Ever since 2K took over the WWE franchise, wrestling games have been in a sort of odd area between trying to stay fresh and aiming to capture all the nuances of professional wrestling while retaining enough familiarity and arcade elements to keep matches fun and exciting for players. That said, it was with some trepidation I entered into this review, since not only was last year’s outing was met with a somewhat lukewarm response, but I haven’t followed professional wrestling, nor played a wrestling game, in several years now. Thankfully, WWE 2k16 proved to be a step in the right direction for the franchise, and although not perfect, 2K’s newest still remains a thoroughly enjoyable title and probably the best offering for wrestling fans on the market today. There’s certainly a lot to dig your teeth into, and any wrestling fan will find tons of material and content to work through in this year’s outing. Off the bat, 2K16 has a plethora of game modes to jump right into. Showcase mode allows you to play through the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin, with actual clips from the broadcasts to help bring up the nostalgia factor for fans. Universe mode plays out just like the real WWE – where you’ll be questing for the belts across Raw, Smackdown, and PPV events, with all the rivalries and drama that would entail. MyCareer mode lets you take your own personal superstar into the WWE, working their way up from NXT up to either Raw or Smackdown depending on your choice. Let’s not forget the selection of quick matches, from simple one-on-one affairs, to Hell in the Cell, to 30-man Royal Rumbles. 2K16 is bursting at the seams with content that would keep anyone occupied for months.
Adding to all this, we are also getting the largest roster in a WWE game to date, with over 120 superstars. Not only will you find a comprehensive, up-to-date roster of today’s wrestling superstars and divas, but also a bevy of classic superstars such as Bret Hart and Andre the Giant, alternate era superstars (Sting has three separate variations alone), and managers such as Jimmy Hart and Paul Bearer – who can add an extra level of drama to a match with their inclusion. There are a few notable exceptions missing, such as Rey Mysterio and Hulk Hogan, but it’s not a major problem in the greater scheme of things.
On the topic of customized superstars, the character creation system is probably one of the more robust ones I’ve seen, and you can create just about any original type of character you want.
Getting to the gameplay, 2K16 sports a complex system that manages to be both deep and seamless at the same time, punishing button-mashers and rewarding good timing and using a variety of moves. For example, mixing in several strong attacks with some weak attacks and blending it all into a German suplex serves one much better than constantly spamming a single attack. Furthermore, superstars can now only counter a limited number of times, storing up to 5 counters which slowly get refreshed over a match. This means there is some strategic thinking involved in knowing what moves to let through and which ones not to. This sort of dynamic, which rewards move variety, coupled with smart countering, keeps matches flowing forward and engaged me throughout every match I played.
Subtle touches have also been added that just add extra drama to each match. You can opt to interrupt ring entrances if so desired, starting the match early and getting that extra hit or two in from the get-go. Heel characters also have access to tools such as dirty pins using the ropes, while managers can distract or interrupt a match for a critical save. These small touches really help bring a match to life. When things fall together, 2K16 is an amazing game to behold. The developers has done its utmost best to make you feel like you are watching a wrestling telecast. The video transitions are spot-on, while ring entrances no longer need to load individually, making the whole match start a seamless affair. For the most parts, wrestlers talk, walk, move, and act as you’d expect their real life personas to. The ring itself reacts to what’s happening on screen in a realistic fashion, and the action camera, when it works, gives you a real televised feel to the whole affair. Couple all this with a butter-smooth framerate, some brilliant commentary (which rarely ever uses the same phrases twice in a match), impactful ring sounds, a roaring crowd, and it’s an already exhilarating affair just watching a match unfold on its own.
However, it’s the few elements that don’t always mesh entirely well that can sometimes draw you out of the immersion. Frankly speaking, 2k16’s presentation is all over the place. The crowd still looks like cardboard cutouts for the most part. Some wrestlers seem to have been given a thorough makeover – superstars like Steve Austin and Randy Orton look absolutely amazing, while others like Chris Jericho seem like holdovers from previous generations’ versions. Hair clipping is still an issue, and almost all superstars suffer from painfully obvious “dead video game eyes.”
Despite these issues, 2K16 succeeds more often than it fails – it’s just a shame that it couldn’t be more consistent throughout. Multiplayer was a mixed bag – couch multiplayer is certainly fun – and there’s nothing like participating in a 30-Man Royal Rumble with your friends. And while the game does feature online play and matchmaking (which works decently well), there isn’t anything particularly compelling to do online when compared to the amount of single player content available. However, those looking to make a name for themselves online at least have the opportunity to do so.
Overall, WWE 2K16, while not perfect, paves the way forward for future games in the franchise in exciting and good ways.
If you were waiting for wrestling games to hit its stride after the disappointment of last year’s outing, it is safe to say WWE 2K16 is on the right track. Even when taken by itself, it’s an extremely solid package; despite its inconsistent presentation, 2K16 remains an extremely fun outing, and a wonderful gift for any wrestling fans.
+ Absolutely tons of single player content + Fantastic gameplay + When it comes together right, great presentation. - Inconsistent presentation - Lackluster online multiplayer
Developer: Yuke's and Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports Reviewed By: Willem Den Toom