By Shane Ferguson
It’s odd. Professional wrestling and video games are in this weird marriage of strategy and chaos. In many ways, wrestling games show us how far gaming has come. Watching the evolution of wrestling games is watching the evolution of gaming and technology. If you were a kid in the 80’s and 90’s, I’m almost certain you’ve played at least one of the many wrestling games available.
But in this crazy marriage, what it a wrestling game? Is it sports? Is it a fighting offering ready for eSports? Should they be more realistic? Should they be more arcade?
While WWE 2K18 is a good game, it has an identity crisis beyond the weird marriage. If you’ve played the previous WWE games, you’ll know what I mean. Focus on myCareer and aesthetic improvements stand out this year, yet some gameplay elements take away from what should be an all-immersive wrestling experience.
Graphics & Presentation: Nice But With Flaws
Despite my gripes, this is the best looking wrestling game ever. Skin textures, face scans, and expressions are out of this world. Camera angles, wrestler fatigue, and 2K Sports signature fluid animations help 2K18 look more like an actual WWE broadcast than a game. The superstar entrances look especially astounding this year due to the game’s new lighting system.
But with a few exceptions, some of the female superstar’s motion capture and character models are noticeably off. I’d also like to see more face scans for the retro superstars. A portion of the roster in the WWE 2K series is made up of retro versions of current or notable WWE legends/alumni. So, of course, the developers look lackadaisical when a fan spies a 28-year-old Undertaker and 51-year-old Undertaker with the same face. This is the same for Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and a few others. The result would be wonderfully surreal if this was done right on the current gen consoles.
Listen: The Music, The Crowds, The Commentary
2K has come a long way when it comes to capturing that authentic WWE stadium electricity aurally. This year is a giant leap forward in this department. But overall it still feels incomplete. While the wrestler voice effects and trademark crowd chants are nice touches, the soundtrack as curated by WWE wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is underwhelming. It seems more like a shuffled personal playlist with tracks like Eazy-E “Boyz-N-The-Hood” following Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness.” It’s slightly irksome that the custom soundtrack feature missing. however. The commentary is bearable (notably improved from recent years, but still). Corey Graves does a decent job of adding some natural banter to the usually caustic reiterations. There are times where it can still come off a bit dorky, but overall I’d say the commentary is almost compelling.
Gameplay’s A Mixed Bag
I like most of the new fighting mechanics in WWE 2K18. The wrestlers move better than ever and the fatigue animations add a realistic element to some match types. New grappling systems make creating offensive options and navigating the match a lot easier. They’re also varied options when it comes to defense and strategy. The game adopts a more realistic in-ring flow that can sometimes feel rewarding.
Be this as it may, reversal animations can feel too clunky. This isn’t much of a gameplay issue. It’s just visually peeving. Along with some of the more rushed, stiff animations, 2K can sometimes abruptly remind you of the series’ shortcomings. The infamous submissions system is back again this year by unpopular demand. As you may already know, the way you submit to an opponent is with an arduous mini-game similar to those as seen in recent UFC games. It is practically impossible to beat the computer at it and too easy to beat your friend at it (luckily, you can change this option to a simple button mash).
This system negatively affects some of the competitive essence of WWE 2K18. Which sucks, because 2K can support up to eight superstars in-ring at once this year, a first in any wrestling game. Sure, it would be cool to get some friends together for a battle royale. Unfortunately, this is disappointing when you discover there’s only 1-4 local multiplayer with 2-6 players online. And, there’s still no triple tag team matches.
Fortunately, it’s a fun overall experience whether you win or lose. Enthusiasts will want to play online, which is showing a lot of promise this year and includes a ranking system which leads you from novice to Hall of Fame. You can compete in ranked matches with friends or in a custom universes contending for a spot on a Pay Per View card
The customization suite is back with even more creative options for superstars and arenas. It, too, has flaws when it comes to a new Create-a-Match option. Sadly, this comes off more like a gimmick due to the limited options available to actually craft an original match. Noticeably missing again this year are custom finishing moves and custom entrance music. I think this affects the creation suite overall because entrance music and finishers are a very integral part of a wrestler’s persona. It is also unfortunate to see no women’s career mode. With the WWE’s women’s division roster being more varied and popular than ever, it’s disappointing to see it overlooked again this year.
WWE 2K18 in its complexity is a slightly heuristic game. So it’s unlikely a casual fan will grasp it initially if they’re not familiar with the genre.
Strategy Amid Chaos
On the surface, WWE 2K18 is a fun game with satisfying gameplay, plenty of customization options, wrestlers, and replayability. But after a few hours of gameplay, I realized the game was severely glitchy. Many of the 2K18’s bugs are in relation to customized attires, cut scenes and online modes and that’s just to name a few.
One of the more notable errors being the inability to access some content when logged in as a guest on PlayStation 4. Your friend needs access to a PSN account in order to play local multiplayer with you. I find it highly unlikely 2K Sports wasn’t aware of these issues upon the game’s launch. If these aren’t patched up soon, it renders more than half of the game useless. It’s disappointing, considering WWE 2K18 at its best, is a brilliant game. The simulation style gameplay is improved, but still can be hit or miss at times. Plus, technical issues deter it from being one the best wrestling games to date.
Yet WWE 2K18 shows a lot of potential and hopefully it won’t be long before 2K gets there. I hope, amid this weird marriage, that 2K will soon publish the perfect game.
Shane Ferguson is a New York Videogame Critics Circle writer/intern.