Inside Pulse 12

Review: WWE 2K15 (Microsoft Xbox One)

WWE 2K15
Genre: Wrestling
Developer: Yukes
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: 11/18/2014

I’m something of a lapsed fan of WWE video games; while I was a big fan during the late nineties and early 2000’s, eagerly picking up every game that was released regardless of quality, eventually I tired of the franchise and haven’t really considered coming back since. Part of it was the simple fact that the mechanics became annoying; when the games began leaning toward using stick-based grapples sometime around 2007, that essentially wore on me as a player and made my interest wane. The biggest reason for my lack of interest, though, was that there wasn’t much to the games that hadn’t already been done before, and better, and the games felt more like a needless roster update every year instead of games I needed to own. Instead of seeing different and interesting games, like the AKI games or Anchor’s RAW series, the franchise was turning into, well, Madden in wrestling tights, and it wasn’t holding my interest. Well, here we are, nearly a decade later, and WWE 2K15 seemed like it could potentially be a good jumping-on point. With the license having passed from THQ to 2K, and the next-gen games having been redesigned from the ground up, it seemed like this was as good a point to jump into the games as could exist. While there’s certainly a precedent for next-gen releases in the series being awful (WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It! is a perfect example), this was the first time 2K was handling the franchise exclusively instead of working with THQ’s prior assignments. If nothing else, it was a good chance to see what 2K intended to change in the franchise, and if there would be any reason to come back if you’re a lapsed fan, or reasons for existing fans to be hopeful given the change in ownership.

If the existing product is any indication… not so much, I’m afraid: while it’s not a disaster, WWE 2K15 also isn’t going to sell lapsed fans or existing fans on the new direction of the company in any department except the visuals… so far, anyway.

On the subject of what works

To its credit, WWE 2K15 does present a very compelling package for those who are interested in what is here. For one thing, the game looks absolutely stunning, for the most part, and really looks like it deserves to be called a next-gen WWE game. Character models look like the Superstars they’re based off of, more or less consistently, and little touches in each Superstar are generally represented well, from entrances to finishers to victory poses and beyond. Each arena and location you’ll do battle in also has its own unique charm and polish, and really gives the game a definite vibrant WWE feel. Aurally the game also has a nice polish to it, as Superstars have their own unique entrance tunes more or less intact, so long as said theme existed before Wrestlemania this year, and random voice samples from each star also pop up here and there to give them personality. The announcers also do a fine enough job of calling the action (which is funny considering they don’t on TV), and while the dialogue can be repetitive, it works. When dealing with custom stars, there are a lot of options for names and nicknames to be called that fit into the announcements well, and the supplied custom theme songs that exist are actually pretty good this time around, and you’ll probably be able to find one you like without too much effort.

When you jump into the game, there are seven functional options and nine total options to choose from right from jump. “Play” lets you jump into a match, between anywhere from two to six Superstars, across various match types, including normal and tag matches, Iron Man, Extreme Rules, Steel Cage, Tables, TLC, Battle Royale and more. “MyCareer” is this game’s Career/Story mode, allowing you to create a character and bring them from NXT all the way to the main event. “2K Showcase” allows you to play through specific moments in WWE history to influence how they play out. “WWE Universe” is more of a Season mode, allowing you to run through weeks of WWE shows at a time as rivalries run and titles change hands month to month. “WWE Creations” lets you create your own characters, entrances and movesets, as well as download the creations of others. “Xbox Live” lets you set up matches and play online with others, privately and publicly for fun and ranking. “My WWE” lets you edit existing Superstars and teams, check stats and switch title holders as you see fit. Finally, “Options” lets you change game balancing and options, and “Store” lets you buy DLC when it becomes available. There’s a lot to do here, as the above shows, and fans should be able to lose themselves in the game just fine.

Mechanically, the game plays like you’d expect a WWE game to play, though you’ll have to spend some time practicing your performance on your own as the tutorials are sparse and mostly only handle new elements. The basic controls work as such: left stick moves, right stick picks up and turns opponents, X strikes, A grapples, B pins and whips opponents from grapples, Y performs finishers and signature moves, left trigger runs, right trigger counters, left bumper climbs into and out of the ring or up and down turnbuckles, and so on. The basics are pretty easy to figure out, though there’s also an in-game manual that covers the basics pretty well, and the game offers tutorials for some of the abnormal mechanics. The most obvious change made to the mechanics is the addition of Chain Wrestling, where you’ll essentially play an active time mini-game for the first couple grapples of a match by moving the right stick around to find a sweet spot, which allows you to keep control of the chain if you can do it before the opponent. Otherwise the game works as most wrestling games do: perform weak attacks to weaken an opponent, switch to strong attacks to deal damage, finish them off as applicable, and win. WWE 2K15 does have some mechanical novelties, such as a tiered stamina system that drops to lower levels if you push yourself too hard, life bars to measure overall health and limb damage to measure specific body parts, as well as the ability to target specific limbs for damage in addition to performing normal moves. You also have signature moves as well as finishers, so you can (in theory) chain from the former to the latter to win a match if you’re so inclined.

Now, you’ll probably spend most of your time in MyCareer, WWE Universe, and the creative suites, because those are where most of the fun options are. MyCareer lets you create a character (or import one you’ve already created) and take them through the WWE, from the bottom as a developmental talent to the WWE World Title if you’re so inclined, building up their stats and buying them perks as you earn experience and cash from matches. WWE Universe, meanwhile, lets you run your own WWE season, running through weeks of shows, setting and cancelling feuds as you choose, and simulating or playing matches depending on whether or not you’re looking for specific outcomes or to see how the season resolves itself. The creative suites are also a lot of fun, as they let you put together a character as you see fit, from their look to their entrance to their moveset, and you can customize them down to a fairly granular level. You can also download superstars made by others online, which is fabulous, as people have uploaded all kinds of awesome logos, movesets and characters to choose from, entirely for free. You can find anything from customized and updated versions of current Superstars to NXT talent like Tyler Breeze and Kevin Owens, and even non-WWE talent like Shinsuke Nakamura, who I have of course downloaded and used, and hats off to you, person who created him. You’ll also probably spend a fair amount of time with the 2K Showcase, as it lets you relive old feuds between longtime rivals; while so far there are only two feuds to go through (Punk v Cena and HHH v Michaels), more will be released as DLC, along with even more characters, so you’ll have plenty of content to look forward to if you’re willing to drop some extra cash.

On the subject of what’s missing

That said, for those who are coming in from WWE 2K14 or earlier, it should be noted that while a lot of the game is intact, much, much more isn’t. Several match types have been excised from normal use, for instance, such as Special Referee singles matches and various multi-person match types. Further, the game is also missing the ability to create your own title, arena, or finisher, and in what is perhaps the most annoying option, the ability to create your own Diva. While it can certainly be understood that creating titles, arenas and even finishers could be problematic with new tech and a new engine, creating Divas seems like an incredibly notable omission, especially considering the focus on the Women’s Division on NXT, which is not a small part of this release. Allowing players the ability to create their own female wrestler, play through the game from the ground up and eventually make it to the big stage and win the Diva’s title would’ve been a neat option, as would have the ability to make your own personal SHIMMER or Rival Angels fed in WWE Universe if you were so inclined, so it’s depressing that the option was ditched.

Further, the game is also missing all but one entrance that doesn’t belong to a Superstar in the entrances option, and it’s an entrance where your character spends their time talking on their cell phone, which, come on now. Even if you’re fine using an existing entrance, some of those are also missing, such as the Undertaker’s. Worst of all, even if you’re okay with all of that, you also can’t use custom theme songs for your character, and while there are a few really good custom ones on-disc, that’s still a huge step backwards for the series. Even if you’re okay with the features as-is, there are also several Superstars and such who are missing that don’t make a lot of sense. Paige has been promised as DLC eventually (she still isn’t out yet, even with a month delay), but she debuted on WWE TV literally the day after Wrestlemania, and with NXT stars also being featured there’s really no reason the NXT Women’s Champion shouldn’t have been a part of this. It’s clearly not because of the delay in roster updates, either, as Bo Dallas is a main-event superstar despite not debuting on the main roster until post-Wrestlemania, and Emma is nowhere to be found despite being on the main roster since February.

In another odd note, while the game has a bunch of managers, including Paul Heyman and (ugh) Bill DeMott, one that it doesn’t offer is Lana. Oh, she’s in the game, just not as a manager; she’s a part of Rusev’s entrance, and introduces him, but once he gets to the ring she’s gone, and you can’t have her act as a manager otherwise. It makes no sense, honestly, and it’s just one more confusing thing about a game that feels inferior to prior releases. It also bears noting that, while the roster is pretty robust, and sixty four wrestlers feels like a lot, there’s a caveat there: six of them are simply earlier versions of other wrestlers already in the game, leaving the total roster at fifty-eight with six alternate costumes. Let’s be real here; even if Jericho and Bryan wrestled somewhat differently (Jericho almost certainly did; Bryan just added a finisher), Batista, Orton, Punk and Kane aren’t dramatically different and could’ve just been included as alternate costumes. The inclusion of the old theme songs is nice if you like the Finger Eleven Kane track or the Killswitch Engage Punk track, but otherwise it wasn’t really necessary and those spaces could’ve been devoted to actual different wrestlers, with these characters being used as alternate skins instead.

On the subject of what doesn’t work regardless

Even outside of the missing elements, the game still isn’t perfect if you can accept what’s missing. For one thing, the “chain wrestling” system, aside from feeling like yet another active time event in a game full of them, is annoying; at best, it feels like a barrier to getting to the action, at worst, it feels like another tool the CPU can use to screw you over. For another, the game doesn’t explain everything it should, either in its in-game manual or tutorials; for example, I had to run a Google search to figure out how to pick up downed opponents, which should’ve been somewhere in the game, but was nowhere I could find. Once you’ve figured out the basics, though, playing the game in MyCareer or 2K Showcase seems like it’s just an unpleasant experience for anyone below a certain skill level when it comes to the counter system. The game, by default, abuses the timing of the counter system to a point where matches break down to who can counter first, making offensive play borderline asinine if one wants to win. Further, at three different points in MyCareer, I faced Bo Dallas and got soundly ruined, to the point where I literally got in zero offense unless I was countering him, and if your game is doing that to a player while they’re in their first two hours, expect to see a lot of them on the trade-in shelf at Gamestop.

Now, there are balancing options in the Options menu, but, surprise, they don’t affect MyCareer or 2K Showcase, so there is literally a barrier of entry in a video game that represents a franchise which is marketed to younger gamers. If you want to play online, it makes sense that you’d want to practice at this skill level, but it seems kind of inane to lock away content behind a mechanic that’s so frustrating. There are also notable balance issues with the mode in terms of payouts, as the game doesn’t start really paying dividends for the player experience-wise until you reach the main shows, at which point it pays out so hard that it’s absurd how much higher the payouts are, making you suffer the first five to ten hours of play so you can breeze through later portions. Who does that? Finally, the audio is, in addition to being repetitive during announce sessions, weird, broken and awful a lot of the time. For one thing, the announcers will misrepresent situations, such as identifying heels as faces and vice-versa, and they almost always identify title retentions as new wins and new wins as retentions. For another, some announcements are just weird, such as identifying Sting as hailing “From Every Man’s Nightmare,” which is… silly. Finally, the soundtrack that plays during menu navigation and such is absolutely awful, and you’ll quickly grow sick of it, due to a combination of its less than optimal track list and the limited volume of songs that ensure that you hear “Wild Ones” far more often than any person could possibly want to.

To be frank, though, none of this is really surprising, given the circumstances; it’s a new publisher with different expectations, trying to get over a new engine on a new series of consoles. There are certainly going to be limitations, and it’s almost impossible that WWE 2K16 won’t be a better game; it just means that WWE 2K15 ends up not being very good. It plays and looks fine all in all, and there’s enough to it that you can have fun, especially if you download a bunch of created characters and run crazy alternate universe versions of WWE events. It’s just not ideal, between the missing content from last year, the weird casting decisions, the complete de-emphasis of the Divas, the awkward chain wrestling system, the lack of balance, the gameplay glitches, the visual inequality and the weird and unpleasant audio. If you’re a super diehard WWE fan it’s worth a look, but everyone else is better off waiting for next year before giving the franchise another go.

Short Attention Span Summary:
There’s nothing that can really be said about the game that hasn’t been said above, but to make it simple: WWE 2K15 feels like Rumble Roses XX, in that it plays well and is very pretty, but is limited and poorly handled otherwise. The visuals look mostly good, the game sounds generally fine, and the gameplay mostly holds up well enough that you can have fun with the game to a point, especially if you just jump right in and create your own WWE Universe with DLC and custom characters. However, the game is missing notable content from last year’s release, has an odd cast of Superstars and managers, leaves the Divas as an afterthought all around, introduces a wonky and not fun chain wrestling system you can’t disable in some modes, is balanced poorly, and features gameplay glitches, uneven visuals and poor audio in notable places. It’s essentially a robust, $60 tech demo, and while it shows good progress toward next year’s game, that’s not really a recommendation to purchase this version in any way.