I used to be really into wrestling. We’re talking about the WWE days when Test was with Stephanie McMahon, before D-Generation X and Triple H screwed that up. When The Rock was still a nightly appearance and The People’s Elbow was a thing of beauty. When Stone Cold Steve Austin would yell ‘What?!’ and smash open a couple of beers atop the turnbuckle. Admittedly, that was years ago. I tune in here and there now, but the storylines and wrestlers have escaped me. It hasn’t been as long of a time since I last played a WWE game though — that was about two years ago. I always come away a bit disappointed when no wrestling game could live up to the fun I had with WWF WrestleMania 2000 on the Nintendo 64.
With my hard-to-please attitude towards wrestling games, I’m surprised that I had as much fun as I did when I went hands-on with WWE 2K16 at a press event in San Francisco.
The first things that struck me as impressive is how good the game looks. You can tell a lot of effort went into authenticity and presentation — specifically wrestlers’ entrances. From the Vaudevillains and Stone Cold, to Daniel Bryan and Goldust, the entrances are handled with accuracy and care (with the ability to crash opponents’ entrances in MyCareer). WWE 2K16 also sports an impressively large roster size. All of the greats are there, current and old. So if you were wondering who would win in a triple threat match between Sgt. Slaughter, Neville and Stone Cold, have at it.
My hands-on experience got me some limited time with MyCareer, the 2K Showcase with Stone Cold Steve Austin, and playing a bunch of random matches. MyCareer was iffy in the limited time I had. There were some decisions I had to make, such as who I want to be allies and enemies with, as well as a dialogue system. Unfortunately, wrestling against the AI isn’t as much fun as wrestling against a human opponent (which I’ll get into shortly). I found, for single-player at least, the 2K Showcase mode featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin to be much more fun, but that may be because I’m a fan. It follows some of Stone Cold’s most memorable moments of his career, with chapters having in-match objectives for you to hit. Sometimes when you fulfill an objective, an in-engine cinematic will play. Overall, the mode just seems like it received a ton of attention, and wrestling fans (especially those that have followed Stone Cold since his early days) will love this mode.
As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay is where WWE 2K16 has a harder time holding up. Controls are clunky, hit detection seems a bit off, and I got caught in a couple of animation loops (for 1 minute I was being punched against the rope with my wrestler repeating the same animation over and over). The controls just aren’t as smooth as I would hope. Certain things are really great, though. For instance, I like the new pin system, where there’s a quick time system for the player being pinned and you have to press X at the right time. The longer a match goes on and the more tired your wrestler is, the harder it is and less predictable the window becomes to land in that exact spot. There’s a rock-paper-scissors system in place for lock-ups, and I really enjoy the new analog stick system used for submissions. Players need to rotate the analog stick, where the player applying the hold needs to overlap the cursor of his opponent. It’s more skill based than just button mashing.
One thing I’m unsure if I like is the reversal system. Players can store reversals and save them for certain moments. After you use one and have a slot for a reversal open, you’ll start generating another one. You have to time your reversals with the tap of a button, but the timing is super difficult, resulting with a lot of ‘Too Early’ or ‘Too Late’. Though this is somewhat less of an issue when playing against a human opponent, against AI it’s a nuisance. Especially when the AI is flawless. I’m also not sure about how I feel about reversal being your only way to really turn the tide or stop an opponent from battering you. I played against one developer and he had the upper hand the entire match, with more reversals than I had, and there was nothing I could do about it. Maybe I just need to “git gud.”
Where the game really shines is when you play against another human. We would have silly rules where we could only choose a wrestler with a mustache, or only with glitter — stuff like that. Though I miss the days of trying to make an opponent bleed, the game was a blast playing with a friend, albeit clunky (especially ladders). I also witnessed a 20-something minute match between two journalists that can only be described as insane. There were so many finishers that resulted in an attempted pin with both wrestlers fully exhausted. The one player that kept getting pinned had the tiniest sliver of space for his quick time event to get the shoulder off the mat, and he nailed it like nine straight times. It was nuts.
After having so much fun with WWE 2K16, I have to admit that I’m eager to see how the final product turns out. Somehow, despite the clunky controls and gameplay, the title has something going for it. Though I can’t comment on how successful MyCareer will be once I spend more time with it (that’ll have to wait for the review), there’s some things I really like and some things I wasn’t crazy about. We’ll see how it all turns out when WWE 2K16 releases October 27 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.