Last year, 2K’s goal was to create a product that more closely resembles what you see on Monday and Thursday nights and the result was…disappointing. The idea was to implement new chain wrestling and stamina systems that would force players to strategize and think rather than just beating on their opponent. Sounds great right? The problem was that it slowed down matches to an almost excruciating rate and nothing seemed to flow. Wrestlers would pop up awkwardly after moves before going into another and the stamina bar wouldn’t have any real sense of meaning behind it. The ideas were great but the execution was clearly lacking.
For 2K16, the development team is once again focused on creating a more realistic presentation and the results are…slightly less disappointing. Matches have a much more realistic pacing to them and there’s a nice realistic flow to them. Setting up a special move and a finisher seemed much more natural than in last year’s game but those same problems still pop up far too much. When everything works, it works incredibly well, creating the type of unforgettable moments that make watching wrestling so fun to begin with. I remember one hardcore match I was having between Kevin Owens and a user created Jay Lethal which ended in spectacular fashion after Lethal reversed a top rope moonsault to a neck breaker on tope of a ladder. It’s something I did not expect but made me get out of my chair.
In fact, it’s this reversal system that’s at the heart of 2K’s efforts to make this year’s game feel more authentic. This year player’s get a limited supply of reversals and they’ll have to be strategic on how to use them. It was common practice in previous games to just try to reverse nearly every attack thrown at you but in 2K15 you’ll have to be more cerebral about it. Is it really worth reversing that opening punch or should you wait to save that reversal for later on in the game when your opponent is trying to setup their finisher?At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Thanks to the series wonky hit detection and pacing you’re rarely ever able to complete a reversal when you’re planning on it. This problem is most evident when playing in matches with multiple opponents. Also, I’m still not entirely sure how the reversal system works. Regardless of what I would do I would always get the “too soon” or “too late” prompts, making it feel like more of a random occurrence than anything to do with strategy.
The clear highlight of this year’s game is the 2K Showcase mode. While last year’s game focused on key rivalries in WWE, this year’s game focuses on one man; The Rattlesnake Stone Cold Steve Austin. As someone who spent much of his adolescents quoting Austin with his friends; going down memory lane was quite the trip worth taking. It’s fun to look at how the character became such an icon that saved that nearly dying WWE. You’ll even get to play some of his pre-WWE matches in WCW and ECW. Of course, this means that Jim Ross is back to provide commentary to most of Austin’s biggest moments and it’s wonderful because just like in previous year’s the regular commentary here is just plain awful. I still mute my TV rather than listening to JBL’s “Maggle” every other sentence.
I desperately wanted to love the career mode…
2K’s version of a career mode has also been overhauled and the results are less than stellar, though the idea behind is interesting enough. You take control of a created superstar and guide them from their start in NXT to the main roster and hopefully on to the main event in big events like Wrestlemania, making choices in interviews and how to align yourself with and guide your character. In reality though you’ll just be trying to grind your way through matches and answering the same few questions in backstage interviews over and over with a tiny bit of variation. I desperately wanted to love the career mode, but 2K doesn’t understand what makes a superstar popular and it shows heavily in 2K16.
The other big feature in 2K16 is the creative suite which returns in a big way from last year’s game. Everything from 2K15 is here but the missing features from previous games like create a diva, show, championship and arena have also made a welcome return. Having the ability to not only create your favorite wrestlers and properties from other organizations and the past but download other people’s creations adds a huge amount to the game. I’m not ashamed to say that I rarely use much of the game’s main roster and rely heavily on my Lucha Underground, old school ECW and Ring of Honor creations. There are some shockingly good creations out there and the process of adding them to your game is remarkably easy and a lot of fun.
Truth be told, 2K16 has the largest roster that a WWE game has ever seen, but what’s the point when some of the choices are so lackluster. Key here, the four horsewomen of NXT, Bailey, Sasha Banks, Charolette and Becky Lynch not being included in the roster. I get it, there are cut off times and the developers can only fit so many characters in the game but why include people like Haku and Savio Vega when you can put some of the most popular modern superstars in the game. They won’t even be DLC apparently, which is incredibly disappointing as those ladies are the stars of some of this generation’s greatest matches. But hey, I’m sure Savio Vega had a great match at an In Your House once…right?
Is WWE 2K16 better than last year’s game? Unquestionably yes, but it also fails to address many of the issues that fans asked for after getting so disappointed by the last game. It’s packed with content and options and the core wrestling gameplay seems almost untouched and much like the WWE itself, 2K sports seems to be clueless on what makes wrestling fans stick around.