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WWE 2K15 Review New

Transitioning to new console hardware is hard. In most cases, development teams, especially those of yearly releases, have to decide between offering a sizeable upgrade in graphical fidelity at the expense of gameplay and featuresets (hello, NBA 2K14), while others are willing to punt graphical upgrades in the hopes of continuing strong momentum on the gameplay and features side (Madden NFL 25). Unfortunately, even though it’s releasing a year after the transition to new hardware, WWE 2K15 tries to play the middle, offering the most mixed of mixed bags.

PRESENTATION

It’s obvious that roster and arena choices were sacrificed in order to offer new and improved character and arena models in WWE 2K15, and, depending on the situation, the game looks quite striking. Triple H’s entrance, for example, looks like CG, and the crowd interaction in Daniel Bryan’s entrance is exciting and wondrous to look at.

However, there’s a strange dissonance that occurs whenever one of the better (ie face-scanned) models faces against one of the lesser-detailed models. The Triple H-Shawn Michaels 2K Showcase, for example, is a bizarre hodgepodge of graphical inconsistency. They smartly reuse Triple H’s character model from the main game for the mode, but his circa-2002 long hair looks like a wig on his character model, oddly stuck to the side of his head and only moving in strange, unnatural ways. Michaels doesn’t fare much better, as his model isn’t face-scanned and basically looks nothing like him. Long hair is particularly problematic for the game, as wrestlers like Roman Reigns look like they have gloopy black ink attached to their heads as opposed to actual hair. Considering the game’s occasional hitches in framerate (especially on Xbox One), I suppose it was necessary, but it’s still a disappointment for those expecting a major step forward graphically.

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GAMEPLAY

It would seem then that Yukes and Visual Concepts focused on gameplay in terms of the in-ring experience, and, for the most part, the results are quite good. The new collar-and-elbow tie-up system flows nicely, though I would prefer that it only happens once or twice instead of 3 times, and the UI really gets in the way of the animations, but it is an otherwise-welcome addition to the series. Matches have a slower buildup, giving big or important matches a better sense of drama. The momentum and stamina mechanics work together in an interesting way but don’t quite fit together as well as they should. Moves build up more momentum (getting you to a finishing move) while quickly draining stamina, while a measured pace (and lots of taunts), keeps you well-rested, but also opens you up to more reversals of minor moves.

Reversals are still the key to WWE 2K15, and they are one of many “gamey” mechanics that pull you out of the match and remind you that you are playing a game instead of watching a match on TV. The reversal windows on default settings are way too large, and it seems like once a person learns the proper timing on reversals, it’s possible to trigger one every time, which throws the balance out of whack. I’m honestly not sure how to fix this, as wrestling itself relies on reversals to shift the momentum of the match, but the reliability of the system actually works against the game, rather than for it. The fact that you can’t reverse a reversal hurts as well, and actually serves to suppress aggression as both players wait for an opportunity to counter and take control of a match.

The submission and pin mechanics are also accompanied by garish UI elements that feel out of place in such a naturalistic game, and I got the sense that the development team should think about reversing these two. Submissions are handled with rapid button presses and pins a timing-based hold-and-release system, but the timing on escaping a pin can be inconsistent, and the time that it takes to orient yourself to the meter (especially if you haven’t been pinned in a while) can cost you a match in a way that feels unfair.

The submission system is similarly inscrutable, as a circular meter pops up on the screen whenever a submission is started, but the game doesn’t make it apparent that both parties in the submission should be rapidly pressing X/A in order to lock in/escape the hold, so the first couple of times you submit someone end rapidly without much feedback. Once you understand submissions, however, they feel imbalanced compared to the rest of the game, as a wrestler will be unable to hold off a basic submission after only a few minutes if that specific body-part is targeted consistently. I fashioned my most recent MyCareer wrestler as a submissions expert, and my matches end much faster than an older version of the wrestler that had more of a traditional moveset.

There are other little weird minigames that pop up so infrequently as to be jarring and strange each time. The “comeback moment” QTE happens so suddenly and without explanation that new players of the series have no idea what’s going on, and the assorted minigames for ladder and cage matches are similarly awkward.

Despite all of these small issues, the matches WWE 2K15 presents flow properly and feel pretty good, for the post part. I wonder how long-term online play will fare with the reversal windows and latency issues, but the results can be similar to what airs every week on TV.
GAME MODES

Unfortunately, the feature-set that was so extensive in the prior 2 iterations of the last-generation doesn’t quite make the cut here. Last year’s “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode is replaced by a 2K Showcase mode that opens well. Each of the matchups available here are bookended by slick WWE-style video packages that set the stage for the action to come. The commentary for each match has specific lines for it (unlike the generally-awful commentary of regular matches), and little touches like the Chicago crowd booing John Cena ferociously as he faces hometown guy CM Punk are welcome. However, the actual matches rely on the same scripted style as past editions of the game, and for some of the more overbooked matches, it borders on ridiculous. When you spend quite a bit of a match building up to a finisher, only to have the game take over and reverse that finisher, forcing you to start all over, it’s frustrating and feels as though the game is more concerned with recreating all of the major beats of a match instead of making reliving them fun and interesting. The vague objectives (damage Triple H…ohhhkayy?) don’t help alleviate these issues, either.

More concerning, of course, is the dearth of content available here. Out of the box you get 2 2K Showcases: one highlighting the tremendous CM Punk-John Cena “Pipe Bomb” Feud of just a couple of years ago and an older, classic feud between Triple H and Shawn Michaels. These are well-done and offer a couple of hours gameplay each, but the scarcity of them is disconcerting. If, for some reason you don’t have a particular affinity for one or both of these feuds, there’s literally no reason to play the mode. They don’t exactly excel on the gameplay front, so it’s only the real diehards that will exhaust what this mode has to offer. There are 3 Showcases coming between now and the end of April, but only one of those (the Ultimate Warrior) feels really compelling, and each is paid DLC.

The hope for 2K Sports is that users dig into the brand-new MyCareer mode, and, again, first impressions are good. Sure, your silent and personality-less protagonist evokes 2K career modes of yesteryear, but considering how much of a douche the player character in NBA 2K15 is, it’s not unwelcomed silence. The mode takes you through the WWE Performance Center, and coach Bill DeMott does his best to train you. It may usually be just by screaming at you that you don’t want it enough, but perhaps that’s just his style.

Regardless, eventually you’re whisked away to NXT, and this is where the problems slowly start to creep in. You’re instantly pushed to the moon, being granted a #1 contender’s match after only a couple of weeks in NXT, which means you haven’t had a chance to build up your character’s stats to a sufficient level, and the game doesn’t quite recognize this, throwing you quickly into matches against guys who build up momentum much faster and lose stamina much slower than you, making it feel like the game is actively working against you. Still, a moderately-skilled player should be able to justify the shotgun approach, and you have a short stint in NXT before shuttling off to Superstars, and slowly up the ladder until you win the heavyweight title, at which point the mode ends. Seriously. MyCareer doesn’t make an effort to put you into storylines, doesn’t give you any rivals to face, and never really gives you a chance to put your mark on the WWE. You’re not a character as much as a robot destined to burst onto the scene, win the title, and leave just as quickly. The WWE is about long, involved rivalries that evolve over time. MyCareer doesn’t replicate any of that.

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OVERALL

WWE 2K15 feels like the first entry of a series’ release on a new console, but games that don’t come out at launch don’t get the same benefit of the doubt as those that do. It’s hard to recommend WWE 2K15 to any but the most ardent wrestling fans, but those who have the patience and imagination required to eschew the game’s scripted modes and build their own fantasy federation will find a reasonable facsimile of professional wrestling, despite the oft-horrible UI and shoehorned minigames. However, it’s time for 2K to decide what they want to do with WWE 2K15. As currently constructed, it doesn’t fit with their other sports offering, which looks and feels like a recreation of NBA basketball (with robust and realistic modes to boot), but it will take a serious commitment for WWE 2K to get where it needs to be.

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