Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: 10/11/2016
With each passing year, the expectations for this newest generation of WWE games grow. While some concessions were allowed for the jump up to the current generation, it’s now time to see just how good these games can be on the newer hardware. WWE 2K17 boasts a massive roster, a huge creation suite, and the best graphics yet. Is that enough to declare the game a champion this year?
First up, the list of available modes has changed. The showcase is completely gone. The past three games have all featured playable recreations of legendary matches and/or feuds of wrestling’s past. While the mode could be a bit buggy at times, it was still generally well liked. Replacing it is……nothing. The focus this year is entirely on the career mode and the universe mode. So let’s talk about them.
My Career lets you create a male wrestler (while female competitors are more heavily featured this year, you still can’t play as one during career), and take him through the rankings for pretty much as long as you want. The career mode is meant to last you in game years. If you’re wrestling two shows a week, that adds up to probably thousands of matches. The idea here is to earn “VC” in order to upgrade your character’s stats and abilities. This lets you win bigger fights, take on tougher opponents, and work your way to that elusive title shot. It kind of works, but there are several problems. For one, you are graded on your in ring performance via points that translate into zero to five stars. Higher rated matches yield more rewards. Typically, getting those five stars requires you to actively use as many different moves as possible, take advantage of cheap bonus points for fighting outside the ring, and avoid winning until the fifth star is earned. That’s right. The mode actively rewards you for stalling out your victory. If you’re good enough to squash your opponent and get the pin with the first big finisher, you won’t earn points at a good clip.
It’s not just the weird point system. Your wins and losses don’t really seem to matter. I started the game in the United States Championship division. Despite beating everyone else on the ranking multiple times, my rank continued to be three. I had to start a feud with the champion to get a title shot. In some ways that makes sense, but in practice it doesn’t. One of the people I had beat multiple times was the champion himself. If the goal is to be like what you see on TV, then defeating the champ usually means a title shot is on the way. You also have challenges to complete from the authority. These can include getting a high rating, stealing an opponent’s finishing move, and so on. They can also include losing your match, which seems counter intuitive. After you win your first title, you’ll get challenges from Paul Heyman, who takes a more long term approach. Basically, he asks you to do things like hold every championship, headline Wrestlemania a certain number of times, and feud with certain people. You’ll have to grind to fill out his requests, and the reward is a pittance of VC.
The mode is still lacking There’s no story. There’s no consistency. You can be a top level heel and yet still find yourself fighting other heels every week. You can be just starting out and yet get shipped right to the big leagues against the best wrestlers in the game. You can start a feud with a champion and not be given a championship match. The list goes on. What career mode offers is a long grind and a steadily improving character. It might scratch your itch for some virtual grappling, but it will not keep you invested like some of the career modes of old.
Universe Mode is back and is ultimately where you’ll want to spend most of your time. In this mode, you can pretty much edit everything. You can create your own show, rework rosters, vacate championships, book matches, start feuds, and so much more. The really nifty part is you can now save up to three different universes at once. Because you can play the matches or simply sim to your heart’s content, this mode offers up quite a bit of variety while also letting you keep a history of sorts. If you could add actual stories to this, it would be the ultimate wrestling game mode.
Beyond those two marquee modes, you have the typical suite of exhibition matches, online battles, and customization options. Some match types are still missing from the old days. You can’t do tag team ladder matches, for example, and the limit is still six to the ring at once. Online has several options that lets you opt in or our of custom rules or even set up a team of friends beforehand. You can rank up as you earn victories, which is more about showing off than anything else. For the customization options, you can create wrestlers, arenas, shows, championships, entrances, move sets, and videos. Videos let you create the entrance videos for performers or the opening video for shows. The tool is pretty handy and easy to figure out, although you’re mostly limited to a suite of in game items. Sadly, you cannot add custom music tracks still. The options that are present are pretty great though.
The visual representation of the WWE product continues to improve. More often than not, an in game model is a dead ringer of his/her real life counterpart. The women in particular have made a giant leap forward. There are still some problem children. Dana Brooke’s makeup simply didn’t translate well and she looks like a Hot Topic reject. The animations also continue to improve. There are hundreds of moves in the game, and the wrestlers will usually act differently based on where they are in the ring. For example, performing a taunt while near a turnbuckle can result in your character climbing the ropes to give a unique gesture. There are still issues of clipping and some odd physics hang ups, but they’re not too bad. Probably the only bad aspect of the visual side of things is your character during the career mode menus. After winning my first championship, I noticed my character’s arm was bent backwards behind his body while the belt loaded and everything snapped into place. By which I mean his arm snapped into a normal position. On a whole though, the game looks fantastic and continues to impress.
On the aural side of things, it’s a mixed bag. The soundtrack was “curated” by Sean Combs, and features a handful of rap, rock, and pop tracks. Few of them fit the game, and they don’t fit any sort of theme. The good news is you can customize the in game jukebox to play any of those songs and also the entrance themes of the entire roster. You can pick your favorites and have the game switch between them. The commentary continues to be dreadful. They rarely call moves, they get information wrong, and they don’t even reflect the current product. They still call women “divas”. It’s also worth mentioning that your career character no longer speaks. This is probably for the best. The best reason to play with the audio turned on is to listen to the music, hear the slams on the mat, and the hear the crowd roar when you hit a big move. It gets those parts perfect.
The general gameplay of 2K17 is identical to WWE 2K16. The same buttons grapple, the same buttons strike, and the commands for the various in/out of the ring action remains the same. The reversal system also returns, limiting each character to a number of reversal slots that are spent and recharged throughout each match. Instead of focusing on the basics, let’s focus on the changes.
There have been a number of tweaks to the various systems. For reversals, you now have a more distinct difference between minor and major reversals. Minor reversals are basic. They work like normal. During big moves, you’ll have a chance for a major reversal, as indicated by the reversal icon glowing orange. If you land a major reversal, it will take up two slots, but debuffs your opponent. Basically, after you hit one of these moves, your opponent will not be able to reverse you for a while. This is great for getting in damage, landing your big move, and potentially winning the match on the spot. Also tweaked is the submission system. You can now choose between two types. There’s the system from last year that asks you to rotate the stick to cover an opponents meter, or a more traditional mechanic that tasks you with pounding various buttons as they pop up on screen. The latter, though more barbaric perhaps, is infinitely easier to use. Believe it or not, they’ve also changed up the taunts. You now have three different taunt options, left, right, and up. Left taunts appeal to the crowd and give you a temporary bonus to any momentum you earn, right taunts your opponent and increases your damage output, and up forces a downed opponent to stand up. You can use the latter while on the top turnbuckle as well, which is fantastic. This adds a bit of a tactical decision to matches, and feels like something that should have been added a long time ago. Finally, the last big change to basic gameplay is the roll out meter. During singles matches that involve multiple people, characters will be forcefully rolled out of the ring if they take too much damage. They will be prone for a brief time, and then be given the option of recovering early or biding their time. Coming back in early temporarily lowers your stats, while waiting gives you a buff. The benefit of coming in early is being able to break up pins and submission attempts. This might sound silly, but it adds a great benefit to the feel of the game. You no longer have to whip everyone out of the ring before going for the pin. If you time your finishers with people rolling out of the ring, you’ll have decent success. These matches flow better as a result.
Beyond basic mechanics, this game marks the return of backstage and in crowd brawling. These features have been absent since WWE ’12. During a backstage brawl, your job is to knock out your opponent. There are various weapons and environmental obstacles for you to interact with. You can whip people into equipment, throw them through doors, powerbomb them through tables, and so on. There are a handful of areas you go. These include a main hallway, an office, the locker room, and even the “Gorilla Position”. It’s not as stacked a mode as we’ve seen before, but the controls work and the fights don’t feel as random as in ’12. That’s a plus. In crowd fighting requires you to hop over the barricade in the top right corner of the arena. You don’t actually fight in the crowd, but rather in a closed of area. Still, you can visit any of these areas, and the backstage areas, during a falls count anywhere match. That should be obligatory, but it hasn’t been before. It’s a nice touch. This feature will hopefully be a stepping stone to more expansive battles.
There are also promos. For the first time, you can perform promos in front of the crowd. When you do this, you’re given a handful of different things to say and you’re meant to gauge the reaction of the crowd. If they like what you’re doing, keep on going. If they aren’t liking it, switch things up. Different crowds like different things. It sounds cool in theory, but it’s often difficult to understand the intent of the options you have to choose from. You might get a choice like “I am the best” and have it turn into a rant how everyone else is a loser rather than expressing your own prowess. That could hurt your favor with the crowd. The writing is also suspect here. If you want awkward jokes about body odor, you’ll love it. If you want quality writing and heartfelt passion, you’ll be out of luck. The good news is that messing up a promo doesn’t really hurt you. You’re given VC for doing well, but the system is a wash as a whole. Let’s hope they keep working on it though, as the idea certainly has merit.
WWE 2K17 continues the progression to a more simulation based game rather than a fighting one. Take the reversal mechanic, for example. After you’re hit with a move, you stay grounded for quite some time. Your opponent will have plenty of time to keep on attacking you. In order to get back in the fight, you’re going to need to land a reversal. This is fairly similar to what you would see in an actual WWE match. People don’t usually just bounce back up from a body slam. Because of this, however, matches feel slower paced than in previous games, and are far too focused on that one mechanic. If you have problems timing your reversals, you’ll have serious trouble winning a match against even the lowliest wrestler. In fact, you’ll spend most of your fights lying down and getting your face smashed in. It’s not a bad system in that it’s unplayable or unfair. It’s just a different approach than we’re used to seeing. The limited reversal system is what makes it possible, and it seems it’s here to stay. The good news for those concerned is that you can still turn the system off. That ends up being the the hallmark of this game. You can edit or customize just about anything. You can change attributes to match your opinions, change shows to make your dreams come true, and create detailed versions of your friends to throw through steel cages. The core fighting system may not be ideal, but the overall package still works.
Short Attention Span Summary
WWE 2K17 ditches the showcase mode, but offers up various gameplay tweaks and features that help alleviate the loss. Career mode is still a disappointment, but the game’s large roster and expansive customization options make it wroth playing for fans nonetheless. In some ways, it’s the best wrestling game of the modern era. In others, we still have a long way to go. If you liked where the series was heading after last year, you’ll be impressed. If the game was moving away from what you wanted, you won’t be swayed. This is a continuation of a franchise, and it wears that on its sleeve.