Since the jump to the new-gen with WWE 2K15, Yukes and 2K's annual sports entertainment title has had a near-complete overhaul. While this year's iteration of the game continues on the series' overall path in the right direction, it takes Hornswoggle-sized steps forward and a Braun Strowman-sized step back.
This year introduces a new "built from the ground up" graphics engine which is definitely an improvement. With better lighting effects, superstars, entrances, crowds, and arenas all looking better than ever, there is still one area that developers Visual Concepts and Yukes can't seem to get right: hair. This year sees a return of the almost Lego figure-like hair fluidity, as only a few collective "strands" actually move, resulting in all the characters with long hair looking like they have flat dreads. Along with a weird new static-looking effect, this is one of the final things that graphically looks like it belongs on the last generation.
Another so-called selling point this year was the commentary, but unfortunately that isn't the case. Granted, the commentary line-up this year is different, featuring Corey Graves and Byron Saxton alongside veteran Michael Cole, but you're still "treated" to the same stock lines that have been present since 2010, just now with new voices and an anti-smoking ad thrown in for good measure. We also noticed multiple bugs in the commentary too, including cutting off mid-sentence due to an entrance starting, Corey Graves repeating Michael Cole verbatim immediately after his comment, and the team using "he" instead of "she" multiple times during an all-female match. Considering the quality of the commentary in 2K's NBA counterpart and the fantastic improvements they have made regarding the sound design for the crowds and arenas, this is very disappointing.
Besides the commentary, while in the ring WWE 2K18 is the best it has ever been. The grounded simulation-style gameplay introduced in 2015 has again been tweaked and built upon - reversals have been balanced, and the pin kick-out minigame has been made less predictable to add a deeper feeling of realism and gravitas to these moments. New animations create better transitions between moves too, and there's an overall smoother and better-looking gameplay experience.
One of biggest additions to gameplay this year is the new carry-system, which takes a lot of inspiration from the ultimate control moves in 2007's WWE Smackdown vs. Raw. This new feature enables superstars to lift their opponents in one of four carries and move them around the ring at will. From here the controlling superstar can either finish the slam at will when in the desired position, or interact with the multiple environmental hotspots to perform some truly devastating moves. While being carried the defending superstar must frantically mash the circle button (on PS4) to fill a meter and escape.
The other big addition to in-ring action this year is eight-man matches. Finally, you are now able to have eight superstars in the ring at the same time in ladder matches, four vs four tag-teams matches, and battle royales, although we did experience a fair bit of slowdown in the frame-rate during these matches (especially with multiple caws).
Speaking of problems in need of patching, WWE 2K18 has multiple bugs and glitches at launch again this year. The most notable bug we have noticed was one that causes opponent AI characters to climb the corner turnbuckles and initiate a wake-up taunt, only to jump down again and continue the match as if our character had stood up on their own. While not a game-breaking bug by any means, this does ruin the immersion and illusion of an intelligent opponent. Besides this we experienced multiple crashes during MyCareer mode. These crashes were nowhere near the same frequency as they were in 2K17's promo-crash, though, so fingers crossed it gets ironed out soon.
MyCareer this year is where 2K18 takes its biggest risk. Similar to last year you start your career at the NXT Performance Center and the goal is to become a WWE main roster superstar deserving of a Wrestlemania moment. Also like last year the Performance Center and your first NXT experiences are used as a tutorial of sorts, but unlike last year this tutorial section contains constant loading screens between each interaction, both in and out of the ring. In another step backwards, this linear story section rushes you through your NXT experience and the first month of your career on the main roster with very little influence, and as a result the first couple of hours weren't very interesting.
Clearly Inspired by RPG elements, MyCareer opens up the backstage area for free roaming, the ability to choose between being a company man (heel) or fan favourite (face), talk to other superstars (who constantly seem to be on their phone when not engaged), and take on side-quests. These side-quests, when completed, provide extra points in influence and popularity, which furthers your progression as a company man and fan favourite respectably, and in turn unlocks perks. Unfortunately, all interactions and the story are text-based and terribly written. Dialogue ranges from generic good luck wishes or juvenile insults, through to cartoonish parodies of certain superstars' personalities. At times it's also completely incoherent. One of our earliest interactions was with the Rock backstage, which saw him insert his name into every other sentence to the extent of: "The Rock sees what you're doing. The Rock likes it. You should listen to The Rock".