The WWE series is precisely the sort of experience you’d expect to be a flashy new-generation showcase, and is some ways WWE 2K15 is just that. Its graphics are hugely improved over its predecessors, animations look relatively smooth, boosted resolution is apparent — on paper it all sounds lovely. This year’s effort aims to mix up the formula in a multitude of ways, even borrowing from the rest of the 2K lineup for game modes. And while the new ideas may have sounded great in design document form, the end result is a mixed bag that isn’t nearly as impressive.
The first thing I noticed about WWE 2K15 is that, on a surface level, it looks fantastic. This is due largely in part to the massive volume of real-life face scanning that took place for the game, and on PS4 we’ve finally reached the point where meshing photo-realistic faces with rendered bodies doesn’t look terribly unnatural. John Cena, who’s featured on the game’s cover, looks especially fantastic; it’s clear that with many of the athletes included, great pains were taken to arrive at what is essentially the prettiest pro wrestling game ever created. I like to give credit where credit is due, and developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have crafted a mighty fine looking game on PS4 (and, presumably, Xbox One as well).
Once the new-gen novelty wears off, what’s left is a fun experience that unfortunately confounds just as often as it entertains. What strikes me as incredibly odd given that we’re now a year into the eighth generation (as opposed to 2K15 being a launch title) are the number of obvious glitches that pervade both MyCareer and the other single-player modes in the game. You may have already heard about the floating-belt glitch, where a championship belt essentially hovers into the hands of a victorious fighter, but it’s merely one of many — some of which aren’t nearly as amusing.
Let’s take CPU opponents, for example. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of “combat” (sorry, I’m used to reviewing RPGs) in the game is having to wait for animations to expire before making a move. I’m lumping this under “glitch” because I’m hoping it’ll be fixed. Essentially, if you want to initiate a successful grapple, you’ll need to wait for the CPU opponent to complete the current animation he’s in, be it a whiffed attempt at punching you in the face, or an actual reaction to your last blow. This really slows down the pace of fights, and if it weren’t for the referee that somehow slammed himself against the ropes even though my aimless assault was nowhere near him, I might’ve been tossing the controller instead of laughing. Neither, I suspect, are the developers’ desired player reaction.
New-gen, New Tweaks
Luckily, there is some good amids the chaos, and the new stamina meter is a shining example. It actually helps the grappling issue I mentioned earlier to be less maddening. Essentially, every move you perform uses stamina, and as the bar drains it’ll be harder to execute bigger, showier moves with the precision or quickness you’re hoping for. It adds an impressive sense of realism to the fights, and when other glitches or annoying issues aren’t bogging down the experience (which, to be fair, does happen every so often), it’s part of what helps 2K15’s bouts to be some of the best in wrestling-game history. Which is why it’s such a travesty that these pitch-perfect brawls are far from a consistent occurrence.
MyCareer mode is something we’ve seen in other 2K titles, and I had high hopes for it with WWE. It did wonders for NBA 2K15 this year, and was actually one of my favorite parts of the game. While WWE 2K15 does successfully graft some of the mode’s better attributes, such as narrative plot events that lend an actual sense of personality and untapped potential to your created fighter, the overall effort is far less impressive. This is due largely in part to the number of victories you need before anything — and I mean anything — interesting happens. Plot-driven events are great when the occur, but given their infrequency, it makes you wonder if the developers simply ran out of time. As a result, MyCareer is far less compelling than in could have been.
Short of a Knockout
The more I played WWE,the more I began to notice the rest of its flaws, and sadly they began to pile up too quickly for me to effectively ignore. Though animations are nicely captured, the way they blend into each other is extremely wonky; herky-jerky movements are the norm, and getting temporarily stuck on another wrestler of part of the environment is nearly as common. There’s a mini-game to start each match where contestants can essentially roughhouse before things actually get underway, but it’s nothing more than that — a simple mini-game. I appreciate the awesome stamina meter, but it’s not enough to prevent these matches from feeling tedious after a mere 7 or so hours of play. For me, that’s far too soon for what otherwise could have been an awesome new-gen WWE experience.
All in all, if you’re a die-hard fan you’re probably going to buy this, and may have already. The graphics won’t disappoint, and if you’ve stayed away from the series and are just returning now, you may even be blown away. Yearly participants won’t be nearly as impressed, though, and short of an (admittedly impressive) fresh coat of paint, the cons far outweigh the pros for this year’s chair-bashing, knee-dropping pro wrestling encounter.
WWE 2K15 review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.