Wrestling is a performance. It’s exaggerated, it’s over-the-top, and everyone knows it’s not exactly real. Fans flock to professional wrestling precisely because of how insanely over-the-top it can go. They go for the show. Nobody actually cares if the actual wrestling is real or not, all they care about is how well the performance is sold to them and how well the drama is carried out. Unfortunately, WWE 2K17 does not come close to the the performative appeal of professional wrestling. It is not an over-the-top game at all. This series has missed the mark for a while now, and this latest installment continues to prove that the developers (Visual Concepts and Yuke’s) do not know how to correctly portray what makes WWE great.
I cannot fault this game for it’s looks. WWE 2K17, like anything published by 2K Games, looks amazing. From a technical standpoint, it is spot on. A massive part of professional wrestling is the crowd. On TV, fans are holding up hilarious signs and are dressed up like fools, and this game does a great job of mirroring that.
The commentators are the worst I have ever heard in a video game since the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox era. The two gentlemen giving the match commentary not only say things that do not pertain to the current match, but they also repeat the same lines very frequently. This is a small but important problem, as it can completely break any sort of immersion.
One of the most notoriously bad things that the WWE 2K series has to offer is it’s inability to properly handle online matches. Every online match I would get into featured horrible lag that completely broke the way the match went. Reversals and trying not to tap out are hindered by latency, and turned me off from playing any more online matches. It is hard to say if an improvement can be patched in because multiple installments in this series have featured the same issue.
The meat and potatoes of this game is the worst part; the actual wrestling. As I previously said, wrestling is over-the-top and does not apologize for it. This game is more along the lines of a simulation style of wrestling. Think about the difference between Forza Motorsport and Need for Speed. One is meant to be insane and over-the-top, and one is meant to simulate racing. WWE 2K17 does a bad job of making wrestling awesome. I enjoy difficult games, but I do not enjoy games that make it difficult to enjoy or play properly.
There is a submission mini-game that is triggered when either player goes to submit the other player. The default setting features a “chase” style, where in order to win you must out-run the other player by twirling the right thumbstick around enough. This mini-game is not fun or practical. I understand that the developers were probably going for an approach that leaned more towards skill overcoming luck, but that does not translate very well into this current system.
In order to salvage my enjoyment just a little bit from this game, I had to completely alter almost all of the settings available. I spent about a half of an hour adjusting the way the AI played, and turned off most of the annoying aspects like the new submission mini-game. Once I did all of that nonsense, I did enjoy the game more. There were a few really intense matches that I played where the action was exciting and the wrestling was enjoyable.
In WWE 2K17, fights can happen anywhere in the building. The developer’s objective was to make the player feel like they are playing an episode of WWE. Having the ability to go into someone’s dressing room and bash them up against their walls is a good feeling. Fights can happen in or outside the ring, before or after the match, or even in the crowd. Although this does not make me feel like I am playing an episode of the show, it is still nice to get a change of scenery.
Taunting your opponent actually matters now. Taunting is controlled with the right and left D-pad inputs. Depending on what point it is in the match, taunting can provide a significant buff to the player by increasing their stamina. Let’s be honest, it’s nice to hear the crowd cheering my name, but it is also nice to be rewarded for getting their approval.
The WWE Universe game mode received some important changes. The constant theme in this game is for the players to feel like they are in the TV shows. There is a new “show presentation” aspect of the mode that provides a specific line-up of fights that play out in a row like it would happen on live television. This addition is also featured in MyCareer mode. Show presentation is a nice addition, but is more of a cosmetic improvement. Players can assume that the matches play out in order without having to be told they do.
Matches with multiple fighters in the ring received some needed improvements, however there are some issues here as well. The ability to change targets has become extremely simplistic by just utilizing the R3 button, but the new Roll-Out feature is dissatisfying. Once a player is getting crushed, he/she will roll-out of the ring to let the other fighters crush each other while he/she recovers. If this happens to a character that the player is not controlling, fine. But if this happens to a player character it adds unwanted downtime to a fight that is otherwise action-packed.
You have the standard wrestling modes in this game; royal rumble, one on one, two on two, etc. but the lack of the 2K Showcase mode is a huge dilemma. In previous WWE games, this mode that brought players down memory lane by showcasing historic matches. This year they completely did away with it. 2K Showcase did a great job of adding that lighthearted and nostalgic appeal to this series and without it this game feels thinned out and bland.
At this point it won’t suprise you to hear that the MyCareer mode in this game is bad, really bad. The best part of playing this mode is customizing your character, at the very beginning of the whole career. The range of customisation options the player is given is surprisingly vast and robust. If only the rest of the mode was like that. This year has featured a couple of awesome career modes in sports games, like FIFA’s “The Journey,” and NBA 2K17 continuing iteration of their long running MyCareer series. Somehow, 2K could not correctly influence that aspect into this series. There is no distinct personality or character in this mode, which is so necessary for creating a character.
In MyCareer, there is a new aspect that features the player conducting their own promos. This is a difficult thing to get right. The player is given a few different options to select from to try and gain the respect of the crowd. The crowd will chant and the commentators will weigh in on how well you are doing on stage. A major problem with the way this is designed is the fact that there is no voice acting. Getting the crowd stoked about “becoming the best” is hard to portray when there is no voice coming out of your character.
Some criticism has been taken by the developers because they have improved on the overall fighting of this game over the years. This version of the game is not any better or worse than last year’s version, which is actually a bit of a problem. The fact that Showcase mode is gone from this title is upsetting, but at least gameplay has been improved because of it.
If this series manages to go more in an over-the-top and insane direction, I can see WWE 2K having a big turn-around, but Visual Concept and Yuke’s continue to try and create a skill-based wrestling simulator. This series will continue to be thinned out and fundamentally unenjoyable as long as that trend is around.