So perhaps the statement of “greatest game ever” is not highly believable when discussing game franchises that release on an annual launch.
At best, we, as a community, have come to expect each installment to be hit or miss, and WWE titles are no exception.
Most times, you can skip a title or two and buy the next one without missing very much. That doesn’t mean WWE titles are bad. However, annual deadlines often leave little time for noticeable innovations between each launch but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
This year, sports game veteran 2K, has the opportunity to churn out greatest wrestling game to date.
Breaking The Stalemate
First off, labeling a game “greatest” is going to be more subjective than objective. The quality of game is based on varying tastes. The only viable way (outside of Metacritic) to come to a conclusion on quality is to track the pulse of the community. After all, thats where the money comes from. No matter what, you cannot please everyone and former long time developer THQ/Yukes knew this.
THQ saw to the development of WWE related titles for more than a decade and created over 25 wrestling games. Those years of experience included developing for multiple vastly different platforms, next generation ports and being the muscle behind WWF No Mercy (still the number one wrestling game, in my opinion) and the Smackdown vs. Raw series.
THQ did get a bad rap late in their development tenure for numerous reasons, but there are several very important things THQ did right that 2K will need to do in order to produce what could be the greatest wrestling game.
Learning From The Past
Examine any annual franchise and you can see that one of the biggest issues to run into is stagnation and staleness. So the key here is really focusing on that innovation between titles. Of course, not every title is going to be vastly different than the previous but every two or three titles should be a gem. Innovation can be a tedious process on developers and will require patience from the community but the result could be highly rewarding.
THQ’s Smackdown vs. Raw series did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. Although largely unappreciated, each of the SvR installments focused on a certain portion of the game and made it shine. For example, in Smackdown vs. Raw: 2009, Yukes and THQ took tag team matches to new heights. In addition to a host of new tag team mechanics like hot tags and tag finishers (something absent since Raw 2), ’09 featured a robust roster that took advantage of the tag team enhancements.The game received a decent reception overall and fell one point shy of an 80 from Metacritic.
Despite the good, the series was often setback by those very innovations coming up short in its successor, something THQ did correct later on to their credit. From Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 and beyond THQ made a habit of refining each new mechanic from the predecessor to successor to keep the next installment fresh and worth purchasing. These polishes came in addition to a new feature added like the creation suite for 2010 or the new physics system that changed gameplay for everyone in 2011.
Looking Back And Moving Forward
Every title from THQ and 2K’s past has something to offer but what does it mean for WWE 2K18? Everything.
Each WWE game typically is a reflection of where wrestling is headed and today’s wrestling is becoming all about the competition. With stars like Katsuyori Shibata, Kassuis Ohno, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kenny Omega and many others, its becoming more about what you can do in between the ropes rather than with a chair or with a mic.
This is where 2K needs to start. Fortunately, 2K has already done that. In their first outing with WWE 2K14, 2K revamped the essence of a WWE game, the wrestling. Pacing is everything in a match and even after the huge overhaul of WWE ’12, matches came down to timing a counter over and over again. The changes made to pacing and one-on-one matches laid a solid foundation for games to come.
By WWE 2K16, the wrestling formula set by 2K was polished and there to stay. Adding reversal limits and tweaking character abilities paid off and kept 2K’s promise to bring authenticity to the series. Unfortunately, by their fourth game the 2K series has already snagged a bit of stagnation.
Cure For Stagnation
The 2K formula has started to be defined by its pitfalls and its time to polish and innovate once more. There are many ways to achieve this and if done in unison we possibly could have the wrestling game we’ve all been waiting for.
- Graphical consistency – We all love 60fps and no one likes a stutter; commit to solid 60fps fidelity or provide a great experience on uncompromising 30fps. Taking the latter just means resources can go elsewhere.
- Direction – No doubt WWE has a say in what goes in the game but this time around the game needs one unified direction. There is no room for “we will add your stuff to OUR game.” Meaning if we have to suffer through another attitude era throwback then the whole game needs to reflect that, not just the title sequence, a game mode and a few roster slots. Preferably WWE just lets 2K handle it.
- Wrestling is key – Keep the indie moves coming! this works in tandem with direction and reflection. WWE in their own way is acknowledging life beyond the WWE with events like the CWC and British wrestling tournament. As long as these events keep coming, so should our library of indie moves.
- Polish and refine – Probably the most important task on this list; it will be crucial to the success of WWE 2K18. Every match that makes it into the game need to feel as well dressed as a one-on-one normal match. If that means leaving out a certain matches to produce a consistent experience then by all means do so. However, that does not mean all matches should stutter or lag like multi-man matches in WWE 2K17.
- Details – This goes without saying; it’s the small things that matter. Whether it’s ensuring Nakamura has kickpads or making sure Tyler Breeze has the right finisher, details are important. WWE 12 banked on its new predator engine which changed nearly everything. Characters breathed, muscles contracted visibly and things looked authentic to TV presentation. Current games still echo this sentiment but in WWE 2K18 its time to give them light and make them shine again. That could be a tall order but making players feel that fresh revitalization of something old is important to translating the quality of the game. Again, leaving a thing or two out to ensure consistent top-notch quality may be beneficial here. It’s key remind players that visual upgrades are happening and to have them experience them.
- Creation Suite – We have many options but lack diversity. The creation suite has taken set backs since the days of THQ. No doubt this year’s will be better than the last but the options for small things like hair leave a lot to be desired in terms of ethnic and gender diversity. Wrestling is diverse, so should be the creation suite.
- Options, options, options – We want our options back. If a majority of match types don’t return, 2K can save face with enhancing the small match type options. Removing count-outs from one-on-one matches or adding them to a Fatal-Four Way and turning off pinfall/submission makes all the difference. Don’t believe me, fire up WWF No Mercy and play around with match options for a little a bit.
- Storytelling – For indie wrestling one could ignore this but for WWE, it is crucial. WWE games have featured a myriad of story-based modes from Season to Universe mode. It’s time to pick one and make it legendary. There are plenty ways to do it. The goal has been to allow players to create, experience and wrestle. It could be a s simple as stripping career mode and using those resources for Universe mode. Also, objectives detailing how to cause a cutscene in Universe mode wouldn’t hurt. No matter the direction, replayability will likely rely on a game mode that can be played religiously with many things to offer in way of story and wrestling.
Ready To Debut
I for one will more than likely always purchase the next wrestling game even just for the roster. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t a top quality wrestling experience. Achieving such in a year will be no small task but a few calculated risks just might be worth it. There’s no reason an avid gamer cannot look at their WWE 2K18 the way they look at their Skyrim when so much adequate foundation has been planted. Even if it means allowing a later release date, looking at you Take-Two.
Wrestlemania has passed which means 2K should have finalized the roster and its almost time to start fishing for leaks and details. I’m not one for getting hopes up but if done right, this year could be big for WWE games.
Be sure to stay tuned for any WWE and other sports title news heading into E3. Want to talk sports and/or games with the fastest growing community in gaming? Join the conversation in the comment section below as well as on our Twitter and Facebook pages.