There's tension in the air as we, along with other press assembled from around the world, sit down in a large room somewhere in downtown Los Angeles, ready to see the first glimpse of WWE 2K15.
Expectation's high as, for most of the day, we've been promised by developers and wrestlers a game that will be hard to distinguish from the TV show. The screen darkens, and we're about to see what Visual Concepts have been able squeeze out of the hardware.
The camera pans onto John Cena as he makes his entrance to the ring. And yes, there's a noticeable boost in visuals, but, as was feared, it's easy to distinguish this from what you see on TV. We wonder why the graphics have been built up so when it's obvious the reality doesn't match the expectation. It's a good-looking game, certainly. But not indistinguishable from the real-life stars and their matches.
Visuals aside though, it's the gameplay that excites us the most. This is the first in the series made for the new generation of consoles and the first game where Visual Concepts are on board to add their magic touch. A new producer, Mark Little, has been brought in which might shake things up.
For those who follow wrestling you know how matches usually start. You don't see Hulk Hogan rushing against his opponent, making a severe body slam followed by a powerful leg drop and one, two, three the match is over. There's a relaxed pace where the wrestlers get know each other a bit, rolling around on the mat and making minor attacks before lumbering up into chaining attacks.
This is its own sub-game, as clinches flow into a rock, paper, scissors type button clash between competitors that'll determine which grip will initiate the power struggle. That's represented by a second mini-game, that reminds us of what we see in RPG lock-picking games. You're supposed to find a particular angle on the analog stick before your opponent and then hold it there until the next grip begins.
We've previously been a little turned off by the fact that Yuke's seem to be more fond of simulating wrestling matches than making them entertaining to play, but here they've found just the right mix. It's fun and gives you a chance to get a head start before the fighting begins proper.
The animations are something that have always been a problem for Yuke's and we'd be lying if we said it was completely sorted. It looks a lot better than their games on the old-gen machines, but the wrestlers still seem sluggish and lackadaisical when they walk around the ring, nor do they track each other with head or eyes.
As a result, it's still possible to fire fierce punches into thin air and deliver devastating elbow drops against the empty ring floor while the opponent in fact is located outside the ring. It seems difficult to cancel some longer animations, so some well aimed kicks or attempts to grip miss because they appear to pass through the opponents who is moving.
These are leftovers from Yuke's previous games in the WWE series and we hope - and expect - them to have time to brush up things before launch. Fortunately, the positive things found in this demo outweigh the negative.
One of the things we like most is the fact that the wrestlers have finally been given proper weight. Now you can really notice that even the smallest fighters feel like beefy guys they are, weighting well over 200 lbs, and they also fill out the ring better in a more proportional way. To use an Irish whip and send someone into the ropes and then almost behead them with a powerful clothesline is extremely satisfactory, and this is backed up also by strong audio work that seems to have been completely reworked.
It makes the game much engaging and painful. There's also the controversial decision to include a stamina meter, which we know many people hate. We don't however, and think it's something that works in wrestling games and really paints a picture of how the wrestlers wear each other down and manage to recover miraculously when the tide turns. Along with a new time-based system that lets you escape from a pin, it leads to interesting matches that can last anywhere between thirty seconds and thirty minutes. Just how it should be.
That's a fitting way to describe the actual spectacle of professional wrestling, something the developers naturally wanted to accomplish. In addition to being able to play as Cesaro, Golddust, John Cena and Randy Orton, we were given the opportunity to try out the new game mode Showcase, where we try out two epic wrestling feuds; CM Punk against John Cena plus when DX split and pitted HHH against Shawn Michaels.
These are excellent ideas and it is nicely presented with relevant clips that show why these feuds heated up like they did. In total there's 33 matches in Showcase where you try to recreate the magic in the ring, so it is a pretty generous single-player mode. The DX feud in particular is truly classic, and hopefully this is something they build upon even further, both with additional feuds released as DLC and in future WWE games. Maybe we could see Hulk Hogan against Ultimate Warrior or even the bitter rivalry between Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Shawn Michaels?
For those of you who follow the WWE on TV, it might of course seem odd that CM Punk is in the game considering he isn't on speaking terms with the WWE. Consequently, it is a bit odd that he's even in the game because the WWE would usually like to pretend that any wrestler who quits does not exist. The explanation is probably that this particular story mode was already created in the game and could not be removed without mutilating it.
Unfortunately, CM Punk doesn't seem to have been involved with the developers or let them scan his face, and in this early code it made him less new-gen looking compared to the other wrestlers. In particular, Golddust is extremely impressive, and when we talk to producer Mark Little, he promised both 1080p and a silky smooth 60 frames per second for both Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Though it seems those who plan to play WWE 2K15 on the old consoles won't be getting all the new stuff.
In the end we walked away quite impressed with this early code, and it really seems to have improved on the previous entries in every way, and there is also plenty to do for the solo player. A prime example of this is a new career mode that we sadly weren't allowed to see. The idea is that one should create their own wrestler, playing as a rookie to NXT, work their way to the WWE and climb the ranks until you have earned a place at Wrestlemania and finally to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are plans for even more modes.
WWE 2K15 is a promising game, a step in the right direction where sports champions Visual Concepts brings their expertise to that of Yuke's wrestling pedigree. Certainly there are still some old stuff left from the previous parts as addressed above in this preview, but on the other hand, the game is not finished yet either. With a few months left, this has the potential to be a real feast for all wrestling fans and those who just want a fun fighting game to play against friends.