of modes in order to level up and move them up the ranks in WWE. As time progresses, you can unlock additional attire, moves, and entrance themes to set your wrestler apart from everyone else’s. Although I had the optional accelerator (microtransaction) that gives additional points to spend, my character only had a rating of 58, so there is a lot of grinding that needs to be done in order to make them even remotely competitive.
Instead of building your wrestler’s attributes, your created character has a skill tree that builds on certain aspects of that wrestler’s abilities. Some increase strength while others increase grappling ability and high-flying prowess. The skill tree contains additional special skills that can be unlocked — these allow the wrestler to perform acts such as playing possum and kicking out of a pin at two, no matter what move was performed on them. It’s a huge grind that some will enjoy, but it takes a very, very long time.
The MyCareer mode is a lot more involved this year than in previous games and is a lot less repetitive as a result. Your MyPlayer starts off in a small wrestling organization called BCW. The BCW has an affiliation with the WWE, although no one had a successful WWE career as of yet. The career mode contains your usual storylines, treachery, successes, and more. For this mode, actual WWE Superstars recorded lines for the game. Folks like Triple H sound like they’ve recorded their lines simply because they had to, and many of the wrestlers in MyCareer don’t reflect their vibrant real-life personas. It’s unfortunate, because many of the included characters have previously done voice work for cartoons on the WWE Network with moderate success.
The poor voice recordings aren’t the only low-point in MyCareer. The mode is an attempt to pull back the curtain and show how pro wrestling works behind the scenes. Being introduced to the company COO Triple H and being trained by Matt Bloom at NXT are examples of this mode doing its job. Making wrestlers resemble their on-screen personas when there’s no audience feels downright weird. Braun Strowman was my second opponent, and he used all of his catchphrases despite there being no need for him to be in character. Not to mention that he was working out on the Entrance Stage for some reason, which was bizarre. The last thing on MyCareer that I feel needs a mention is the lack of a female MyCareer mode. For the past few years, the WWE has been boasting about how much they have progressed in terms of giving their female talent extra television time to perform — it feels backward not to be able to take a female through her own career.
The 2K Showcase mode is back after taking a short hiatus. This year, the focus is on Daniel Bryan’s career, starting with his match against John Cena on Velocity in 2003, up to being cleared to wrestle earlier this year. Each match is presented by Daniel Bryan himself, explaining each point in his career and why that specific match is in the game. With the lacklustre storytelling in MyCareer, I found this mode to be rather refreshing, even if the developers had to put more than five versions of Bryan on the roster.
Daniel Bryan isn’t the only wrestler to get multiple iterations on the roster either. Chris Jericho, John Cena, Kane, Ric Flair, Triple H, Sting and The Undertaker all have three or more versions to play as. Plenty more wrestlers have two versions of themselves. When 2K boasted that there were more than 200 wrestlers on the roster, but the actual number of unique wrestlers is almost 40 fewer, it feels like a lot of padding. It would have made more sense to use the added wrestlers as alternate costumes to make the roster look less confused and bloated than it is.
The Creation Suite is still as good as it ever has been. As in the past, you are able to create wrestlers, belts, and arenas, and now, you can make Money-in-the-Bank Briefcases. It’s an incredibly detailed mode and there are almost no limitations to what can be created. Everything can be shared with other players around the world, and you can also hop online to find other people’s creations — a feature I found myself revisiting often.
Other modes include Towers. You can choose a wrestler from the game and fight a number of WWE Superstars. Each tower has a theme to it, and some offer certain stipulations and restrictions on each match. It’s an interesting mode that gets updated over time to maintain interest, but if everything is unlocked in-game through the accelerator, it doesn’t add much to the overall package.
The WWE Universe mode is sorely in need of an update. It acts sort of like you’re in control of the WWE. Matches are automatically generated but can be changed, which includes the winners of each match. You can also choose a wrestler to play as in each match. Unfortunately, none of this seems to have any consequences. There are no storylines to be found in the mode at all, and it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. You could put on the worst show imaginable, and the game will just carry on as if everything is going great. Having choices affect crowd ratings, viewership, and wrestler satisfaction would have kept this interesting. As it stands, it isn’t interesting in the least.
Despite being one of the best WWE games in the past decade, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. WWE 2K19 takes a big step in the right direction when it comes to gameplay, but remains stagnant — and even regresses — in other areas. The art of pro wrestling always seems within arm’s reach, but when the same basic engine has been used since the PlayStation 2, it can only go so far. I can only hope that the introduction of the next generation of hardware will bring a complete overhaul to the series, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by 2K Sports.
Overall, WWE 2K19 is a solid wrestling game. Gameplay wise, it's leaps and bounds over previous entries. The creation suite is always getting better, and the 2K Showcase mode has never been better. Unfortunately, it's let down by a handful of undercooked modes that desperately need to be fleshed out.