Over the years there's been some really good wrestling games, but we've also had our fair share of junk too. In recent years the WWE franchise has unfortunately been leaning towards the latter with some poor entries of late, and I have long been of the opinion that series custodians Yuke's need to be replaced if the quality of the series is going to be raised.
When 2K Games took over the WWE license and announced that they would be involved in developing the series, not only by bringing in Visual Concepts' expertise, but also by offering its graphics technology, I started to get hopeful that the series might be able to turn it around. So how good is WWE 2K15, is it the revolution we've been waiting for? Is it the game that takes the series into the new generation and once again entertains enough so that even those who don't like wrestling will think it's fun to play?
The simple answer to this question is sadly: no. But let me explain in more detail and describe why, ultimately, it still has some inherent qualities and will hold some appeal for WWE fans.
To begin with, 2K Games has realised that the franchise was in desperate need of change. Therefore, they have fully re-built the fighting system, but unfortunately they have not been particularly successful in creating interesting new solutions to long-standing issues. The biggest problem from my perspective is the annoying counterattacks that ends up being terribly overused, as blocking is now missing, and it's also not possible to evade attacks.
Additionally it feels too slow. Wrestling on TV might look like this, but it still manages to be interesting all the time because of the soap opera that underpins it, and because unexpected things always happen. If someone fumbles an attack and they must then improvise, you'll often see funny signs pop up in the audience and the commentators will often say something that'll elicit a laugh. This game has none of this additional character, and the lower tempo here has nothing to prop it up, there's no extra dimension to the entertainment. It just feels... slow.
To make matters worse there is a stamina system, which means that the already slow fighters get even slower just minutes into a match. Weak fighters (which technically don't exist in this game, but more on that later) immediately become tired, and then you have a slow motion version of an already slow game. In addition, a series of Quick Time Events have now been included (fortunately these can be switched off in some game modes), which I initially liked, but pretty quickly it dawned on me that this is a shitty idea that should never have been implemented.
There are other things I didn't like, including the very mediocre visuals. We now exist in a strange reality where Visual Concepts makes the tidiest licensed sports game for the new consoles, namely NBA 2K15, and they also make the ugliest, in the form of WWE 2K15. I was slightly disappointed by the graphics in this summer's EA Sports UFC, but that is still on a completely different level to this. The technical side of this game really needed to be re-made from scratch. There's also horrible loading times that appear way too often, which isn't exactly a positive.
The facial scanning of the wrestlers is usually very good though, so good that it stands out against those not-so-impressive bodies. Moreover, some are not scanned at all, such as CM Punk, which led to him looking like he'd been made using a character creator in an old RPG. New moves have also been added by using modern 'motion capture', which look very good. Once again these are so good that it sits in contrast those that are not, highlighting the difference between old and new. The mixture of the two doesn't really work, it feels quite uneven. An example is when an extremely tired wrestler with no stamina moves in slow motion and then initiates his special attack. Suddenly, it's like he's in great shape and executes the attack at a completely different speed to his movements the second earlier - before subsequently returning to slow-motion once again.
The main solo mode in WWE 2K15 is MyCareer, where you create your own wrestler and take them (hopefully) on the road to glory. To do so is impressively simple, albeit surprisingly limited when it comes to appearance, especially considering how good character creators are in other games nowadays. The obvious comparison is RPGs, where choices regarding one's body shape are mostly hidden under armor and elaborate costumes, here, where you are literally often half-naked, it becomes a problem. Also missing are opportunities to give the characters a unique entrance, and I would've really liked it if you could use your own music or create cool sequences on the Jumbotron when you enter the arena. However, it's quite smooth in the menues, and when it comes to picking our your attacks, it's no problem finding what you like.
Then you have to slog through a training tour in the NXT, then get to the WWE as little more than a punching bag, before gradually growing in popularity and stature, and finally ending up at Wrestlemania with the chance of becoming the official world champion. The whole time you're collecting points that later can be spent teaching your wrestlers more techniques. I myself am childishly fond of dropkicks and all forms of rope-moves. Consequently, it becomes what I spend my points on.
The matches will never be as exciting as they could have been with better scripting, and in the end it all feels pretty uninspired. Usually, the regular matches become very similar to each other once you've sussed out how to reliably abuse the system via devising techniques that work with ruthless efficiency. Of course you can try to play it differently to freshen things up, but even then it won't take you long to find out new ways to exploit the weaknesses in the artificial intelligence.
It's in this area that I would like 2K Games to make really vigorous changes in preparation for next year's offering. It's time to throw out this whole system and do something else; get a really good script with choices that actually mean something, have interesting story twists and more engaging matches. As it is now this is only for truly dedicated wrestling fans, and it shouldn't have to be like this.
Wrestling fans will no doubt complain that there's not a lot of content compared to previous games. Personally I like the idea of guest judges, which is one of the many elements that have been removed. Moreover, the idea of calling the wrestlers Superstars seems to have been taken too literally by the developers: almost every one of the male wrestlers has an overall value of 80, in a stroke completely undermining the 100-point scale.
What I like though, which I hope 2K Games builds on henceforth, is the concept of following past legendary rivalries. In this case it's Cena and CM Punk, plus Shawn Michaels and HHH. There's interesting videos, excellent presentation and better matches filled with epic moments to be savoured once again. It's not perfect and unfortunately there's not enough of it here (which in itself is a good sign - you want more), but the ideas are there and I look forward to more of this in the future.
In the end, WWE 2K15 manages a passing grade, but unfortunately nothing more than that. It is with growing frustration I repeat what I said at the beginning of this review: I think the responsibility of developing the WWE games needs to be handed to a different studio. This is a game that will certainly entertain the biggest WWE fans (to some extent), but if you're not one of them there is absolutely no reason to take a closer look.