As Vince McMahon, the charismatic owner of the WWE will attest, transition can be a difficult thing.
Just take a look at the wrestling company’s newest venture, the WWE Network for example; a video on demand arrangement that was supposed to signal the death knell to the pay-per-view business model, the service hasn’t done not nearly as well as they predicted it would. As it happens, WWE 2K15 is also no stranger to rocky transitions either. The first WWE title that 2K have had a proper hand in since they snagged the rights, the game is as much a step backwards as it is a step forwards in many areas and while the core gameplay of WWE 2K15 can be hugely enjoyable, the game gives the strong impression that the WWE 2K series isn’t quite the championship material that it should be on current-gen consoles.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out the way first; WWE 2K15 boasts a hugely reductive feature-set when compared to last year’s game and there’s no getting around it. There are less match types, less options, a greatly diminished creation suite (no create-a-move/belt/story/arena modes), a smaller roster and generally less of just about everything. In fact, the overall offering has been pared back so far when compared to last year’s game that it becomes difficult to reconcile the fact that this is supposed to be the next great step forward for the series.
Lack of bespoke features aside, one area that 2K hasn’t skimped on this year is the single-player campaign content. Simply put, in WWE 2K15, there is a metric ton of it; even most of is a bit of a mixed-bag qualitatively speaking.
The first of these single-player modes, 2K Showcase, will be familiar to anyone who has played the WWE games in the last few years. Presenting players with two very different historical WWE rivalries to choose from, 2K Showcase allows folk to unlock additional wrestlers, costumes and arenas by fulfilling a number of conditions in each match in an attempt to mirror what actually went down in real-life. Of course, as in previous games, this can be an absolute bastard to actually do reliably, as the CPU still has that ceaselessly annoying, almost omnipotent ability countering you at exactly the wrong time. Such hair-pulling aside though, each of the Showcase campaigns are presented well enough, with slick video packages and enough factoids to clue newbies into the action while giving the veterans the appropriate pings of sweat-drenched nostalgia.
Away from the familiarity of 2K Showcase is MyCareer; 2K’s career mode for their other sports titles which has essentially been brought kicking and screaming onto the WWE license. A much more rigid and expansive prospect than the Showcase mode, MyCareer has the player guiding their custom made bruiser from the NXT developmental leagues all the way to the main event at Wrestlemania. Along the way players can earn various forms of currency that can be put toward unlocking new moves, improving attributes or gaining new abilities, but really, the mode feels a little empty and more than a little repetitive with the same, often nonsensical opponents and matches being recycled over and over.
Emerging unscathed from the 2K transition though is WWE Universe mode, which, pretty much as before, allows players to arrange the rosters to their liking, create new stables and engage in feuds. In all fairness, once the allure of the 2K Showcase mode wears off this’ll be where players will likely spend the bulk of their time as the sheer amount of customisation involved makes for a far more enjoyable experience than the grinding drudgery of MyCareer.
Aside from the revamped single-player content, 2K have also put their stamp on the gameplay itself and the results are, shall we say, mixed to say the least.
The first thing that batters you in the face with the force of a steel chair is the new chain wrestling system. Essentially an interlinked game of rock, paper, scissors, players have to maneuver the analogue stick until they hit a sweet spot, with whoever doing it first being the one to win the grappling exchange. The chain wrestling system is in place as a way to mimic the feeling out process that usually occurs at the start of every match and until the wrestlers have gone through it three or four times, proper grappling won’t be able to begin. Of course, there are caveats to this as some wrestlers such as Big Show and Kane can’t chain wrestle for toffee and so they bypass it completely, but overall its a novel way of simulating the early part of a wrestling match.
To be honest, while the system largely works and feels better than it has any right to, there will naturally be those who prefer not to have it there in the first place. Thankfully then, the chain wrestling system can be disabled entirely and folks can get back to the sort of wrestling shenanigans that they are used to. Well, mostly used to anyway.
You see, another seismic shift to the gameplay is the speed in which everything happens at. Strikes, grapples, interactions with the scenery; all of it is much slower this time round and this has a knock-on effect on the gameplay and how everything feels. While certainly slower than last year’s game, WWE 2K15 also feels more deliberate and in some ways closer in pace to the actual action that you see on TV. Even so, the slower pace can sometimes seem too sluggish. The striking for example, often feels a little too lethargic with the various punches and kicks looking and feeling like they’re being thrown underwater instead of the real world.
The reduction in pace also brings us quite nicely to the newly reworked stamina system that WWE 2K15 is packing. One of the biggest bugbears with previous entries in the series was that they largely treated the wrestlers as characters from a fighting game; human dynamos that would never slow down in the pursuit of ruthless aggression. Here though, 2K and Yukes have finally made them feel like actual human beings with new animations (watching a wrestler use the ropes to pull their battered form upright is a proper thrill), desperation pins and more besides. Furthermore, the stamina system affects signature and finishing moves too so if you don’t have enough stamina you can forget about trying to RKO the dude in front of you.
As you might expect, this can lead to some epic matches; as players expend their last bursts of stamina to perform their finishers, before crawling over to get a pin just as their opponent makes that heart-stopping kick out at two. It’s thrilling stuff and similarly to previous entries in the series, WWE 2K15 is best enjoyed with friends, though doing so locally is by far the recommended method as online is laggy as hell and can often lead to some infuriating losses as the amount of lag can literally destroy a match and make pin-falls almost impossible to escape out of.
Another highly touted aspect of WWE 2K15’s current-gen console debut are the visuals and in particular the shininess that the new consoles allows to be applied to them. While mostly improved across the board, it’s the wrestler models that have received the most attention, owing to 2K’s sophisticated face-scanning and motion capturing techniques that make them more lifelike than ever before. The likes of John Cena, Randy Orton and Cesaro all have their trademark scowls and body detail and simply look brilliant and better than they ever have before.
The problem is, the same level of visual splendour is not lavished across each and every superstar and as such, it’s all too easy to tell which folks didn’t undergo the face mapping process. Owner of the company Vince McMahon for example, is afflicted particularly badly with a swollen face that looks like he swallowed a bee-hive while poor Summer Rae ends up looks like a mutated version of Amy Pohler. Despite such strides being made in visual technology though, one thing that they seemingly still can’t get right is the hair; so once again, instead of free-flowing locks, we get PS2-era hair-jobs that look like thick strips of matted fur.
Thankfully, the animations are uniformly much better than what has come before. With hundreds of newly motion-captured moves and incidental animations (again, I refer to wrestler’s using the ropes to stand as a decent example), everything moves and feels a lot more substantial before. Slams land with the appropriate ring-shaking gusto, while strikes, especially to grounded opponents, look like they actually connect now rather than clipping through the prone form of your opponent. Still, some of the old animations still manager to find their way back into the game (such as Brock Lesnar‘s Triple German Suplex being the same one used by Kurt Angle years ago) from previous games and stand out quite jarringly when compared to the brilliant animation work done elsewhere.
For the WWE faithful, perhaps the biggest part of WWE 2K15 that will be most to their chagrin is the roster; it’s sorely out of date with the exception of a few NXT superstars such as El Generico himself Zami Zayn and Adrian Neville. From the absence of the current gimmicks and proper themes for the likes of Dean Ambrose, to the presence of wrestlers who aren’t even employed by the company any more such as Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk, WWE 2K15’s roster is extremely behind the times and certainly moreso than any WWE game has been in recent years.
With a solid and rejuvenated wrestling engine at its core that is best enjoyed among friends, WWE 2K15 is a wrestling game that gets the crux of the experience pretty well nailed down and the new animations and stamina systems really do a great job in mimicking the pace of a modern day WWE match.
That said, the sheer amount of absent content, inconsistent visuals and out of date roster will likely dissuade a fair few wrestling fans from ever being engaged with the game’s finer charms and deep gameplay. As such, if you fall into that category, feel free to knock off up to two points from the score below. Regardless of which camp you fall into, let’s just hope that WWE 2K16 packs in the content around its assuredly confident core and ends up being more like Wrestlemania and less like the Montreal screw job.
WWE 2K15 was developed by Yukes, Visual Concepts and published by 2K. This title is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
PlayStation 4 review code was kindly supplied by the publisher for the purposes of this review.