The official WWE licensed wrestling franchise returns to PC, building on the lackluster offerings of last year’s effort to continue developing its simulation aspects. Love or hate this new direction, the series now truly offers viable competitive matchups backed up by modes which have far more depth, if falling a bit short on execution. Lace up your boots and readjust your elbow pads as we dive right into these features.
WWE 2K16’s most vaunted mode, 2K Showcase, recreates playable famous moments from WWE history. Last year was a mishmash of individual feuds spread across half a dozen wrestlers. Now 2K Showcase covers the entire career of a single wrestler, the Texas rattlesnake Stone Cold Steve Austin. There are no alternative wrestlers for philistines who don’t like Austin, but on the flip side focusing on a character so integral to the history of the WWE makes for a strong compelling story and presents a wider picture on his impact in the industry.
2K Showcase has embraced its historical foundation, endeavoring to make the portrayal of Austin’s career as authentic as possible. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler reunite on commentary like they’ve never missed a beat. Their delivery can't compare to the impact of a live event, since a recording booth is not quite the ideal environment for spontaneous outbursts that could sell wrestling as the most important thing in the world, but the chemistry between the pair produces some fantastic lines which were unscripted according to Ross in an episode of Stone Cold's podcast (The Steve Austin Show - Episode 275). Letting these men rattle off unfettered commentary demonstrates confidence in the product.
Another plus is the way Stone Cold was handled. There was a moment in last year’s instalment when I raised Austin’s blurred out middle fingers at my opponent and wept bitter tears. My greatest fear for WWE 2K16 was that we were going to get an Attitude Era story heavily altered to conform to PG Era standards. Thankfully, this is not the case. Stone Cold has been preserved in all his foul-mouthed glory, dropping profanity bombs and uncensored middle fingers in the many cutscenes and video clips that add context to the matches.
MyCareer mode once again involves building a legacy with a custom character. This time around, the endgame has changed, as entering the WWE Hall of Fame becomes the final objective. WWE 2K16 does not repeat the mistakes of its predecessor and cut the game off on a championship victory with an unfulfilling text message claiming ‘X wrestler went on to have many great matches.’ Players set their own goals, advance at their own pace, and retire when they so choose.
Rather than WWE 2K15’s dull avalanche of glorified exhibitions, fights actually mean something. WWE 2K16 has a dynamic league table for each championship. The wrestling world changes with or without your influence as competitors attempt to gain prestige for a title shot. Unfortunately, there is a rather large crack, and I'm not talking about Rikishi. For some reason, only titles you’re currently pursuing can change hands, and losing a championship causes it to revert back to the previous owner rather than the victor. Despite these issues, the ranking system adds much needed substance to the matches.
Other additions of note are feuds and interviews. Typically a wrestler will attack during an entrance to a match (you can do this too) sooner or later, prompting a backstage interview asking you to confirm the feud or turn it down. This phase is also an opportunity to develop your persona. The custom character in WWE 2K16 is fully voiced and has several personality bars which are filled depending on their responses. Treating an opponent as if he’s nothing is a good way to get a reputation for being disrespectful for example. It’s a shame the idea is hampered by multiple choice dialogue options so vague that he ends up sounding like Jekyll and Hyde. There’s something off-putting about the facial animations too. The interviewer is constantly fighting a bemused smile, as if she’s humoring a delusional prat wearing a ridiculous costume.
Matches themselves have expanded on animations and ring interactions. Wrestlers react to their environment in logical and subtle ways, and the match types that demonstrate this best are singles and tag team competitions. The action is fluid, and the combat system is hardwired to keep an appropriate rhythm and ratchet up the dramatic tension during several stages of the match. More than anything else, it’s designed to look true to WWE programming, so anyone who’d rather play a cartoony WWE All Stars game won’t find what they’re looking for here.
Reversals are now a stored resource which recharge over time, working in tandem with momentum, stamina, and damage to justify the use of elaborate moves and above all keep things balanced. Before triggering a reversal, it can be sensible to consider factors like the position of a wrestler or the type of move being used. Sometimes, it’s best to hold off on immediately resisting an opponent who's in control, and instead wait for an opportune moment. Taking damage is inevitable; the trick is to do so on your terms.
WWE 2K15's absent abilities dirty pins and rope breaks have been reimplemented with intentionally fallible referees. A wrestler using the dirty pin ability on a downed opponent will illegally hook their feet on the ropes for more leverage, but there’s a chance the referee might spot this and break the pin. There’s also a chance the referee won’t spot a downed wrestler grabbing the ropes to break the pin! Most abilities are flat out better on higher levels, but dirty pin/rope break are unique in that the higher rewards are tempered by increased penalties upon failure. A level 3 dirty pin significantly lowers the opponent's chances of kicking out, but also has the highest chance of discovery by the referee and inflicts enormous penalties upon failure. Your selection will depend on how much you're willing to gamble on a potentially match-changing move.
Managers have been overhauled and can employ a range of tactics such as distracting the referee or breaking up a pinfall. A tolerance meter shows how close a manager is to being ejected from the match. Blatant actions like pulling the referee out of the ring have a high tolerance cost. There’s so much managers can do and so few modes available to support them. A singles match with wrestlers and managers all controlled by players would be something to behold. Alas, it isn't possible outside of local multiplayer.
Modern local multiplayer games don’t hold much water on PCs. Online is our bread and butter. WWE 2K16 has a ringside virtual lobby for online games where the AI serves as an exhibition opponent until matchmaking kicks in. Unlike last year, you’ll know exactly what type of match you’re getting into, because you can only sign up for one type at a time. Basically, the problems from the last game are masked rather than fixed. As expected, the matchmaking process turned up nothing. Whether this is due to a dead community or matchmaking issues I couldn't say.
The creation suite allows for the creation of Divas after they went missing from WWE 2K15, not to mention championship belts and arenas. There are also new goodies to further differentiate between the look of custom wrestlers. The hair dye feature gave my character grey distinguished sides, and the fabric selection can change a dull top into a gleaming suit of armor! Just be sure to stock up on patience. The creation suite’s demanding load times tend to curb enthusiasm rather quickly.
When it comes to WWE 2K16, every fix comes with new problems. Niggling issues plague the title, with fresh positive changes being soured by their implementation. Career mode in particular has yet to achieve its potential. However, on the whole WWE 2K16 is an undeniable improvement over its predecessor. I remain hopeful future instalments will continue to improve and release on the PC platform.
WWE 2K16 was reviewed on Windows PC with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Questions? Hogan/Gawker jokes? Leave a comment below!
WWE 2K16 is built for a very particular type of fan valuing authenticity above all else.