It can take time to right a ship’s course. This is something that 2K arguably quickly discovered when they took over custody of the WWE videogame franchise back in 2013 from the ‘old’ THQ. Now onto their fourth WWE licensed game, the developer ensemble of 2K, Yukes and Visual Concepts have once again doubled down on the idea of making the WWE 2K series one that concerns itself more with simulating the on-screen WWE spectacle, rather than the distinctly fast, arcade-like thrills that characterised the earlier entries in the franchise.
What’s New in WWE 2K17?
Right out of the gate, if you have had any prior experience with WWE 2K16, you can pretty much jump right into match on WWE 2K17 with little or no fuss. Indeed, the overarching control scheme remains largely the same, with the x button doing your strikes, the circle button sorting out your grapples, the right shoulder button taking care of your reversals and so on.
While WWE 2K17 broadly controls and feels similar to its predecessor then, there are a number of new wrinkles and tweaks to the core experience which 2K have made that meaningfully separate it from last year’s game. The first of these most notably is an optional system for submissions which, rather than forcing the swing bar system onto players from WWE 2K16, allows folks to enable a new mechanic where they have to keep pressing the button shown on-screen to either complete or escape from a submission hold. Given the divisiveness that the swing bar system elicited among folks, providing an alternative such as this definitely proves worthwhile as it ostensibly widens the appeal of submissions to all players.
Another aspect of WWE videogame ring craft that has been improved for this year’s outing, is the manner in which Triple Threat matches have been handled. Now, rather than all three people continually going at each other like headless chickens with chainsaws, a rest mechanic now exists where one person will get ejected from the ring, leaving the other two duke it out in the same sort of fashion that you would see on TV. In gameplay terms, this new mechanic has additional ramifications too, since if you happen to be the person on the outside of the ring, you can choose to get right back into the action and receive a debuff, or, wait and nab yourself a buff that replenishes your health and provides additional momentum, thus bringing you closer to unleashing a signature of finishing move.
Something else that has been overhauled this year is the taunt system. For years now, taunts have behaved in an identical fashion; you bust one out using the directional pad and your momentum meter increases. For this year’s game though, 2K have not only made the taunting system different, but have placed a tactical imperative behind such changes too, since taunts can now be used to regenerate the health of your wrestler, heckle the crowd if you’re a heel, or, force your opponent to their feet so that you can inflict a further beating upon them. One particular area where this new system shines is in tag-team matches, since the non-active wrestler can use these new taunts to cheer on their partner from the apron, or, accelerate his momentum gains prior to being tagged in. In short, the new taunting system is well thought out and adds another layer of natural depth to what is already an accomplished wrestling simulation.
Further widening the scope of the in-ring action, are a number of extra ‘OMG’ moments and moves that expand the moveset even further, allowing players to execute such awe-inspiring manoeuvres as Kevin Owens extremely painful looking apron powerbomb, or, Sami Zayn’s running Tornado DDT on the outside. If you haven’t already gotten the gist; 2K haven’t been resting on their laurels with the wrasslin’ in WWE 2K17.
A WWE Universe reborn
Beyond refining the sweaty chaos of the in-ring action, 2K has also given the various game modes a sizeable revamp too. First off, completely gone is the 2K Showcase mode of the last three WWE games which enabled players to partake in a historical tour of a particular superstar’s career. In it’s place, 2K have refocused their creative energies into reinvigorating WWE Universe mode; the series longtime, freeform single-player campaign.
Rather than a mere handful of incremental improvements, just about everything has been changed for the better. Storylines are now intelligently developed and adjusted, meaning that when you feud with someone, you won’t see the same matches week after week, while just about every facet of WWE Universe mode, such as match line-ups, belts, storylines and more can be tailored by the player; ideal for those PlayStation gamers who are overflowing with ideas about how to book their own wrestling show. It also doesn’t hurt that the presentation is on point for the most part too; with a video package and the commentators deftly setting the scene for the card before the action begins.
Speaking of the WWE Universe, the roster in this year’s title is the biggest and arguably best that it ever has been, boasting a mixture of superstars from just about every era of WWE; everybody from Macho Man Randy Savage and AJ Styles, through to Bayley and Trish Stratus is represented among the near one-hundred and twenty wrestlers available on day one.
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Not quite the Excellence of Execution
Somewhat predictably though, it isn’t all bodyslams and rainbows. While the roster is absolutely huge, it’s clear that some superstars have been given better visual treatment than others. The Irish Lass-Kicker, Becky Lynch for example, looks absolutely like her real-life, flame-haired counterpart, boasting all the same flamboyant mannerisms that we’ve come to expect from the current WWE Women’s Smackdown champion. Now RAW women’s wrestler Dana Brooke on the other hand, looks absolutely terrifying; akin to Viscera if he decided to drop a weight class or ten, her almost demonic like appearance is a far cry from the domineering, sneering visage that we’ve come to associate with her. In truth, it seems that less popular wrestlers suffer from this the most, so don’t worry; folks like Bayley, AJ Styles and John Cena all look grand and decently approximate to their flesh and blood equivalents.
While the WWE Universe mode is unequivocally the best it ever has been, one aspect that doesn’t fare quite so well is the newly implemented Promo Engine. Here, wrestlers have an opportunity to get on the mic and start setting up storylines with other wrestlers, or, just come out to the ring to insult the crowd. Admittedly, the idea of a Promo Engine is a grand one, it just doesn’t come off well here simply because the lack of voice acting for these segments rob them of any gravitas that they might have had, and in addition to having a desperately limited choice of phrases to spout, these promos seemingly have little effect on the progress of the WWE Universe mode as a whole as well. This new feature is a missed opportunity presently.
And so we come to the commentary; the one bugbear that the WWE videogame franchise has had difficulty nailing since its inception. Often struggling to parlay the on-screen action, we get repeated phrases from previous years, women wrestlers still being referred to as ‘him’ or ‘Divas’ (despite WWE making a conscious effort to eliminate the term early in the year), the same commentators being present for all events (no Corey Graves or Tom Phillips for NXT – sorry!) and finally, just a general disconnect with whatever is going on inside the ring. With such strides made elsewhere in WWE 2K17’s otherwise impressive offering, the stale commentary sticks out like a sore thumbtack.
A massive offering
Of course, new modes and tweaks aside, raucously entertaining multiplayer shenanigans have always been a cornerstone of WWE titles and that’s something that remains very much the case with WWE 2K17 also. Bolstering this state of affairs is the new Backstage Brawl match type which wistfully harkens back to the PS2 days of WWE games, where you could roam backstage, smashing your opponent through doors, into lockers and fashioning weapons out of whatever equipment comes to hand. Though veering towards gimmickry, the resurrection of such backstage antics acts as a nice palette cleanser for the otherwise technically-minded action that tends to unfold inside the squared circle. So yep, more of this please 2K.
In addition to a myriad of local and online multiplayer match types, 2K’s MyCareer mode also returns and adds yet further value to the package; allowing players to start in NXT before advancing through an entire WWE career with their own created wrestler. Speaking of created things, the scope for customisation in WWE 2K17 is simply vast. Everything from new superstars, championships, arenas and entire shows can be tinkered with and created here; providing WWE 2K17 with countless hours of play in the process as you upload and download your creations to the WWE 2K community.
Since 2K took over stewardship of the WWE license four years ago, it’s reasonable to say that there has been a measured improvement in the WWE 2K series year on year for those who have sought a more simulation based approach from their WWE titles. The tradition of such improvement continues this year with WWE 2K17, which other than some presentation quibbles, duly impresses with a great WWE universe mode, some well conceived gameplay changes and the biggest and best roster the franchise has seen to date.