Might not shock the world
It’s pretty telling when the best entry for a particular annual franchise is from decades ago. Whether or not it was 2000’s WWF No Mercy or 2003’s WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain, there’s a good chance whatever your favorite WWE licensed game is, it doesn’t have a number in the name.
Regardless, we hit what was potentially the nadir of the main series with WWE 2K20, which was a glitchy, horrible mess. So bad, apparently, that 2K’s internal developer, Visual Concepts, did the unthinkable and skipped a year for the series. So here we are with WWE 2K22, which they claim hits different, but does it hit different enough?
On the surface, we’re looking at exactly the same game. The customization suites feel the same, the UI is still an annoying slog, and it still plays an initially far too shallow playlist of songs at you while you’re interacting. That can be comforting, I suppose. If you’ve played the last half-decade or so of WWE titles, you’re going to feel like you’re slipping into a familiar pair of tights.
However, there has been a lot of work done on the game engine. I would like to preface this by saying that if anyone had asked me what my priorities were for a better WWE game, an upgraded engine would have been somewhere near the bottom. Yes, I’m essentially saying that it feels like WWE 2K22 threw away the baby to play with the bathwater. It still has to convince me to abandon all the custom wrestlers I built up in 2K19 just to make them again here.
Once again, when you look at the cream that rose to the top, the tools for customizing your experience are either spectacularly unchanged or bizarrely scaled back. Were you hoping for a return of custom entrance music? Prepare to not only be disappointed but also crushed as custom entrances might as well have been entirely extracted.
Previously, you could stitch together other wrestler entrances to create one that fits your design. You could also modify the lighting and pyrotechnics if you were feeling sassy. Now, you just choose whose entrance you’re aping in its entirety. Then you can change the movies playing on all the screens throughout the arena as if anyone pays much attention to those. I’d say that the whole system has been so thoroughly shaved down that we’re now at the token minimum.
Many of the other customization suites have been untouched. On one hand, they were pretty powerful to begin with, but on the other, they desperately need new navigational tools. I don’t know why I can’t apply a search filter when setting up my wrestlers’ moves. I should be able to easily browse WWE 2K22’s selection of Frankensteiners without having to scroll through the list to find obscure names like “flying Frankensteiner” or “splendiferous Frankensteiner.” This problem has been there for years and has never been addressed.
Yet, it’s about time that I admit that what was added in WWE 2K22 is actually quite solid. While the actual wrestling still carries the bizarre philosophy that pro wrestling is a sport that should be simulated, it plays better than it ever has in the 2K series. You can definitely feel modified physics at work, and they make grappling with oiled-up competitors much more satisfying.
There is the usual physics wonkiness; a lot of it, for that matter. It can make backstage fights or ladder matches somewhat annoying as items bounce around. There will also likely be moments where an entrance doesn’t gel with a particular wrestler and they float in the air. More disruptively, grabs and hits will sometimes land when they shouldn’t or miss for no reason. It wasn’t bad enough to have me screaming at the screen, it just has a habit of embarrassing itself.
I felt like it did a better job of translating what I was intending to do into the game. No longer do I feel like I’m fighting with the game to put someone through a table or beat them against the barrier. When I try to communicate to my wrestler that I want to throw their opponent out of the ring, they usually do it. It’s not even close to perfect, but it’s a needed step closer to it.
The AI has been improved in WWE 2K22, which I feared would be overlooked. A lot of matches against computer-controlled opponents in previous WWE titles would often begin to feel formulaic, as that would be locked into a set of moves and have no interest in taking this outside. While I never was under the illusion that the AI was as creative as a human competitor might be, they did have better reactions to what I did, and would seemingly try different tactics when the ones they were using weren’t working.
The modes that were added are appreciated as well. Mostly, I’m interested in MyGM mode, the new form of the GM mode that has been absent since WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. It’s an addicting little activity that has you working to perfect your booking skills and build up a pool of talent.
I am left wishing that you could commandeer your own show within MyGM mode. You can create and customize your own shows and PPVs. If you’re like me, making your own promotion is almost the main draw of the WWE games. The Universe mode that allows you to do this is happily still available, but once again largely unchanged. It would be nice if future titles merged the two modes to make it easier to put all your customizations together in one place.
As much as I’ll admit that WWE 2K22 is an improvement, it doesn’t feel like a step in the right direction. Rather, it feels like it picked itself off, dusted itself off, and went right back to the philosophy that it was following before; that the WWE games should be some sort of competitive simulation. Whether or not you feel that is the correct mindset or not is going to be subjective, however, I feel like replicating the thrill of the performance might yield better results.
At the same time, I’m hopeful. I think with two years to work with, they could have straightened out some of the legacy issues that still plague the game, but I put up with these before and there’s no reason I won’t again. I’m just left here dreaming that their next priority will be tightening the screws and not just gluing new trim to the wall.
Going back to the criteria I brought up earlier: has WWE 2K22 convinced me to rebuild my custom roster? Hesitantly, I guess so. The actual in-ring gameplay is solid, and MyGM mode is a little addictive slice of management. I want to be hopeful and believe that 2K and Visual Concepts will take the foundation they created and finally build a wrestling game that doesn’t just feel like a bunch of compromises. However, that’s exactly what I’ve wanted for years, but they just keep hitting the same.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]