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WWE 2K17 Review | On the ropes

WWE 2K17 Review | On the ropes
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

I think it’s time I admitted something to you all – my name is Carl and I’m a wrestling fan.

Ever since the glory days of Bret Hart I’ve appreciated the pageantry and pantomime-esque nature of it all, as larger than life characters do wondrously athletic feats and whip the crowd into a frenzy with overblown monologues. These days I don’t follow the product as much as I used to, and the same can be said for its video game franchise. The last full game I played was back in the PS2 era, with only a few hands-on sessions at conventions to see the latest gameplay changes over the last few years. Because of this, I was rather excited when I learned I had been sent a review copy of WWE 2K17 to grapple with.

More to the point, I was excited to waste half my weekend in the creation suites like in the good old days.

Of course, much has changed since the days of Smackdown Vs Raw, especially ever since 2K took control of the franchise. The gameplay has moved into simulation territory with momentum meters, stamina and match ratings to worry about. It certainly has the same core gameplay I remember, but it requires pacing and care instead of just repeatedly spearing your opponent until they don’t get back up. This simulation focus continues in WWE 2K17 as the series gets back to basics in a way, but here’s the thing – for every correct move 2K and Yukes have made this year there’s an issue ready to strike down the fun. The result is clearly great potential that ends up on the ropes.

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What’s best for business…

Not much has changed from a gameplay standpoint if you’re returning from last year. Input combinations give you the usual mix of strikes and grapples we’ve seen from the series for years, although the updated animations are visually refreshing. This goes for the “selling” too, as those repeatedly slammed look and move like they’re actually hurt. Unfortunately, just as the game appears technically sound it throws a spanner in the works. Reversals, for example, are often temperamental thanks to animations not flowing together correctly. There were numerous occasions where my timing looked spot on but the move happened anyway, which was highly frustrating.

That said, when the gameplay flows as intended it replicates the back and forth action of the WWE shows really well. The way the game rewards you for varying your actions makes it less boring compared to games of yesteryear (especially when I had powered up a created character wrecking everyone in sight.) The addition of new move sets for specific scenarios such as ladder and Royal Rumble finishers are a great touch, too, but I did find all learning all the various different ways to unleash pain was overwhelming initially.

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It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t feature a proper tutorial, only providing a small pop-up when new mechanics are used for the first time. As someone returning to the series after several years, I spent hours teaching myself the different grapple types and interactions, and this meant my first few gameplay hours felt too restricting. For example, it was by trial and error that I learned how to move in & out of the ring easily (it’s L1, FYI.) I hope 2K consider throwing in actual tutorials next year or at the very least some on-disc gameplay videos. Yes, external links to manuals and Youtube videos are available, but a lack of in-game explanation isn’t good enough for something that wants to be a simulation.

It’s a shame because individual match types work as they should. Tag matches actually require you to work with your AI partner for victory, and Ladder matches are a lot of fun with the new finishers thrown in. Cage matches and Hell in a Cell haven’t really changed, but they still allow you to throw opponents from ludicrous heights so that’s absolutely fine. The Royal Rumble, however, come across as it should – the ultimate test of endurance. I was unable to just walk in and beat everybody down for the win (as I found out rather quickly), forced to use pacing and cunning on when to be opportunistic instead. That difference in tactics – along with the unpredictable nature of who’s coming next – makes it my favourite match type in the game.

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Unfortunately, the gameplay is marred by some rather glaring visual problems. While animations are the best the series has seen, clipping issues continue to persist. Meanwhile, the crowd still looks lifeless whilst sounding horrific, and then there’s the issue of announcer Lillian Garcia developing teleportation powers after announcing a championship match. Commentary has its own issues, too, with delivery varying in quality (I’m looking at you, JBL) and often repeating itself. There’s also the issue that commentary repeats itself. Oh wow! That commentary just repeated itself!

What I’m trying to say is that Chris Jericho would most definitely put the commentary on the list.

Thankfully, the roster is absolutely huge, offering players the chance to put legends like Goldberg against newcomers like the excellent Finn Balor. While there are a few instances of wrestlers not quite hitting the mark (such as Kevin Owens and poor, poor Dana Brooke) the accuracy levels in bringing the roster to virtual life are pretty high overall. That said, it’s a shame that a lot of the in-game NXT roster are now on the mains shows, making it all feel a little dated. Meanwhile, the actual NXT roster to be bought as DLC – an unfortunate side effect of yearly releases and development cycles.

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Building a legacy

My favourite part of the WWE games has always been the creation suites. I’ve spent countless hours making entire rosters of fictional characters, but while WWE 2K17 was no exception I honestly felt the options were the most restrictive I’ve ever seen. The inability to manually shape bodies, instead replaced by preset body types, was disappointing. The lack of hair length options was disappointing. Tattoos being restricted to the upper arms only was disappointing. Don’t get my wrong – clothing wise I think the creation suite is superb, but I felt like my character’s physical appearance was too restricted with the cookie-cutter options.

My disappointment soon faded when I started choosing my move sets, though. The number of options is truly staggering, and I honestly felt WWE 2K17 is the wrestling game where I have been able to assign an overall move set that fit my character (a small, smart-thinking heel who doesn’t over-rely on acrobatics.) I ended up spending a good four hours going through the available options – a clear indication of the numerous choices available – but I do appreciate that players can just copy move sets from existing superstars if they want to get into the action straight away. In fairness, I was only able to spend all that time deciding on moves thanks to the favourites option, allowing me to mark moves I liked to review & assign them later.

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Creation doesn’t end there, though, as players can also make custom entrances, victory poses, and even Titantron videos from gameplay highlights. Unfortunately, I found these aspects to be under-baked the more I used them. A lack of options and restriction on how much you could do ultimately stops them from realising their potential, and in the case of the video creation the editing is abysmal. It’s such a shame because you can see the potential with each feature. I just hope that 2K iron out the kinks for next year.

So after spending a whopping eight hours creating my character, I went to take them into the MyCareer mode… only to find out that all my move sets had been reset as I hadn’t unlocked them. It makes sense as the whole point of MyCareer is progression over time, powering up your character and unlocking new moves, but not warning me of this after spending several hours fine-tuning is absolutely unacceptable. Had I known, I would have created my character from scratch in MyCareer instead of Create a Wrestler. It’s yet another example of WWE 2K17 not informing the player enough, and as this was the first thing I did after booting up you can imagine my first impression was not a good one.

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Grabbing the brass ring

With the Showcase mode dropped for this year, the main meat of the game lies in MyUniverse and MyCareer modes. The latter is a more traditional experience from year’s past as your character rises through the ranks of the WWE, even starting in NXT if you don’t perform well in the tutorial section. Well, I say tutorial – other than the new promo mini-game (which we’ll get to in a moment) nothing is actually taught to the player. At all. The sad thing is that doing well means you can skip NXT altogether, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Allow me to explain; it’s a curse because you miss an entire section of what is meant to be the WWE experience, but it’s a blessing because of how utterly tedious progression is in MyCareer mode. You end up doing the same thing over and over again with no real guide on how to improve your standing. It talks about rivalries on the main menu, yet actually initiating one outside of title challenges prolongs progression by around two in-game months. That’s eight matches, at least, which is a huge amount of time with the loading times thrown in. Even worse, when you do finally claim the NXT Championship the game doesn’t tell you how to move on up. I had to search online to find out how to go onto Raw or Smackdown in yet another example of the game not explaining anything (you go to rankings, look at a different championship and then select it, FYI.)

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Perhaps the biggest problem is how the out-of-ring content breaks the flow of the in-the-ring action. For example, the new promo mini-game plays like conversation choices in most Telltale titles, but outside of guessing which option works best with the different kinds of crowds (ie. Family-Friendly, Hardcore, Disrespectful) it mostly comes off as poorly written and incoherent. That said, there are occasional flashes of it working which is once again hugely frustrating. I hope that 2K get better writers next time to improve the quality, or at least allow variations in tone to offer different personalities.

Players can always avoid the rigid structure of MyCareer and go straight to MyUniverse, which has most of the functionality of MyCareer mode with the exception that they control absolutely everything – rosters, champions, rivalries, stables – over the course of an in-game year. The best part is that players can simulate all the stuff they don’t want to play, allowing them to enjoy only the parts they want. Personally speaking, I’ve never been a huge fan of these modes (even back when it was called GM mode) as I much preferred the structure and goals of the main campaigns, but MyUniverse mode works well enough. As the old saying goes, different strokes for different folks.

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In conclusion…

That’s the thing – mileage really will vary depending on the individual. As a returning fan, I certainly noticed its many flaws but also recognised that when everything clicks into place WWE 2K17 is an enjoyable simulation. Those who played last year’s game will probably find the undercooked new features a huge let-down, but the ability to play with an updated (and huge) roster, pitting legends like Goldberg against Razor Ramone, could be enough to win them over.

I think the important thing to note is that the game isn’t broken and certainly hasn’t crashed on me, but the lack of polish across the sum of its parts stops the game from building any momentum. Let me put it another way – If WWE 2K17’s aim was to rebuild from the ground up, it’s clear that the foundations are solid but the actual house needs renovating before anyone can move in.

Pros:

  • The roster is absolutely huge.
  • When everything clicks, the WWE experience is successfully simulated (especially in the Royal Rumble.)
  • The creation suites can and will steal away your hours…

Cons:

  • … but a lack of varied options across them is disappointing.
  • Unpolished audio and visuals ruin the immersion.
  • The lack of a proper gameplay tutorial or guide to MyCareer progression is unacceptable.
The Short Version:

WWE 2K17 shows great potential, and when it gets it right it’s fantastic to play, but its undercooked features and lack of visual polish stop it from getting the 3-count it so desperately craves.

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Platform: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, (PS3 & Xbox 360 Legacy versions also available)

Developer: Yukes

Publisher: 2K Games