Last year, I had fun with WWE 2K15, but the game was missing something. Well, it was missing a few things if we're being completely honest.
There were a ton of match types omitted, the MyCareer experience lacked personality and while the simulation-style gameplay was refreshing, there were some wonky moments in collision detection.
On Tuesday, WWE 2K16 released for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Many of the gaps were filled, but there are still some cracks in the pavement of the foundation of this series.
As gamers, we've become so spoiled with the visual excellence of video games these days. While many games look stellar, we should still acknowledge the truly amazing visuals we see in games. That said, when we see things that are out of place, we shouldn't hesitate to point them out because the bar has been raised.
Such is the case with WWE 2K16. Over 90 percent of the game looks amazing. Superstar renders of most of the current roster—and even many of the legends—are outstanding.
However, there's still some odd-looking Superstar models, like that of Roman Reigns and his former tag team partner and fellow Shield member Seth Rollins.
For whatever reason, the artists working on the WWE 2K games have struggled to capture Reigns' and Rollins' essence. Because the two are among the biggest stars in the promotion, it's a little mind-boggling they aren't among the most accurately recreated guys in the game. There are other Superstars and Divas in need of a touch-up, but the game is still predominantly gorgeous.
The arenas look great, too, and the fans are as lifelike as they have been at any point in the long lineage of WWE games.
When it comes to a wrestler's movement, most of the animations are sharp. There's still a bit of bulkiness that restricts some of the things you'd like to be able to do in the ring, but I'm not sure if those restrictions can be cleaned up without completely redoing the gaming engine.
Tuning up the Old Engine
There are a few key and smart gameplay changes made to this year's game. The first is the alteration of the old reversal system. You still thwart an opponent's attempts to mangle you with the R2/RT button, but in WWE 2K16, each wrestler is only given a certain amount of reversals to start a match.
More can be earned through in-ring events, but the days of simply mastering the timing of your opponent's moves and stopping 80 percent of the attacks against you are gone. If you or someone you know was really good at WWE 2K15 and other WWE games in the past, you know matches could become frustrating as it was almost impossible to pull off a move without it being reversed.
Trying to pull off a corner attack in WWE 2K15? Forget about it. Any novice could see a move like the Stinger Splash coming a mile away, and it would almost nullify that aspect of a Superstar's move set. The timing for reversing those types of moves is still the same, but you can only do it so many times before you're forced to take some punishment.
The second gameplay change is the pin system. There's a new circular meter that adds to the suspense. Each tap of the mat from the referee correlates with one revolution of the meter. You still have to stop the dial in the right spot, and there's still an option to use resiliency if your Superstar or Diva has that ability, but the sequence just feels more intense.
Lastly, there's a new submission system. I must admit, I hated it at first. However, after spending more time with it, I not only like the change, but I also think it should be used in MMA games such as EA Sports UFC moving forward.
Obviously, there would need to be one layer added to it to match the technicality in that sport, but the simple concept of trying to cover your opponent's colored area on a circular meter makes this part of the game less of a drag.
The size of the colored area is bigger for Superstars with higher submission skills, thus it's harder to escape their attempts. The rhyme and reason in this part of the game was great and will hopefully be duplicated moving forward.
When it comes to striking, the functionality is decent; but there's still that aforementioned bulkiness when trying to align your Superstar with their opponent for a strike. Looser controls would be ideal.
Collision detection with props has been a bugaboo for WWE games for as long as I can remember. That part of the game is as good as its ever been but still imperfect. For example, there's an inconsistency with the level of impact needed to break a table. This of course is significant because there's an entire match predicated on putting a opponent through the wood.
I tried to shoulder block an opponent through a table, but it didn't break. Moments later, I suplexed him and his foot hit the bottom of the table as it leaned in the corner. Sure enough, the table shattered as if a block of C4 had been detonated against it.
The person I beat with this move was none too happy, and I can't blame them. Can this be cleaned up? Quite honestly, I doubt it. These types of issues have been prevalent in WWE games for years. If it hasn't been fixed yet, it probably won't be—at least not with the current engine.
Another bright spot in the gameplay is the ability to attack opponents during their entrance. It brings a level of variability to each match. While this is awesome, it does also highlight a restriction to gameplay that has also been present for years.
You're still not able to fight into the crowd, or toss guys off the stage, through the LED board under the big screen on the ramp, etc. Essentially, we need a go-anywhere, interact-with-anything wrestling environment, and that has yet to be delivered in a WWE game. The closest thing we've had to that concept was with WWE Here Comes the Pain, and that came out in 2003.
Has Anyone Heard From JBL?
Visually, the presentation in WWE 2K16 is great. Entrances look awesome, and there's cool new elements like bruising to the flesh of wrestlers after they take chops and high-impact maneuvers from opponents. There's little else one could ask for as it pertains to visual fluff.
As has been the case with just about every wrestling video game ever created, the commentary is not very good.
There are some newly recorded lines. John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) kind of joins the fray to accompany Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. However, the result is still a less-than-compelling, non-organic audio performance that'll have you tuning out the commentary in no time.
JBL's voice is such an afterthought, his interjections will scare you because you will literally forget he's part of the virtual broadcast team. There clearly needs to be a new approach to this aspect of the game, as it has been behind the curve for some time.
The saving grace to the presentation side of the game are the recreated promos in the 2K Showcase. The talent that it takes to accurately capture the movements from historic moments in WWE history is something I appreciate.
Likewise, the commentary from Jim Ross and Lawler is miles ahead of what you get in other aspects of the game. Perhaps this is because the two men are commentating over footage they've seen—or even announced—previously. Whatever the reason, it would be great to see that process duplicated for non-2K Showcase matches.
The Excellence of Execution
If you compare the feature set in WWE 2K16 to a past legend, it would have to be Bret Hart. The Hitman was one of the best technicians in wrestling history, as it seemed he had an unlimited amount of moves at his disposal.
Finally, the WWE 2K feature set has all of the modes and most of the matches fans expect and covet. Ladder, TLC, cage, Hell in a Cell and many other match types are back in this year's game. The very faulty online system from WWE 2K15 has been improved with better matchmaking and exciting new options such as 2K Tonight. The latter feature allows fans to wrestle matches from the most recent cards on WWE programming.
Among the major highlights of the feature set is the return of 2K Showcase. The task-based reenactment of WWE history is still a blast to play through. This year's journey revolves around the career of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The matches you play highlight the best moments in the Rattlesnake's career.
It can be a little repetitive, but as a person who loves wrestling history, I welcome the interactive trip down memory lane. For those who don't know the story that is being told, it's still a cool way to learn wrestling history.
The Universe mode also returns with far more functionality and customization. We can again create shows and alter show affiliation for the Superstars and Divas. This makes creating cards much easier. The reintroduction of injuries also adds a cool element as you play through an entire WWE calendar of events and drama.
The best part of the WWE 2K16 feature set is its Creation Suite. All wrestling games need to have a stacked amount of options as it pertains to creating wrestlers, arenas, etc. WWE 2K16 hits it out of the park in this area. While you can't scan your face, you can take an image of yourself—or anyone else—and upload it into the game.
That's just the beginning. You can dye various parts of your creation's hair and even sculpt each part of his or her face and body. You can create 100 Superstars and/or Divas to add to the 120-plus already in the game.
One can only imagine how this type of creation tool would work in a game such as NBA 2K.
Along with the ability to create Superstars and Divas, you can also create shows for Universe mode and championships. The latter is really cool because it's not the template-based, limited system we've seen before.
You can make a number of changes to shapes, colors and more. Like most of the aspects of the creation suite, there's no issue making things in WWE 2K16 your own.
Last but not least, there's the MyCareer mode. In WWE 2K15, this mode was a disappointment. It lacked the drama and character we see from the concept in NBA 2K—and in the WWE on a weekly basis. This year, more has been done to make the MyCareer experience compelling.
First off, you don't have to retire when you win the WWE championship. The objective is now to be elected to the WWE Hall of Fame after a 15-year career. That change in itself will provide more replay value for fans. There's also a meter that will serve as your barometer for success in the mode.
At any point in the My Career experience you can check your standing with The Authority to know how well you're doing on your journey to enshrinement. Because you can choose to attack opponents at unexpected times and to start feuds with other Superstars, MyCareer is more of what we expected it to be in WWE 2K15.
That's the Bottom Line
As it stands, most virtual WWE fans will enjoy WWE 2K16. The options are great, and the game is a success visually. The only quip many may have is based on the similarities to old WWE games and legacy restrictions that still exist in gameplay.
It seems the Yukes development team and 2K may have taken the current engine as far as it can go with this entry. While the game is good now, the only way for it to get to a point where it's outstanding might be to rebuild the engine into a more free-flowing, less-restricted combat experience.
Review Score - 8.4
PlayStation 4 version used for this review.
Follow Brian Mazique on Twitter