Inextricably linked for well over two decades, it’s fair to say that WWE games and PlayStation go hand-in-hand, much like how chair shots and concussions just so happen to run in the same circles. So it is then, that with the distinctly forward looking WWE 2K20 rapidly coming upon us and WWE’s annual Hell in the Cell event set to kick off shortly, I’ve decided to delve into the history of this relationship and remind us all, for better or worse, the calibre of the WWE licensed games that have spanned the life of PlayStation.
Well that, and I also happen to be eye-gougingly bored at the moment. Have fun!
WWE Games: WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game – PSOne (1995)
What good reason is there for this little OTT gem not being featured in the PSOne Classics line-up? No good reason, that’s what. Essentially the result of an unholy marriage between the traditional wrestling games of the time and Mortal Kombat (no coincidence given that the WWE license and Mortal Kombat shared the same publisher), WrestleMania: The Arcade Game played up to the gimmicks of the wrestlers with The Undertaker smashing Tombstones over the skulls of his fellow sweaty folk and Shawn Michaels… I dunno, doing something funny with hearts.
Anyway, back then digitised sprites were the in-thing, and seeing the actual real-life representations of Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Yokozuna doing their bit was somewhat of a treat given the overly gaudy art that defined earlier wrasslin’ efforts.
Despite having a selection of wrestling moves, WrestleMania arguably felt much more like a traditional fighting game with the onus placed on racking up high combos rather than trading holds or, y’know, employing any sort of ringcraft. Still though, it was a good bit of fun for what it was and remained a good way to distract oneself from the frankly horrendous booking that was going on in WWE at the time.
Notable for: Years after release the developer confirmed a long-running rumor that midcard talent Adam Bomb was a hidden character, but maintained that the grappler in question was not present in a fully completed form. A bit like Reptile in the first Mortal Kombat then, except for the fact that, well, at least Reptile got over.
WWE Games: WWF In Your House – PSOne (1996)
The digitised sprite-based madness continued with WWF In Your House, where a similarly larger-than-life tact was taken with the characters and their moveset, The British Bulldog for example actually wraps his foes in the Union Jack flag and his head morphs into, you guessed it, a bulldog whenever he headbutts his opponent. This time round the rings also took on the personas of various wrestlers too; The Undertaker’s arena for instance, has skulls adorned on the turnbuckles and the sort of backdrop that wouldn’t look out of place in Mortal Kombat or an orphaned fourth grader’s scribble book.
Sadly then, the whole digitised, exaggerated wrestling shtick had already run its course by the time WWF In Your House released in late 1996, and folks were already on the lookout for proper WWE games that more accurately represented the on-screen TV spectacle rather than a Z-grade fighting game with grainy, digitised, garbage sprite work. Time to move on folks!
Notable for: If you were born from 1996 or so onwards, you were probably fortunate enough to avoid playing it.
WWE Games: WWF War Zone – PSOne (1998)
So instead of that more accurate, more nuanced wrestling sim that most of us craved, we unfortunately got this instead. Barely a wrestling game of any description, the character models in WWE War Zone looked like sentient, painted planks of wood locked in an epic struggle to fury-hump each other into submission.
With an absolutely paper-thin roster bolstered by a lame tournament style campaign, horrendous controls and the worst animation routines this side of Primal Rage, it’s no stretch to say that time avoiding playing this abomination is time well-spent. Of course, I’m sure you could unearth it from somewhere for next to nothing but equally appealing (and cheap) is the act of scooping your eyes out with a rusty spoon.
Notable for: During the match wrestlers would spout stuff like “Hit the gym fatass!” which obviously wouldn’t play these days and even back then, made me cringe so hard into my chair that I almost fractured my spine. Awful business.
WWE Games: WWF Attitude – PSOne (1999)
And so they did it again. WWF Attitude careened onto PSOne back in 1999 when everybody thought the world was going to end, and this lump of cack did little to dissuade them of the fact. The same shoddy visuals and animations returned and were given new, fetid life as a supposedly newfangled wrestling game that ended up being about as fresh as Vince Russo’s booking notes.
To its credit, this particular wrestling game not only showcased full superstar entrances for the first time ever but it also actually packed in a bunch of new match types that folks hadn’t seen in a wrestling game before such as First Blood, I Quit and Survivor Series to name just a few. The problem though, is that it still felt like the second coming of WWF War Zone, which if you ever have had the misfortune of watching a dog vomit up its own number two, will provide you with a useful point of reference.
New match types and comically wooden wrestler entrances aside, there was nothing here that suggested any sort of real or meaningful improvement over WWF War Zone. I suppose you could hunt it down if you wanted to, but honestly, short of an horrendously botched, full-frontal lobotomy, why would you want to?
Notable for: An exercise in proving the notion that the longer you leave a dump in the sun the more it stinks, the powers that be decided that inflicting WWF War Zone on the populace once wasn’t enough so they decided to do it again but under a different name. Thanks for that.
WWE Games: WWF SmackDown – PSOne (2000)
Ah, now this is more like it. The first licensed WWE game to be exclusive to PlayStation after leaving the clutches of the now defunct Acclaim Entertainment and falling into the loving arms of (now also defunct) publisher THQ, SmackDown impressed with its ultra-responsive grappling and striking gameplay, a sizeable roster of superstars and story mode that was more than just a differently skinned Mortal Kombat style tournament tower.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect and was absolutely held to account by the tech limitations of the PSOne platform with no-voice overs, commentary or any sort of deep creation modes, but SmackDown had fun in spades and was a reliable go-to excuse for getting the old Multitap out for some local couch gaming.
Notable for: Being the first WWF/WWE licensed wrestling title for the PSOne that actually felt like a decent take on our beloved sport and not like sticking your face in a duffel bag filled with scorpions.
WWE Games: WWF SmackDown 2: Know Your Role – PSOne (2000)
SmackDown 2: Know Your Role not only began that horrible trend of suffixing the next three WWE games with catchphrases from the Rock’s sleeve notes, but it was also fondly, and quite rightly remembered as the best wrestling game money could buy on PSOne.
Boasting more moves, a larger roster (hi Kurt!), a raft of unlockables, and a deep story mode that allowed you to walk about behind the scenes in first person, SmackDown 2: Know Your Role was a fantastic little scrapper that all but erased the faintly fecal taste that WWF War Zone and Attitude left in our collective mouths a couple of years prior. Wonderfully, it was also the first wrestling game on PlayStation to introduce a semi-decent Create-A-Superstar and Create-A-Taunt mode too, so there’s that.
Notable for: It had prolific women’s wrestler and former DX enforcer Chyna in it. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got at the moment. Great game though!
WWE Games: WWF SmackDown Just Bring It – PS2 (2001)
Seemingly drunk with the heady amounts of processing power that Sony’s second home console would bring, SmackDown Just Bring It felt like one step forward and two Flair-flops back, as developer Yukes brought the sexy graphics but forgot to include the arguably more sexy gameplay that so well defined the series final outing on PSOne.
With a story mode that was roughly as entertaining as binging on the match history of The Great Khali, a reduced roster and next to no Creation Suite capabilities, SmackDown Just Bring It was like the Nathan Jones of licensed wrestling games; formidable to look at but ultimately shallower than a puddle on a hot Summer’s day.
Notable for: Being the first licensed wrestling game on PS2 that actually looked like a PS2 title and not a PSOne game that accidentally shot itself up with botox on a crack bender. Oh, it was also the first title in the WWE series to feature commentary too, from the team of Michael Cole and Tazz, no less. Huzzah?
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Shut Your Mouth – PS2 (2002)
In basically every way that mattered, SmackDown Shut Your Mouth was the wrestling game that SmackDown Just Bring It should have been. As well as the usual smattering of improvements such as a larger roster, more moves and so on, Shut Your Mouth was the first licensed title to incorporate the original brand split into a superb story mode that ended up with your chosen wrestler telling ol’ Vinny Mac to “shut his mouth” (geddit?) before lamping the old lad in the mush. Top business.
Away from the much-improved season mode, Shut Your Mouth also resurrected the creation suite where players could extensively customise superstars and their movesets for use in the main game. In short, Shut Your Mouth was a worthy successor to the PSOne SmackDown games of old and certainly deserves to be remembered as such.
Notable for: Being the first game to be released under the WWE banner because the WWF (known as the World Wildlife Fund back then) cry-maxed over the fact that people with fully-functioning cerebrums would somehow conflate saving furry folk with sweaty lads wailing on each other with steel chairs, whilst adorned in spangly outfits. Or, it could have been that they just didn’t want to be associated with the ‘fed in any way, shape or form, either way; strange times.
WWE Games: WWE Crush Hour – PS2 (2003)
Roughly about as decent as Eva Marie’s wrestling ability and twice as redundant, WWE Crush Hour was the fed’s attempt to branch out their videogame business into other genres, namely the demolition derby style goings-on of games such as Twisted Metal. The problem though, was that it was irredeemably horrendous and made you want to piledrive your face into the nearest wall.
Blighted by ridiculously bad handling, some seriously shoddy physics and the most insipid arenas the human mind could possibly come up with, Crush Hour was basically the result of Carmageddon procreating with itself and creating a pain baby. It also turns out that good ol’ JR provided commentary for the game too, but really, don’t hold it against him; everybody’s gotta eat right?
Oh and the wrestler quotes thing from WWF War Zone returned here too, putting the rancid cherry on top of a rotting cake of sub-mediocrity. I mean honestly, just look at the state of it in the video below. You’re welcome.
Notable for: Never getting a sequel, thank Cthulhu.
WWE Games: WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain – PS2 (2003)
Ahhh, SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain. Still regarded by many as one of the best wrestling games on any generation of PlayStation and whispered in the same hushed tones as those folks/hermits that hold No Mercy on the N64 in such high regard, Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain was a real milestone for the series on PlayStation.
In addition to a decent career mode and a creation suite being stuffed with more customisation options than you could shake a Randy Orton wellness policy violation at, Here Comes the Pain also had a rejigged grappling system which let players mix up a larger amount of light and strong grapples resulting in the biggest move list the series had ever seen. This was the absolute apex of the SmackDown series at this point and a real high point for wrestling games as a whole. It was absolutely essential, and remains so even today.
Notable for: Not only being genuinely one of the best wrestling games available at the time but for also having an absolutely belting roster that included the likes of Kurt Angle, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar. Top, top stuff.
WWE Games: WWE Smackdown Vs Raw – PS2 (2004)
The first WWE game to kick off the whole Smackdown vs Raw naming convention that would endure for seven games, WWE Smackdown Vs Raw didn’t quite have such a good roster as Here Comes the Pain (at that point the likes of Brock Lesnar and Goldberg had already flown the coop, but they had Bret Hart now so happy days, I guess), nor did it feel quite so satisfying from a grappling perspective. Nonetheless, it did have a couple of neat tricks up its sleeves to make it stand out a bit.
The first was a new clean/dirty system in which players could choose whether they wanted to play their chosen wrestler as a face (good guy) or as a heel (bad guy), with abilities such as comeback moves and cheap-shots being available depending on your preference. The game also included a neat submission system where you could hold onto an illegal hold up until a five count (this needs to come back, really) as well as introducing a slew of minigames from chop battles to a skit where in bra and panties matches, the female wrestlers could spank each other. Wow. On the flipside though, the game did let you craft your own belt in the new Create-A-Championship mode, which was nice.
Notable for: Being the first WWE game on PS2 to let players go online and slam the poop out of one another. Alas, the match selection was limited to a singles and Bra and Panties match which if it happened these days, would go over probably about as well as the debut of the Shockmaster.
WWE Games: WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2006 – PS2, PSP (2005)
From the off, it was pretty clear that developer Yukes weren’t messing about with Smackdown Vs Raw 2006. Straight away we discover that the grappling system has changed from the previous four direction, light/strong shtick into seven different schools of offense that far more approaches simulation rather than arcade style gameplay.
Perhaps the best new feature of this WWE game though, was the introduction of an optional stamina meter which would force players to be economical with their attacks, lest they tire themselves out en route to a well-deserved stomping. This was great simply because it marked the end of an era where previously folks could just spam highly damaging holds, slams and strikes ad infinitum and to this day, arguably remains one of the better elements of the series.
Notable for: The PSP version of WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2006 was absolutely spanking and mild graphical downgrade aside, presented a properly authentic take on the sport which easily stood alongside its home console counterpart. Not only that, the PSP version of the game also had Jake “The Snake” Roberts as an exclusive character who could be ported to the PS2 version if you had the requisite USB cable to do it.
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2007 – PS2, PSP (2006)
Evidently still unhappy with the grappling system from the previous game, Yukes decided to revamp the grappling system in WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2007 by allowing players to use the analogue stick to direct their grapples and slams, replacing the static digital D-pad inputs of previous games. For the most part it felt like a step back, with the grappling and control system of Smackdown vs Raw 2006 still offering more depth and a larger moveset than the new system was able to provide.
Sadly, because the game didn’t release on PS3 but released on Xbox 360, the PS2 version of the game missed out on a lot of new features such as increased interactivity with ringside elements, improved visuals and much more besides. Furthermore, the PS2 version of the game was afflicted by a number of bugs, too. Most troubling of all were a series of commentary and announcing glitches where the sound would either cause the speech to become garbled, or, just cut out completely. It wasn’t a good look for the franchise in all honesty as it made the generational leap from PS2 to PS3. So yeah, not a good showing for wrestling games on PlayStation all told. Avoid.
Notable for: Not actually releasing on PS3 but still somehow managing to secure a release on Xbox 360. One can only guess that those damn Genji crabs put off THQ from porting the game, the cowards. The flipside though, is that late Motorhead frontman Lemmy has his face in the game as a template for the Create-A-Wrestler bit, bless im’.
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2008 – PS3, PS3, PSP (2007)
When WWE games arrived on PS3, WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2008 boasted a number of changes that were both good and, well, not so good. Starting with the former, a new struggle submission system was implemented into the game (and would see itself crop up in various retooled forms in later instalments), that allowed players to use the analogue stick to either put on more pressure, or, escape from the hold entirely. It was a neat system because it actually felt like you were putting real pressure on an opponent whenever you had a hold synched in and created a heightened sense of drama as a result.
What wasn’t quite so good though (and by this, I really mean absolutely, tossing abysmal), was the newly touted Fighting Style System which divided up the roster between eight different styles of grappling and striking. The problem though, was that these systems prevented wrestlers from using certain moves and holds that were common to other characters; even when such moves were available to those same wrestlers in previous games. More troubling still was the fact that it made other wrestlers inordinately weak/strong, with ol’ Vinny Mac for example, being as strong as the likes of the Big Show (look we know he lifts, but c’mon).
Another thing that stunk like Bastion Booger’s jockstrap was that early in production, developer Yukes was supposedly up for redoing many of the animations in the game. Unfortunately, this didn’t come to pass as many of the wrestlers still boasted animations that carried over from the PSOne era, making the game look massively visually inconsistent as a direct result. Not good.
Notable for: Being the final wrestling game to feature the gimmick-tastic Buried Alive match. Just as well really, it was proper crap.
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009 – PS3, PS2, PSP (2008)
A qualitative shift up in gear from the 2008 entry in the series, WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009 wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but it did do a fair few things right. First, it ditched that god-awful Fighting Style System that was so face-clawingly bad it made kittens cry, and instead introduced a new system that included ability based traits and, for the first time in the series, signature moves alongside regular finishers.
In terms of modes the game didn’t disappoint either. A more narratively driven campaign manifests itself as the Road to Wrestlemania mode, where players could follow storylines through with the likes of Triple H, CM Punk (come back!) and Chris Jericho, all the while enjoying full cutscenes and a range of special objectives to complete. This game also marked the first time that the now defunct Create-A-Finisher mode made its debut; enabling folks to create their own finishing moves, and though while it was simplistic in execution here, it was still an intriguing feature to have all the same.
Probably the best thing about the 2009 entry in the series though, is the overhauled tag-team match which now allowed players to do hot tags, blind illegal tags and much more in a decent effort to more accurately represent the real thing.
Notable for: Including a co-operative story campaign where two players could each take the roles of Rey Mysterio and Batista, respectively. It wasn’t earth shattering stuff to be fair, but its inclusion represented a nice bit of out-of-the-box thinking from a developer continually lambasted with accusations of playing it safe. More of this sorta thing please, ta.
WWE Games: WWE Legends of Wrestlemania – PS3 (2009)
Eschewing the gradually more simulation-like experience that the SmackDown Vs Raw games were becoming known for, WWE Legends of Wrestlemania took a page from the past, not just in regards to its roster, but also from the distinctly more arcadey grappling games of yesteryear. In place of SmackDown’s analogue stick based batterings, Legends of Wrestlemania instead restricted moves to the D-pad and face buttons, while a combo-based fighting system put the exclamation mark on the game’s full-tilt shift into the realms of the arcade.
While many of the modes that the SmackDown games had been cultivating over the years were missing from the game, Legends of Wrestlemania compensated with an extensive single-player campaign mode that allowed players to relive classic Wrestlemania matches as they occurred, change the decision by attempting to win as the loser, or, use a different selection of wrestlers and match types entirely. Sure enough, while the game arguably lacked the depth of the core series, its commitment to focusing on the greatest wrestling spectacle of all time (helped in no small part by some stellar presentation and reams of historical footage), certainly helped to make the game a cult favourite among fans when it released a touch over seven years ago.
Notable for: Boasting a somewhat half-baked transfer mode that allowed players to bring across wrestlers from WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2009 into the roster of Legends of Wrestlemania. The problem however, was that the SvR 2009 wrestlers kept their art style, and when compared to the distinctly retro look of the Legends grapplers, looked about as out of place as Bret Hart did during his ill-fated WCW tenure.
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2010 – PS2, PS3, PSP (2009)
Sticking two fingers up to the flawed grappling systems of the previous two games, SmackDown Vs Raw 2010 marked a return to the light and strong system of attacks last seen in the series 2007 instalment, and by gawd did it feel all the better for it. Away from the reintroduction of that much improved grappling system, SmackDown Vs Raw 2010 basically took everything that its annual predecessor did and improved upon it in every way.
The Create-A-Finisher mode now has much more creative freedom, and allows players to fashion a great many more original moves (Canadian Destroyer!) than before. Elsewhere, The Road to Wrestlemania mode also returned along with a new brilliant co-op campaign scenario, this time with John Cena and Triple H, while the visuals took a bump up in quality with far more newly crafted animations, while a fresh body damage system was implemented that showcased improved blood, and redness on the chest of the wrestlers if they ever got chopped there. SmackDown Vs Raw 2010 was probably the best game in the series since Here Comes the Pain if I’m being honest, and I am, so it is.
Notable for: Introducing the ambitious ‘Create-A-Story’ mode that while flawed and somewhat limited, was nonetheless great fun to use and meaningfully extended the longevity of the game tenfold. Alas, it has been sorely missed from current gen WWE games; especially when you consider the possibilities afforded by the infinitely shinier tech of the PS4.
WWE Games: WWE SmackDown Vs Raw 2011 – PS2, PS3, PSP (2010)
Obviously realising that they were onto a good thing with SmackDown Vs Raw 2010, Yukes didn’t feel the need to do much with the 2011 entry in the wrestling game series and as such, SmackDown Vs Raw 2011 felt much more like an incremental update rather than the evolution that the 2010 game was over the effort the year before.
One of the things that was tweaked this time round was the physics system; now allowing players to rest ladders on ring ropes, break them in half and do all sorts of unmentionable things to tables that you couldn’t do in previous games. On top of that, a new take on the WWE Universe mode boasted cut scenes and proper rivalries between the wrestlers depending on the matches that took place and their results, making the whole thing feel a lot more organic than it had done before.
Notable for: Getting everybody’s hopes up with its newly touted ‘Match Creator’ mode that not only prevented players from making a Royal Rumble match with pinfalls and submissions (I’m still waiting), but also somehow managed to feel like a repackaged match options menu that players already had access to in years previous. A missed opportunity.
WWE Games: WWE All Stars – PS2, PS3, PSP (2011)
Eschewing the last ten or so years of more simulation driven WWE efforts, WWE All Stars marked a return to the more frantic arcade-style grapplers of yesteryear with wrestlers boasting exaggerated, disproportioned physiques and gravity-defying movesets that look like they came from a Marvel movie rather than a WWE wrestling ring.
More easily accessible than the simulation-focused entries that comprise the core series, though WWE All Stars lacked the modes and creation suite capabilities of those games, the game is, even today, a great bit of fun when played with mates and represents a nice change of pace from the usual wrestling fare.
Notable for: Being the very last WWE game to be released on PS2 which kinda brings on the sads a bit now that I think about it.
WWE Games: WWE ‘12 – PS3 (2011)
Going off the rails a bit here, WWE ‘12 was one of the worst WWE games for a few reasons. First, was a new countering system that not only required *absolute* pinpoint timing, but also played into the hands of the disturbingly bipolar AI, that would at turns be milling about the place aimlessly one second, and countering your rear-end to the Moon and back the next.
Next was the campaign, oh god. Here, progress was dictated by your ability to pull off a number of prerequisites such as pinning folks (often more than one), in a particular fashion or executing a set number of moves at a specific time. As you can probably imagine, trying to force these scenarios is a frustrating pain in the rectum and is roughly as enjoyable as watching the Montreal Screw Job.
Notable for: Using a new animation engine called “Predator Technology” that was supposed to revolutionise the way wrestlers interacted with each other, but in reality, turned out to be code for “Oh god, we really need to stop our character models getting stuck in the scenery and floating up into the sky.” FAIL.
WWE Games: WWE ‘13 – PS3 (2012)
Right off the bat WWE ’13 scores points on the strength of its formidable campaign mode. A series of beautifully presented matches with video footage and all the other trimmings that you might expect, players were able get stuck into the ‘Attitude Era’ by way of a new campaign that cherry picked the best moments from the now infamous Monday Night Wars, and spanned 65 unique matches over two years worth of feuds from the time. Unfortunately however, this being a WWE product and the forces that be generally being about as objective as a Metal Gear Solid 2 apologist, this gameplay mode featured only minimal involvement from the WCW side of the equation, which, to be frank, is a bit crap to say the least.
Additionally, a reworked WWE Universe mode now boasted design input from Paul Heyman and ended up encompassing some 200 unique storylines that players could take part in, while improved physics resulted in a far more authentic and attractive looking game than whatever it was WWE 12′ was trying to do the year before. Oh and one last thing that WWE ‘13 introduced to the series, and has remained a staple of its in-ring action ever since, were the ‘OMG’ moments which if you had enough finishers stored, allowed you to perform devastating moves that leveraged the environment, such as spearing some poor sap through the barrier, or, executing a squelching top-rope suplex to the outside.
A fine series swansong for THQ if you ask me.
Notable for: Being the last ever WWE game to be published by THQ. *tumbleweeds blow in the distance*
WWE Games: WWE 2K14 – PS3 (2013)
The first WWE licensed title to be developed under new franchise overlords 2K, WWE 2K14 improved much of what WWE 13′ had wrought the year before but this time did its best work on the single-player side of things. Once more nostalgia is a key touchstone for the series as WWE 2K14 offered not one, but two fully-featured single-player campaign modes in addition to the standard WWE Universe mode that we had all grown to love/hate.
The 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode was a decent enough proposition in that it let players experience 45 matches across the history of the event, with bonus objectives being available that when fulfilled, unlocked additional wrestlers, attires and arenas. It was pretty decent for the most part and, quite unlike WWE 12′ a couple of years before it, the objective driven nature of this mode didn’t grate since most were easily accomplished. The only problem with this mode was that if you played the Legends of Wrestlemania game years earlier, there really wasn’t anything new to see here with many of the matches (and match objectives) simply being rehashed from that title.
Notable for: Actually having a truly decent single-player story campaign in the form of The Streak mode, which rather than forcing you to compete in your birthday suit, instead allows players to either relieve or break The Undertaker’s then formidable 21-0 streak a year before that naughty boy, the Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar, would do in real-life.
WWE Games: WWE 2K15 – PS3, PS4 (2014)
Ah, now this wasn’t good. The second entry in the series after 2K took over, WWE 2K15 made all the wrong moves, culminating in the worst WWE game since Crush Hour (OK, maybe not *that* bad, but it was pretty awful). The equivalent of watching Daniel Bryan getting mercilessly jobbed out to The Great Khali after authoring his landmark championship title wins, WWE 2K15 couldn’t do anything right; whether it was the new chain grappling system which was about as much fun as eating a sandpaper burrito, or, the horrendous amounts of often hilarious graphical glitches, WWE 2K15 failed in just about every significant way imaginable.
Much worse still was the fact that the Creation Suite functionality, for which the series had traditionally depended upon for its legs post-release, was pared back to the point of absolute insignificance with Create-A-Finisher and Create-A-Story completely absent, and the Create-A-Wrestler mode missing a great deal of customisation options. Something else that stunk was the MyCareer mode, which in being an extremely poor complement to the scenario-driven 2K Showcase mode, added little to the affair other than mind-numbing tedium.
In short, the game was a travesty, and while its ambition to pull off a more considered, tactical take on the action in the squared circle was an admirable one, the avalanche of poorly executed concepts that sat upon it did such a good job of burying it that in the end, nobody really gave a toss.
Notable for: Being the first WWE title since Smackdown Vs Raw 2010 to feature a licensed soundtrack. Curated by the Doctor of Thuganomics himself, John Cena, said soundtrack was predictably rammed to the hilt with ear-rending cack. Ah well, at least the thought was there.
WWE Games: WWE 2K16 – PS3, PS4 (2015)
Though not entirely ridden of the numerous (and hilarious) visual glitches that plagued its predecessor, WWE 2K16 still managed to hold its sweaty head high as not only the best WWE 2K title to date, but also as the finest wrestling title available on PS4 (though given the fact that you can count them on one hand if you only have two fingers, I’ll understand your lack of enthusiasm in the face of such platitudes).
Straight away one of the good things that WWE 2K16 introduces is a finite counter system which works well in two ways. First, it means that CPU and human opponents alike can no longer spam counters indefinitely (a common and frequent frustration with all WWE games before this), and secondly, it makes the whole affair much more tactical, impressing the need upon the player to hold counters in reserve so that you don’t get caught without one when the fists and slams start raining down.
Something else that WWE 2K16 did right was spruce up the 2K Showcase mode with an entertaining Stone Cold Steve Austin historical campaign that charted the superstar’s climb through the ranks from WCW to ECW, before culminating in his legendary WWE run. In addition to this, many of the previously missing creation suite modes returned (such as Create A Diva, Create an Arena, and Create a Championship), while even the much-maligned MyCareer mode reemerged with improvements and expansions to make it actually worthwhile this time.
WWE 2K16 hadn’t quite ascended to the heady heights of the series best instalments then, but like a promising NXT developmental talent it showed that it was making all the right moves on its path towards the main event; setting the scene for this year’s WWE 2K17 to carry that momentum forward and give us the WWE title that we all deserve. Hopefully. Please.
Notable for: Pigeonholing the legendary Samoa Joe as a ‘future star’ in one of its DLC packs despite the fact that the 37-year old veteran has been wrestling professionally since 1999 and tapped out more dudes than the Nitro Girls.
WWE Games: WWE 2K17 – PS3, PS4 (2016)
Well, as it turned out, WWE 2K17 wasn’t all that bad actually – though ‘bad’ kinda has to be taken in proportion at this point. With a revamped grappling system and a neat selection of superstars (the returning Goldberg filling the legend quota for this year’s game), that was pretty much the only things that really veered into the territory of ‘decent’ as far as WWE 2K17 is concerned.
In terms of the bad however, we’re somewhat spoilt for choice. Though the roster of wrestlers is sizeable,it was immensely frustrating to discover that some of the most popular wrestlers of the NXT era, such as Shinsuke Nakamura, were locked behind paid DLC despite having been in the fed for ten months by the time the game released.
Another shortcoming was how the single-player campaign stuff was handled. Gone were the 2K Showcases of previous years and its place were more fleshy Universe and MyCareer modes which were underwhelming to say the least. Oh! I almost forgot! The 2K Showcase mode *did* return, but can you guess the twist? That’s right, the only 2k Showcase you’ll be getting is the one you pay for as additional DLC to the base game itself. Dick move, 2K, dick move.
And then finally, WWE 2K17 finds itself notorious for the introduction of the new Promo Engine, which aims to capture the promo side of the business in an horrendous little mini game where nobody would ever say half of the goofy crap that they’ve been scripted to say, and the whole thing just feels as pointless as pissing in the wind. Don’t get me wrong; WWE 2K17 wasn’t awful, it was just… mediocre.
Notable for: Being the last WWE game on PS3. It’s sad, I know but the show must go on.
WWE Games: WWE 2K18 – PS4 (2017)
Ah, the curse of the even numbered WWE 2K games being decent continues as WWE 2K18 rocks up to the show and shows WWE 2K17 how business should be handled (or should that be ‘picked up’?). Anyway, WWE 2K18 turned out to be really good; I mean, sure, the horrifically pointless Promo Engine returned from WWE 2K17 like a particularly determined turd that won’t flush, BUT, we can forgive 2K for that little shortcoming given how well the rest of the package shapes up.
First thing’s first; the single-player campaign mode is back! Sort of. You see, rather than have the 2K Showcase coming back, 2K introduced a new career mode where you take a wrestler from NXT hopeful to WWE champion and for the most part it was pretty alright; even if some of the backstage bits were cringeworthy beyond belief.
Ostensibly though, the biggest improvements that WWE 2K18 brings to the table are those which are tied to its ringcraft. Aside from a new carry system which allowed you to perform a whole new range of environmental attacks, WWE 2K18 also boasts a retooled Royal Rumble match mode and, finally, the ability to have eight wrestlers on-screen at the same time.
Though WWE 2K18 was good, and it showed the benefits of leaving the last generation of consoles behind with superior environments and character models, it still didn’t feel like a true cutting edge product as there is no PS4 Pro support and, quite truthfully, the game still didn’t look a million miles away from WWE 2K17 from a visual standpoint. Here’s hoping then that WWE 2K19 is the leap that we’re all looking for in this regard.
Notable for: Having the absolute largest roster of any WWE game ever made. No really; it’s huge. Like, proper huge. It even has Kurt Angle in it too!
WWE Games: WWE 2K19 – PS4 (2018)
No sooner do I spout off about the even and odd curse of 2K WWE games when WWE 2K19 rocks up and shows me off to be a massive asshole. Absolutely stuffed with Andre the Giant levels of content and a deftly judged series of nips and tucks, WWE 2K19 is easily one of the best WWE games that money can buy.
The first thing that will smash you in the face with all the force of a sledgehammer is the fact that WWE 2K19 marks the return of the 2K Showcase, story-driven single player campaign. Better yet, the campaign is something of a cracker as players get to play through the career of the newly resurgent Daniel Bryan, nailing all of his key career milestones along the way.
Beyond the wonderful return of the 2K Showcase mode, WWE 2K19 also boasts the largest roster ever (again), a massively expanded creation suite and a raft of additional match types.
Where WWE 2K19 falls down a tad is in the fact that the series as a whole simply needs a larger scale refresh – from the cringeworthy commentary to a range of outdated animations, there is still a great deal of change that needs to occur in order for the franchise to reach its fullest potential.
Notable for: Having a mode where all the wrestlers have super inflated heads. It’s kinda like NBA Jam and 1993 never happened.