Ostensibly, it would all be all too tempting to simply kick this review off with a familiar introduction – “another year, another WWE game”. However, such a beginning would grossly sell short the huge amount of work that 2K and developer Yukes have put into this year’s instalment and by proxy, the genuinely improved experience which has emerged as a result. Essentially, if WWE 2K15 felt like 2K were faffing about at midcard level then 2K16 by comparison feels a lot closer to the sort of main-event calibre experience that we have come to expect.
Certainly though, if last year’s game taught us anything it’s that whenever the WWE franchise appears on new hardware for the first time, a number of features tend to be sacrificed in the seemingly tumultuous transition from one console generation to the next. In the case of WWE 2K15, this meant a whole raft of modes disappearing and the game itself which while largely solid, felt reductive and in many ways a step back from what players had been exposed to previously. With WWE 2K16, the developer goes someway to making up for this with a plethora of reinstated modes, improved 2K Showcase and MyCareer content, not to mention the single largest roster of wrestlers seen in any WWE title to date.
Although the roster is indeed the largest we’ve ever seen, it is not quite as comprehensive as one might hope. Specifically, the lack of NXT’s Diva Revolution is a little baffling; especially given the five-star matches that the likes of Bayley and Sasha Banks been having as of late – in fact they won’t even appear in the forthcoming DLC which just feels like a tremendous oversight. Indeed while the tools exist to create your own take on these highly talented ladies or download somebody else’s, it would have been nice to have these trailblazing athletes as bespoke selectable superstars from the off and their absence is sorely felt. Here’s hoping that next year’s effort will rectify this.
Visually, the game is definitely an improvement over WWE 2K15, though there are some caveats to this. While there are many new animations and more face-scanned wrestlers, glitches still abound though thankfully they are far fewer in number this year. Superstar entrances also continue to be a highlight, though it’s clear that some have been given better treatment than others. John Cena for example, has an entrance that is basically frame for frame a replication of his real-life ring entrance, while Finn Balor’s entrance looks jerky, stiff and a world away from the free-flowing madness of his real-life audience pleasing introduction.
Just like last year’s game, 2K Showcase mode allows players to relive the matches and video packages that have contributed to the legacy of that particular wrestler. Here however, rather than a selection of smaller Showcase campaigns for a number of different wrestlers, WWE 2K16 presents just one extra lengthy Showcase for a single superstar – Stone Cold Steve Austin. Happily, the decision to focus the 2K Showcase on the career path of a single superstar proves to be a wise one, since the career of Stone Cold is legendary to say the least and is filled with some top-tier matches and truly exciting rivalries.
Aside from the usual great presentation that is afforded to the matches and the video packages surrounding every major milestone in 2K Showcase, the developers have managed to extend the longevity of the experience by introducing a number of additional elements, too. Pleasingly, in addition to encompassing all of Austin’s major career highlights such as his legacy making win at King of the Ring ’96 and his first WWE title win over Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIV, Austin’s 2K Showcase also allows players to get stuck into a bunch of bonus matches chronicling some of the less prolific matches from the Rattlesnake’s storied career.
Casting players as a long-blonde haired ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin from the early 90’s through to his Wrestlemania debut in 1996, these brilliantly constructed extra bouts have all the cinematic flair that the regular matches in Showcase do while also providing decent insight into his conflicts with legends such as Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat and his former Hollywood Blondes tag partner, Brian Pillman.
Further extending the appeal of WWE 2K16’s 2K Showcase mode is the fact that many of the matches can be played from the perspective of Austin’s opponents and, in addition to performing a number of unique conditions (such as flipping off an opponent before nailing them with a finisher), these alternative scenarios do a good job of incentivising the player with a raft of additional unlockable arenas, wrestlers and other items.
Of course mechanically-speaking, 2K Showcase plays out pretty much identically to previous years with players being tasked to fulfil a number of in-match conditions in order to mirror the real-life shenanigans that went on in these historical matches. QTE sequences unfortunately make their return in this year’s 2K Showcase and as before, are hugely frustrating since failing them requires you to replay the match from the very beginning. The lengthy in-game cutscenes also make a return and while they might rankle some, I can appreciate the added authenticity that they lend to the historical presentation that the developers were striving for with their inclusion.
Speaking of which, WWE 2K16’s commitment to historical accuracy while admirable, is not quite perfect. Eagle-eyed fans will notice a number of odd omissions from Austin’s 2K Showcase mode when compared to the real thing, such as the complete lack of blood during the Sharpshooter submission at Wrestlemania XIII, the strangely absent Mike Tyson from Wrestlemania XIV (he’s replaced by a generic looking ‘enforcer’ instead) and the off-putting lack of Paul Heyman’s borderline crazy commentary during the main event of Wrestlemania XVII, to name just a few.
For folks looking to immerse themselves in WWE 2K16’s single-player offering beyond 2K Showcase, MyCareer and WWE Universe mode both return to keep the solo player more than occupied. In the case of former MyCareer now flows much better than last year’s version of the mode, with a better NXT introductory phase and much improved rivalries while the latter returns with better matchmaking and more cutscenes that help to immerse you in the events more than ever before.
Single-player stuff aside, a bounty of entertaining riches also await those who intend to play the game with mates and as per previous entries in the series, WWE 2K16 clearly operates at the height of its powers when it’s enjoyed with both veteran and rookie friends alike. From singles matches to tag matches, Hell in the Cell and just about everything in between, this year’s instalment is arguably as much fun as it has ever been.
Elsewhere, the Creation Suite has also seen an upgrade; something that was sorely needed after the threadbare showing of superstar customisation tools seen in WWE 2K15. With many more modes such as create-an-arena, create-a-show and a massive increase in the number of templates and tools for create-a-superstar, it’s clear that the developer has put an incredible amount of work into the creation tools on offer. Indeed, the creation tools are now so seemingly proficient that as soon as I began the game, I was able to immediately download some brilliantly designed created wrestlers from other organisations and previous WWE eras that look just like the real article. Top stuff.
Beyond such additions and the overall reassuring robustness of the game’s single-player and multiplayer modes, some of the greatest strides that WWE 2K16 makes over its predecessor lie in the realm of nuance and ringcraft. Perhaps the greatest of these adjustments is how the new reversal system works. No longer the refuge of infinite counter spamming fools, in WWE 2K16 there are now a limited number of reversals that can be triggered and so this invites a level of strategy that didn’t exist previously. Split up into minor and major reversals, the latter of which is reserved for turning the tide on special and finishing moves, these recharge over a period of time when not used and so being frugal with your use of them proves to be a key strategy to winning any match early on.
Interestingly, the number of reversals afforded to each wrestler is tied into the superstar ratings too, so while a monster like Brock Lesnar might have the full five reversals available to him, a lower-tier superstar such as Zack Ryder may only have two or three, serving to deftly mirror the qualitative gulf that exists between the superstars in real-life as a result.
Compounding on the fine work done with the reversal system, a great deal of effort has also been put into other aspects of the wrestling game to make it feel much more like the real thing. Firstly, the chain wrestling system which was introduced in last year’s game has been expanded here with a wider range of holds, counter-holds and grapple strikes to really make the ‘feeling out’ process that occurs at the beginning of the match feel much truer to the action that unfolds on TV.
The submission system too, has also been overhauled for the better. In WWE 2K16, as well as being able to resist and sink submissions in with a swing bar system where you must cover the opponents bar, or escape from it if you are trying to defend the submission, you can also crawl to the ropes while simultaneously attempting to defend – providing yet more depth to an already deep system. Finally, the newly implemented rest hold system also proves to be a boon, enabling attackers to subdue and suffocate their opponent while they regain precious stamina in order to mount a stronger offence later, while the breakout system enables players to ambush their foes as they approach the ring in order to take a match-changing cheap shot.
What all these improvements and new features add up to is the most comprehensive wrestling simulator money can buy and future WWE 2K titles will only get better if they continue to build upon the excellent foundations lain here. Much like Roman Reigns himself then, WWE 2K16 is an impressive entity. Presenting a much improved, muscular offering over last year’s effort, it’ll only be a short time before, like the superstar himself, the series reaches the legendary status that it has craved for so long.
A digital copy of the game for PS4 was very kindly supplied by 2K for the purposes of this review.
You can purchase WWE 2K16 here.