WWE 2K16 Review: Back in the Ring
I'll be upfront: I'm a huge fan of professional wrestling. I also own every previous yearly addition of the WWE wrestling simulator that is now under the 2K banner. With last year's extremely underwhelming outing, WWE 2K16 looked to not only fix the shortcomings of last year but also introduce new features to the game. As with any sports game, some of the improvements are more than welcome while others do little to improve the overall experience with the game.
If you're not familiar with the WWE 2K games, it features three main modes: showcase mode, my career mode, and Universe mode. Each of the modes present the player with a different experience, but all use the same engine to drive the gameplay. Along with the three modes, the game touts a roster of over 120 superstars including very few duplicates like had been seen in previous years. Gone are the days of Alberto Del Rio 2011 and Alberto Del Rio 2013 being two separate superstars. It's a welcome change and allows for some superstars who haven't been seen in the games for over twenty years or ever to be included. It's the most comprehensive roster to date and one that I hope they continue to grow, not shrink, every coming year.
Showcase mode is the main highlight of this year's game, being touted as the first superstar-centric showcase mode, focusing on the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin. While some of the matches that are part of the mode have already been visited in WWE 13, 2K does a great job of finding new matches to focus on from Austin's lengthy career. It was nice to see matches from his run in WCW and ECW, though presented as bonus matches, added which adds a nice variety when playing as Austin. However, my main issue with the showcase mode is that you only play as Austin for around twenty five matches. It starts to drag towards the end of the mode since you've seen everything Austin can do in the ring and it doesn't feel particularly fun hitting a stunner for the umpteenth time. While I enjoyed the presentation and variety of opponents in the mode, being tethered to one superstar is not something that I particularly enjoyed.
My career mode is expanded from last year's paltry offering, adding proper rivalries and backstage sequences. You create a superstar and work your way up from the ranks in NXT to Smackdown and then Raw, all the while feuding with superstars and winning titles. Unlike 2K15 which had the interactions with management through on screen text, 2K16 features Renee Young interviewing you backstage after big matches. While she doesn't look entirely like Young, it's a welcome sight and adds to the slick presentation of the game. However, as with most career modes in sports games, you start out too under-powered to truly compete even against the lowest rated superstars. It's frustrating when the first hour of the game features you eating pins and being unable to hit more than a handful of moves on anyone. It feels like a grind, but it does pay off once you are able to hang with the big boys.
The Universe mode is practically unchanged from last year's game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as it is the mode that offers players the most replayability with the game. When you start, you can book rivalries between superstars, matches, and even add new promotions to the WWE product. It's a deep simulation system that offers the player the ability to be the booker and run wild with the roster.
The gameplay changes in 2K16 have been touted this year as adding a new layer of complexity to the matches and they mostly succeed, particularly the new reversal system. In previous outings, you could reverse every move thrown at you, causing most matches between skilled players devolving into a reversal war. However, in 2K16, your wrestler has a set number of reversals whose bar slowly refills after each use. Each wrestler has a different amount of reversals based on their rating and other factors. It's a novel idea that works since it forces the player to be smart with their reversals and use them strategically rather than reverse everything. On top of that, some of the reversals require two bars of reversal, further adding to the strategy.They have also worked rest holds into the game which allows one player to attempt to drain the other's stamina, working similarly to the chain grappling introduced last year.
The other major changes come to the way you end matches with a new pin and submission system. The pin system works better than previously, replacing the horizontal bar with a circular meter that fills up, forcing the player to stop it in a triangular area to kick out. The submission system no longer forces you to mash buttons to break the hold, rather you have to evade your opponent's circular piece in a mini-game. It makes submitting someone much harder than years before but also much more rewarding.
Some minor changes that are worth noting are the slightly improved character models, the re-addition of the dirty pin, and being able to run out during your opponent's entrance to attack them. All of these things add to the realistic presentation and make it feel like you're watching Monday Night Raw rather than playing a video game.
The only real issues with the game are the reoccuring bugs and glitches that have been prevalent since the jump was made to the past-gen consoles. Sometimes objects in the ring will go flying out, wrestlers will miraculously be standing from a prone position, and even get caught in the ropes. There doesn't seem to be much that 2K or any developer for that matter is able to about the bugs as they seem to be a problem with any engine the game is run on. Also, some of the models for the legends aren't nearly as well done as the wrestlers who were scanned which provides an noticeable disconnect when playing as them.
If you're a fan of wrestling, chances are you already picked up your copy of WWE 2K16, but if you're a casual or new fan this year's game is an excellent starting point. Not only is the largest roster to date, but it also features some great new additions to the gameplay and a memorable showcase mode. If 2K continues to set the bar higher and higher each year for themselves with the WWE property, they are bound for nothing but success.
Final Say: Play It