When the WWE license was snapped up by 2K Games in the aftermath of the THQ bankruptcy, wrestling fans had high hopes for a series that had become a bit stale after many years of annual updates. WWE 2K14 was already halfway finished when 2K picked it up from the scrap heap, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable game, largely down to the retrospective 30 Years of WrestleMania mode, which allowed you to re-live famous moments from the past. In 2K15, Yukes and 2K Games have built a new game from scratch, making use of next-generation hardware – so surely this must be the wrestling title that everyone has been waiting for? Well, not quite.
The biggest difference is that the gameplay is trying to more accurately simulate the pace and tension of a real-life wrestling match, rather than presenting us with an experience closer to a fighting game. This was the focus of the development team, who made changes such as slowing the action down, adding tiered stamina bars, and implementing a new chain wrestling system, which they hope will bring some added realism to proceedings. These changes are a little hit and miss however. In the past, many people have criticised the WWE games for being too fast – but the new pace seems to have been taken too far in the opposite direction. Every time a punch or kick is thrown, it feels far too unresponsive, like wading through glue. This is fair enough later into a match, when your grapplers should be tired and beaten down, but when it happens right from the start of every bout, it’s much too slow. This reduced speed does thankfully help collision detection overall though, and you won’t see as many interrupted animations and flailing limbs that have become an unwanted trademark of the series.
The chain wrestling sequences are a slightly more successful addition. These take the form of a rock, paper, scissors mini-game. The two combatants enter a collar-elbow tie-up and have to try to predict which of the three buttons on-screen to select in order to gain an advantage over their opponent (headlock beats wrist-lock, wrist-lock beats waist-lock, waist-lock beats headlock). After this, both fighters use the analogue to find a sweet spot first and gain the upper hand in the hold. This mini-game can be disabled, but will only happen a few times each match – not every time you go for a grapple – and winning it gives the player a good momentum boost. This would present a nice break in the action, if it weren’t for the fact that the new game speed is so slow already.
Finally, the new Stamina system works well enough, without really adding all that much to the overall gameplay. There are three tiers of stamina, which work down throughout the match and affect how quickly you can react to and initiate attacks, as well as your general movement and recovery speed. Stamina regenerates slowly if you don’t perform moves, etc, but this is supposed to accurately represent the longer recovery times and added tension that comes later in a wrestling bout, where both combatants struggle to return to their feet after a manoeuvre, or have to slowly drape an arm over their opponent to pin them with the last of their energy. In reality, you probably won’t pay much attention to the stamina meter until it has already run out, and most recent wrestling titles have always naturally made the fighters get slower the more damaged they become and the longer a match wears on, so the change is only a minor one.
Submissions have thankfully been simplified, with just one button now required to be tapped by both the attacker and defender, but pin-falls remain as irritating as they have been for the last few years. It is still a case of timing and releasing a button at the right moment – meaning that until you get the hang of the pin-fall system it is very easy to be pinned before you take very much damage at all. Timing is of course also needed for reversals, which play a massive part in the game. Sadly there is no block option anymore, so striking moves cannot simply be blocked and one button is used for all reversals and dodges. There is an on-screen prompt to get the timing right, but the window of opportunity is so short, and the prompt so small, that it is easy to get wrong – sometimes it even seems like you timed it perfectly, but the game tells you that you were too slow, or too fast. Add the fact that the prompt can be obscured by the ropes, the referee or many more elements, and this makes an already difficult system even harder.
Whereas last year the dramatic 30 Years of WrestleMania mode was brilliantly handled, WWE Showcase is a very cut-down sibling. Like last year, this mode lets you play through famous feuds, re-creating results from historic bouts and trying to complete set objectives to trigger cutscenes that flesh out the iconic moments. This is still an interesting concept, but instead of focusing on 30 years worth of history, it only includes two major feuds: John Cena vs CM Punk and Triple H vs Shawn Michaels. Each match is still presented authentically and does its best to re-create the atmosphere of a heated rivalry, but sadly too many filler matches are included in order to pad out each feud.
MyCareer is surely the biggest disappointment of the whole game though. This new mode has only been included in current-gen versions of WWE 2K15, and is based around the hugely popular career mode in the NBA 2K games. Unfortunately it’s also way too full of filler. Beginning with trying to get a contract in the NXT developmental territory, then making a name for yourself and working your way up to getting onto WWE television, be prepared to invest ten to fifteen hours in the mode before you get anywhere near a pay-per-view or interesting feud – let alone a title match. There are too many matches against nameless opponents where nothing is at stake and no storyline developments occur. When you do take part in a big feud or get into a big matchup like the Elimination Chamber things do begin to heat up, but these moments are so few and far between that you will have to endure dozens of practice matches to reach them. The whole mode becomes a grind, moving you to just use tried and tested tactics in order to get through each match as quickly as possible – which makes you wish that MyCareer could have just been a much shorter, tighter mode.
Strangely, there is less variety in match types, with Inferno matches and special referee bouts being just two of the many to have been removed. Some others, like Casket matches, are playable, but only as part of the Showcase mode, and not in regular play. The online multiplayer only seems to support a handful of different match types as well. Creation tools have also strangely been decreased and you can’t even create your own female grapplers this year. The roster even seems much less comprehensive, and there are a lot fewer WWE Legends than we usually see featured. With more powerful machines, fans would have definitely hoped for extra modes to be added, not well-established ones to be removed.
Even the audio and visual improvements don’t manage to get everything right this year. Fans who expected the move to next-generation systems to bring amazing graphics may be more than a little let down, because for every wrestler like John Cena or Randy Orton who has had a new full-head scan and looks amazingly life-like, there are two more people on the roster who actually look worse than they did in WWE 2K14. Vince McMahon, for instance, looks like he’s constantly puffing out his cheeks, and Batista has a head so round it looks ridiculous. Of course the presentation overall is pretty slick, but there is no obvious graphical revolution on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The in-match commentary had also been touted as much-improved, however Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler still manage to repeat themselves far too frequently, or tell you that the match has been an evenly fought contest, when in actuality it was a completely one-sided squash.
So many options that have been available for years have been removed, the MyCareer is a slog to play through, and the Showcase mode doesn’t match up to the high standards set last year. Sadly, even though WWE 2K15 tries hard to re-define itself as a simulation game, and move away from the collision issues and glitches that have plagued it for years, this latest release actually seems to take more steps backward than forwards. Not all the gameplay changes are entirely successful, but at least they show some promise for the future. The worrying issue, though, is how many years we’ve already been waiting for WWE games to return to past glories.
More authentic experience
Showcase mode is fun
MyCareer is bloated and repetitive
Can be slow and unresponsive
Face-scanning is hit and miss