WWE is in a weird place in 2022. As decades-long booking problems have come home to roost, performers and fans alike flee in large numbers to greener pastures in other promotions. The yearly WWE video game tie-in has always suffered from an outdated roster as it hits store shelves, but it's stunning to see how many faces in this year's entry are no longer cashing Vince McMahon's checks. It's almost as if WWE 2K22 takes place in an alternate universe, and that's probably the best way for fans to think about this year's entry. If you're a fan that's willing to engage with WWE after years of Saudi Arabia shows and baffling PPV finishes, you'll find hours of engaging matches and storytelling that remind you why you watch this stuff in the first place.
First things first, WWE 2K22 is a huge improvement over WWE 2K20, but it's also very much still the same WWE game you know and love and/or loathe. One-on-one matches tend to run smoothly while multi-man contests inevitably devolve into bugs and unruly AI behavior. Wrestler models are all over the place. Some big-name superstars (cover star Rey Mysterio, Alexa Bliss) look amazing. Other less popular grapplers (Alas, poor Tucker) and long-deceased legends look like poor facsimiles of their real-life counterparts. Finally, players who want to forego epic contests between Slapjack and Happy Corbin can bring in Marvel superheroes, AEW stars, and Shrek to do battle thanks to the game's immense creation system. It's all here, the same jumbled mess that will welcome back veteran players with open arms and confuse anyone not already invested in the series.
While WWE 2K22 hasn't seen an Assassin's Creed: Origins-level rebirth in its year off, there are a lot of changes for the better. In the ring, pulling off moves in the proper sequence and engaging in a war of reversals feels more dynamic than ever. Each wrestler has light, heavy, and grapple attacks, with more complicated moves coming out via a fighting game-style combo system. This control style also gives dedicated buttons to more complicated moves that move wrestlers around the ring. It's certainly better than the arcane button prompts players had to memorize in past entries, and it makes me feel like I have full access to each character's best attacks whenever I need them.
In addition to simplifying the controls, developer Visual Concepts have sped up gameplay across the board. Reversals are more accessible than ever, but I never felt invincible thanks to an exceedingly quick timing window. Even on lower AI difficulties, there are times when a computer opponent builds momentum naturally and take over a match with ease. It adds to a stellar TV-like presentation to accomplish competition that feels ripped from weekly TV, something that WWE games often excel at. The back and forth might feel punishing to fans of traditional fighting games, but it's the best iteration of this gameplay style to date.
This is great news, as WWE 2K22 also boasts a wide range of modes that should serve just about every type of player. The MyRise and Universe options give solo types the chance to run through weeks of TV as a created character or their favorite superstar. In either case, the storytelling is on par with the weekly happenings on USA and FOX, and it often surpasses real-life WWE in terms of enjoyable booking. In particular, MyRise hosts tons of creative ideas that tap into WWE history in a great way. I only wish that the story was a linear campaign rather than the weak choose your own adventure that we do get. It's often not clear what missions fit together well, leading to situations where big title wins don't get a proper follow-up. These modes also suffer somewhat from the inherent repetition in playing as the same wrestler over and over, especially considering that most matches will end up with one of two finishing maneuvers.
This year's Showcase mode offers a whirlwind tour of Rey Mysterio's career or at least the parts that don't involve current AEW stars and announcers. The presentation is interesting one time through, but the system of hitting preset moves in very specific situations rather than just playing through a match is as annoying as ever. If accurate recreations were a bonus objective, that would be fine, but it's no fun to get to the very end of one of these matches, fail, and then listen to ReyRey wax nostalgic about a random match with Kane all over again. The mode also feels a little short, but it's also one of the weaker offerings in terms of nostalgic moments, so it balances out in the end.
Fans of card-based sports modes can try their hand at MyFaction, a microtransaction-laden mode where you collect wrestlers, managers, and other cards in order to boost your group and come out on top. There will be some who find the gambling aspect of opening packs appealing, but there are so many other modes on offer that it feels completely tacked on to this fan. Another disappointment is the returning MyGM mode, which plays like some sort of wrestling-themed board game that's always over in a flash. As a friendly competition one groggy evening, it could be some fun, but the simulation aspects have been so cut back that it's just not worth any attention for those who prefer the stats and statistics side of the wrestling biz.
Just like an indie star debuting on RAW, WWE 2K22 gives off a great first impression before settling into an enjoyable but uninspired existence. There's no doubt that Visual Concepts have delivered one of the best WWE games in a long while, but the series has long needed a total reinvention to regain relevance among all but the diehard fans. While I pine for another stab at the arcade heights of WWE All Stars, it's really up to AEW's upcoming video game endeavor to truly shake things up. In the meantime, WWE 2K22 will amicably serve a huge fanbase that has been with the series since the days of Smackdown Vs. Raw. It's not hall of fame worthy, but it will do the job.
TechRaptor reviewed WWE 2K22 on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and PC.
- Plenty of options for solo players
- Gameplay is the best the series has seen in years
- Storytelling often surpasses WWE television in quality
- Endless player creation possibilities
- MyGM and MyFaction are letdowns
- Jank still plays a huge factor in certain match types
- Gameplay and commentary has built in repetition