Little did we know back in 2002 that the Word Wrestling Entertainment’s liaison with the PC would be so short-lived. WWE 2K15 marks the first licensed wrestling game on this venerable platform for thirteen years, breaking into a secluded market populated only by Grey Dog Software’s Total Extreme Wrestling simulator and MDickie’s free Wrestling Mpire.
So how does it fare? Well frankly, those other two games have much more character. WWE 2K15 is at best functional and solid. The combat has been revamped, but the modes it stands on are lacking. First there’s the 2K Showcase, a historical mode mostly featuring rivalries from a few short years ago. The goal is to recreate famous moments from "history" by meeting a set of match requirements to initiate cutscenes and quick time events. Without a sense of nostalgia to push them, these stories are a chore to be speed through on easy difficulty for wrestler and costume unlocks.
Career mode is equally tiresome, taking a creatable superstar though a 5-15 year career (men only, sadly. Not surprising considering the state of the women’s league at the time this game was made). The majority of those years are spent fighting dark matches or tune-up matches that are nothing more than glorified flavorless exhibitions. There’s not much to keep a player’s interest here other than a minor increase in stats. No dynamic list exists to keep tabs on friends and enemies, and storylines are spread far apart with not much tying them together to give superstars a sense of continuity, which a naughty scamp might claim is typical WWE booking. In one storyline a series of hard fought battles to become the top dog of the company is awarded with … you guessed it, more dark matches.
I never got a whiff of any championship belt apart from the NXT Championship and WWE Championship—one belt at the start of the career, one at the end. After winning the WWE Championship belt, the career stops. About the only interesting thing career mode brings is the option to auto-import created superstars from the Steam Friends list, but do you really trust friends to NOT make the Jolly Green Giant and a sentient dong? Please, grow up! This is wrestling.
Matches themselves have a good sense of pacing. They start by maintaining light holds via a rock-paper-scissors button prompt, switching mini-games to find a sweet spot until a single bar of someone’s stamina has been drained. Only when one of the superstars is at this slight disadvantage can heavier damage-dealing grapples be employed. There are three bars of stamina in all. The effects of low stamina on a superstar’s movement speed are quite noticeable, especially during the final stages pulling off a huge finisher and collapsing from exhaustion before crawling towards the opponent for a nail-biting pin. The ring has never felt so connected to the action as ropes react convincingly to being clipped by the boots of a suplexee and tired wrestlers grasp ropes to pull their aching bodies up for one last flurry.
Each superstar has passive abilities, like increased damage from environmental attacks, and active abilities, such as the ring escape. Everything seems to have been well balanced to create a decent combat system for competitive matchups. Past WWE multiplayer on console was troublesome as players repeated a short string of broken moves to win. Unfortunately, I have trouble confirming that WWE 2K15 is as well balanced as I think it is, because the only way to play online multiplayer aside from inviting friends is through the abysmal matchmaking system.
If matchmaking offers a match within this lifetime, look forward to the uncertainty of not knowing what you've signed up for. The popup doesn’t say, and chances are it’ll be near unplayable thanks to lag. Matchmaking runs in the background and resets at the slightest provocation, even browsing an option menu triggers its displeasure. Such inexplicable shackles are everywhere in WWE 2K15, from the clothing limits on Create a Superstar mode, to the inability to change difficulty in career mode. It’s a locked design incompatible with the PC’s free spirit. By contrast, MDickie’s Wrestling Mpire has so much freedom it allows the creation of an over the top rope battle royal inside a steel cage. Doesn't matter if it’s physically impossible, just do it!
WWE 2K15 isn't totally bereft of freedom, supporting a modding scene that has already produced such hits as the John Cena Sucks mod. Community created superstars are accessible in the game's menus, meaning knockoff Mortal Kombat fighters and The Avengers are never more than a few easy button presses away. At this point, WWE 2K15 senses someone having fun and deploys another popup message stating only 20 superstars can be downloaded per day. Nobody really wanted Hawkeye anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing.
Despite how hard on WWE 2K15 these words may seem, it’s good to see wrestling back on PC, and I hope the franchise continues here—WWE 2K16 hasn't yet been announced for PC. I just think it’s time to shake things up. For example, how about starting a wrestling promotion, managing backstage egos and struggling to keep the business afloat during several wrestling eras? Or a career mode where players have much more control, can form stables, and initiate stories rather than wait around for generic multiple choice options to appear?
Aright. I’ll settle for the overdue return of General Manger mode, and that’s my final offer.
What do you think fellow Raptors, is John Cena an American Hero?
Wrestling is a soap opera. Good stories are an integral part of the experience. WWE 2K15 doesn't measure up in this regard, nor provide compelling modes. The combat has a lot of thought put into it, perhaps a promising foundation for future titles.