When it comes to video games, screenshots and even trailers can be deceiving. It's the equivalent of looking at a model's hand-picked headshots. Obviously, the model is going to present images of themselves at the most flattering angles in an effort to impress an agency.
A closer examination reveals any blemishes or issues. Video games work the same way.
We see awesome screenshots like the ones from WWE 2K15 that featured John Cena, Goldust and Randy Orton, but experienced gamers know that's only half the story. After a weekend in Los Angeles to learn about and play WWE 2K15, I have some thoughts.
The best word to describe WWE 2K15 as it relates to previous games in the series is: different. From the look, feel and gameplay, the game is taking a pretty bold approach with an established and successful brand.
To properly break down my hands-on impression, we must look at the game in parts. As you read through this, keep in mind that the build I played only featured five playable Superstars (Cena, Orton, Goldust, Cesaro and CM Punk), two arenas, two modes and three match types.
That said, here's what we learned about the game.
The Graphics Are Still Stunning
Even with my whole spiel about graphics only being part of the total picture, it's impossible not to at least mention how great most of the character renders look. Of the playable Superstars, only CM Punk looked less than phenomenal, and even his render was good.
I'm guessing he had left the company already and wasn't available to be scanned for the game.
Those who were scanned—Cena, Orton, Cesaro and Goldust—looked absolutely amazing.
The environments weren't quite as sharp as the wrestler renders, though. In some ways, it looked like the arenas and the crowd were a notch below the Superstars as it relates to clarity and sharpness.
The disparity didn't ruin the visual appeal, but updating the arenas and crowd will likely be an area of opportunity for the series moving forward.
WWE Universe Is in
While there wasn't a ton of talk about it leading up to SummerSlam weekend, we did receive confirmation that the ever-popular Universe mode would be in the game.
That was excellent news for those of us who consider that mode to be one of the most important in the entire game.
We didn't learn any real details about how it will function, but it's nice to know there will be some semblance of the WWE 2K version of a franchise mode.
Creation Suite Is in
Much like the Universe mode, there was no previous information about the creation suite. I called the Universe mode "one of the most important" modes in the game because I had to save some room for the creation suite on that list.
The creation suite is truly the lifeblood of a wrestling title. If it's deep, it adds almost incalculable replay value to the game.
We were told something special is on the horizon for the create-a-wrestler feature, but that was the extent of the information given. We could possibly speculate and hope that this is the year the PlayStation and Kinect camera are used to allow gamers to create themselves in the game, but we don't have that information as of yet.
A clue toward this might come when NBA 2K15 announces more details with its MyCareer mode. It seems logical that the two games would have similar capabilities in this regard.
While there's obviously clear differences between professional wrestling and basketball, the fact that both the WWE and NBA 2K games are developed by Visual Concepts would lead you to believe
the hoops series might serve as a preview for the WWE 2K series annually.
The 2K Showcase functions a lot like the Attitude Era and 30 Years of WrestleMania modes. It's a task-based, interactive journey through the legendary feud you're attempting to relive.
Upon release, the CM Punk-John Cena and Triple H-Shawn Michaels feuds will be available.
The only playable match in the preview version was the Punk-Cena battle from Money in the Bank 2011. The arena looked authentic and the gameplay was compelling, though almost identical to the 30 YOWM and Attitude Era.
That probably won't bother most gamers, as it's all about the story, which appears to be told very well.
Let's talk about some gameplay.
The Chain-Grapple System
Real WWE matches don't start out with running powerslams, spinebusters and other strong moves. There's usually a little dance that precedes the heavy artillery.
The chain-grapple system aims to emulate that.
In theory, it's a great idea, but I'm not sure it will work long term for gamers. At the beginning of all matches, there's a rock-paper-scissors-like mini-game to grab early control.
The wrestlers in the ring transition from collar-and-elbow tie-ups to side headlocks, arm cranks and other fundamental wrestling maneuvers.
Each transition presents a new opportunity for you to gain the advantage or break the hold.
The first few times you see it, it seems cool. However, after beginning a few of the matches with this mini-game, I kind of wanted to turn it off—or at least have the option to go without it.
I asked the game's producer Mark Little if this would be possible. While he couldn't give me full details at the time, he said he believed I would be happy with the final version.
Perhaps tweaking the system would remedy the somewhat tedious aspects. Again, I stress this was not the retail version, so we don't know what will make it into the final build.
The new fatigue engine is, in a word, awesome.
There's no more spamming the run button, or jumping outside the ring to run away from an opponent to load up on taunts.
All actions—especially running—take away from a Superstar's energy. The more energy they lose, the slower they perform moves like running, climbing the ropes and more.
Some gamers might think this hint of realism will detract from the fun factor, but I found it to be the exact opposite. In fact, it added the drama that long and grueling matches should have.
Watching Orton labor to climb to the top rope was awesome considering I was about 10 minutes into a no-holds-barred match with Goldust.
Thanks to the fatigue and damage factors, high-impact moves will not only leave the victims of devastating maneuvers slow to get up—the Superstar executing the move now takes their time to collect themselves after landing a big suplex and similar moves.
It looks great, but it will take some getting used to for those who are accustomed to blowing through these segments in a match.
Feel the Weight
By far, the best aspect of the gameplay was how appropriately heavy each Superstar felt to control. In most cases, professional wrestlers are large human beings, and they should be handled as such.
In WWE 2K15, you feel the weight of the character you're controlling. The cool thing was that it felt different to control Orton than it did to move around Cesaro. The dynamics were different with each playable character.
Noticing this made me wonder if weight detection for slams would be included in this year's game. We'd been told it would be in before, but it never quite came through the way it should.
Someone like Kofi Kingston could slam The Big Show if he did enough damage to him in WWE 2K14.
I asked Little if smaller guys would be able to perform lifting maneuvers against the super heavyweights this year, and he replied: "Why would they?"
It was great to hear that this aspect of the game was getting some attention.
We've seen a few tweets and images of Jerry "The King" Lawler and Michael Cole performing new commentary for the game. During the SummerSlam Confidential Panels, Lawler even said that JBL had joined them in redoing the commentary.
None of this new work seemed to make it into the build that was available in Los Angeles.
It was primarily the same subpar commentary from previous versions of the game. I have confidence this improvement simply hadn't been added in yet.
Hopefully in the next build we get an opportunity to see and hear the enhancements.
If the early screenshots were the equivalent of hand-picked head shots for a model, then this hands-on experience was like an extensive, in-person interview.
While there's still more of the story to be told, the substance seems to match the beauty.
Follow Brian Mazique, the Sports Video Game Journalist on Twitter.
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