There’s something magical about professional wrestling. When it’s done well, it brings together amazing feats of athleticism with a well told story. No other type of entertainment is quite like it. The problem here is that great professional wrestling isn’t seen all that often, unless you’re following the amazing exploits of Kazuchika Okada over in Japan. Most of the time, fans are left watching the least successful cult leader of all time use magical powers to project bugs onto the ring canvas, and then spend the rest of their night wondering why they paid money to watch what they just did.
WWE 2K18 is a lot like actual professional wrestling. There are moments, that are sadly few and far between, where the gameplay all comes together and an incredible match plays out. The game’s signature reversal system allows for comebacks to be made, and it’s always awesome watching a character kick out of a pin at the very last moment possible. It’s here where Yuke’s vision is temporarily realized, and it’s possible to have some really special moments play out.
Some small gameplay tweaks from last year’s product have been made in order to facilitate better matches. There’s a new grappling system in place that allows players to grab and carry characters around, and a weight class system governs whether or not a player can pick someone else up (you’re not going to see Enzo Amore lifting the Big Show). Like a few of WWE 2K18‘s systems, being lugged around by a giant opponent can be reversed by mashing the circle button repeatedly. Overall, it’s a nice addition that allows players to do some cool visuals such as picking someone up in order to throw them out of the ring or tossing them into a turnbuckle.
Conversely, this new carrying system also allows the computer to pick up the player and then just stand around instead of actually performing a move on them. While artificial intelligence issues are not new to the WWE 2K series, they’re taken to a new low point here. The psychology of matches are often abruptly broken as the computer-controlled wrestlers will just walk into objects repeatedly, decide to stop attacking for no reason at all, or walk around in circles. That’s not to mention all of the other glitches in the game, that manage to pop up with shocking regularity.
One of this year’s biggest additions is a revamped MyCareer mode, which allows players to rise through the ranks of WWE as a hot prospect. It also adds in backstage segments, which meant I got to explore the locker room, and occasionally converse with other wrestlers when I ran into them. Anyone who follows wrestling knows that it’s filled with larger-than-life characters, and it should be an awesome thing to run into someone like The Rock or Sasha Banks backstage. Instead, players are treated to a lot of generic dialogue exchanges that rarely reflect the actual character. They’ve managed to make a game with dozens of amazing characters into a bore.
While the backstage interactions are disappointing, they aren’t as much of a deal breaker as the way the story mode is actually structured. The early hours of the mode is absolutely horrendous, as it tasks the player with doing shockingly specific objectives during matches. For example, in a six-man tag match (where I only controlled one of the characters), I had to A) Win the match, B) Hit two finishers on opponents, and C) Be the person to get the pinfall. So, if I tagged out of the match and the computer ended up winning the match for my team, it counted as a failure and I was told to retry it despite spending the past 15 minutes making sure I could hit my two finishers. This is just one example of the banal design, and it all comes down to one key thing: it’s not fun.
Glitches also regularly occur in the career mode as well, and I’m not even talking about the matches. There’s an incredible amount of screen-tearing when walking around backstage (specifically in the opening tutorial), and the game regularly mixes up the names of wrestlers in dialogue sequences. For example, The Rock once told me that it was terrible what “Bojangles was doing,” when he meant to say Dolph Ziggler. My character was Bojangles, and as a result I had absolutely no clue what The Rock was cooking. Everything just comes across as sloppy, and a lot more polish is needed to make this a compelling experience.
WWE 2K18 Review - Filled with Glitches
Out There Grinding
Another issue with the MyCareer mode, and really the game in general, is how much of a grind the game is to both unlock the dozens of bonus characters and to upgrade your created character. Both unlocking in-game items and boosting your character are done by using the same in-game currency, so players basically have to pick one or the other. Alternatively, they can buy the game’s Accelerator DLC, which lets them unlock all of the characters, venues, and other items with a press of the button. While I had access to this from the start, I avoided using it so I could get a more faithful playing experience, and it was one of the least enjoyable grinds that I’ve experienced. If I bought a new character for other modes, it meant that my career character was underdeveloped, and I was constantly having to face Superstars that had ratings over 20 points higher than mine.
One of the biggest selling points each year is that the roster is bigger than previous years. 2K18 is no different, as there are dozens of characters ranging from retired (and dead) legends to new wrestlers that are currently only in WWE’s developmental system. It’s great to see so many people represented, but the work that has gone into a character’s likeness can vastly differ. While the three different versions of John Cena I had access to all looked incredible, other characters looked horrendous. For example, Alexa Bliss looked absolutely terrible in-game, as her long, highlighted hair constantly jumped around the screen as if it was trying to escape the bad game it was trapped in. At this point I’d rather have the game focus less on characters that all were up to the same standard, rather than have to battle these hideous looking clones gone wrong.
What’s most disappointing about WWE 2K18 is that there are so many good ideas present. Being able to go backstage and interact with larger-than-life wrestlers should be great fun, not a monotonous annoyance. The goals should add some much needed structure to the career, but instead they’re so oddly specific that many players won’t be bothered to even advance pass them. That’s not even mentioning the horrendous artificial intelligence, which is somehow leaps and bounds worse than previous years. Clearly a lot of work went into this year’s installment, but the end result simply did not come together in the slightest.
WWE 2K18 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.