Professional wrestling was a cultural phenomenon when I was younger. In the third grade, conversations at school were a general 50/50 mix of Dragon Ball Z fact repetition and which was better: WCW or WWF. When Hulk Hogan started the nWo, school was chaos. I remember fistfights over nWo and WCW supremacy that lasted two years until the nWo split into nWo Hollywood and nWo Wolfpac. Then the saga between the poor kids who had white nWo shirts and whose parents couldn’t afford the new red ones and the kids whose parents could afford them started to play out (because, duh, Wolfpac for life.)
As we all got older though, the wrestling fad gave way to Pokémon, then Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (it’s hard to believe, but we all loved it when it came out), and wrestling was soon forgotten by most and unfortunately relegated to the white-trash stereotype. However, wrestling continued, although these days it seems to lack the gaudy style of yesteryear. Its drama is a pale imitation of the antics of Randy Savage (bless his soul), Hulk Hogan, Sting, and others. WWE 2K15 is also is a pale imitation of 15-year-old-plus games like WWF: No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge.
WWE 2K15 (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Visual Concepts, Yuke’s
Publisher: 2K Sports
Released: November 18, 2014
The centerpiece of 2K15 is MyCareer mode, where you can make your own wrestler and take them from the NXT Training Center all the way to the World Wrestling Entertainment World Championship. While the RPG element of gaining VP points that can be used to teach your character moves is somewhat interesting, the matches themselves are by large one-vs-one grindfests which will devolve into spamming the same tactics to win each time.
The game allows players to experience some historical rivalries focusing on John Cena vs. CM Punk and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels. The cool thing about this mode is that if you recreate certain events as they really happened, you’re rewarded with a cutscene. This feature adds a bit of pizazz and challenge to what would otherwise be a bland mode.
The combat has undergone massive changes, however. Before 2K15, WWE games had been fast-paced in the action department, leading to some fun, yet inaccurate combat moments. This iteration slows the fighting down to a more realistic pace and the results are terrible. It feels like the worst aspects of Dark Souls and quick-time events all mixed together to form a system that tries to be tactical and ends up just being frustrating. Instead of quick slaps to the chest, the slowness of the combatants make it look as though they’re trying to throw 25-pound weights at each other. It felt awkward and unresponsive, as well as a waste of the fluid animations and character models.
There’s no evasion or blocking to be found here, either — the game instead relies on a time-based counterattack/reversal system. Unfortunately, there’s very little indication of when exactly you need to hit the counterattack/reversal button on each attack, so it ends up being a huge ordeal of trial and error, memorization, and luck. If you end up getting attacked on the mat or pinned, expect to lose your first few times, as getting out of either of these situations depends on a timed button press as well.
The new stamina system rounds out the terrible design decisions with already slow characters running out of steam quickly and becoming even slower. It seems what was meant to invoke a strategic reservation of stamina instead results in a boxing-like game of attrition in which you just try to keep away from your opponent until he wears himself out. This would be acceptable in an actual Greco-Roman wrestling game, but in the drama-filled, high-flying extravaganza of WWE it really detracts from the experience.
There were some positive points in the game, though. For instance, I had a decent time building a custom character. Unfortunately, there are a lot less options when it comes to body type, clothing, etc, than even the old N64 games, so instead of a squat, top hat-wearing clone of The Penguin, I ended up with a kind of short, though still buff wrestler in overalls who could have been the Penguin’s cousin, whom I affectionately named “Tinky Boy.”
Assigning my new character moves was easy in principle, with each move displayed on the screen so players can choose wisely. However, the move set was so large that it was a bit overwhelming and I ended up just going with the defaults for most of them. The entrance creator was also surprisingly robust, but the lack of music customization and background movie, as well as having to utilize other wrestlers’ or generic tunes kind of took the oomph out of it.
What turns the game from a decent but somewhat lacking wrestling experience to an absolute struggle is the constant loading. On the Xbox One version, it needed to load after nearly everything. When I was creating a character and wanted to change his hair the game loaded: before displaying the hair options, after applying the hair I chose, while opening the color customization menu, after applying the new color, and upon exiting the hair menu. This turned what is normally one of my favorite processes into an absolute nightmare. For a game that is not really all that spectacular to begin with, this was the killing blow.
I will be the first to admit that I haven’t played a wrestling game in quite some time. My memories of wrestling are of the cheesy but fun antics of Hulk Hogan, Diamond Dallas Page, Mankind, and the sort. To be honest, John Cena’s angsty stare, which is plastered wherever the developers could find space for it, irritated me. However, I am certain that no matter how much things have changed, bad gameplay is the same now as it was then, and the questionable design decisions and performance of this game have a bargain-bin feel about them. If you’re hankering for some good wrestling times, look elsewhere. This one’s down for the count, even if you can play as Sheamus.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]